Senator Carl Levin has announced he will not seek reelection in 2014 and already the succession speculation has begun. Michigan has a deep field of leaders to draw from to run for Levin's seat. Yet whoever steps forward will have to chart their course carefully. Michigan is solidly purple, having voted for Democrats in six of the last ten presidential races, but electing a Republican governor and a Republican legislature.
How can potential Michigan candidates appeal to the broadest range of voters? By calling for clean energy and climate action.
This approach worked across the nation in the 2012 election cycle. Energy was a central issue in races from the top to the bottom of the ticket. Given the choice between candidates who promoted clean energy and those who held polluter-friendly positions on fossil fuels, voters overwhelmingly chose clean energy champions. And that includes Independent voters. Every major swing state went for President Obama, and states from Montana to Maine to Virginia swept clean energy candidates into office up and down the ticket.
This same approach can work in Michigan in 2014. Voters will have experienced two more years of extreme weather events pummeling their communities. But they will also have seen more wind farms and solar panels become ordinary parts of everyday life, and they will know more people with jobs designing and building fuel efficient cars.
Support for clean energy and climate action will only grow. Here's why smart Michigan candidates should tap into that support.
Voters of All Stripes Support Clean Energy
Some GOP lawmakers still believe fossil fuels are our only viable energy source, but most voters have left those outdated views behind. They want American to develop clean energy. Last fall, polluting industries and their allies spent millions in Michigan races. Yet despite all the dirty money, undecided voters said they would side with a candidate who "supports EPA standards to reduce dangerous carbon pollution" over one who does not by a wide margin (56 percent versus 20 percent). Undecided voters also said they preferred congressional candidates who, like Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, support "standards to reduce toxic mercury pollution from power plants" over those who oppose them (62 percent versus 18 percent.) Curbing subsidies for oil companies, increasing fuel economy standards, and boosting clean energy drew similar support.
Some may say clean energy suffered a setback in Michigan last fall when voters failed to pass a ballot measure that would have amended the state constitution to include policies to promote renewable energy. However, election night polling showed that voters were rejecting an attempt to alter the constitution. They strongly supported action from their elected officials to create renewable energy policies in Lansing, not in the constitution.
Now Governor Snyder is holding hearings all over the state to discuss the future of energy policy in Michigan. We are engaged and working with our partners to ensure support for clean energy job creation and energy efficiency are part of the plan moving forward.
Clean Energy Is Another Way to Talk about Jobs, Jobs, and More Jobs
Michigan is ranked eighth in the country for the number of clean energy and clean transportation jobs in the state, according to a report released earlier this month by Environmental Entrepreneurs. The state is on track to add even more: companies and communities have announced 19 new projects that will generate nearly 4,000 additional jobs in Michigan. All together, the state's renewable energy sector has attracted $1.79 billion in investments through 2012.
Meanwhile, Michigan added 34,100 auto manufacturing jobs last September for a gain of 32.7 percent since the trough in June 2009. A recent report published by NRDC and their partners found that a considerable amount of this growth is driven by new clean car standards that will be double fuel economy for cars by 2025--and save drivers $80 billion a year at the pump in the process.
Many Michiganders have benefited from clean energy jobs; many more could in the future. The state requires 10 percent of all electricity come from wind and solar power. Nearby Iowa, in contrast, is already getting 23 percent of its electricity from renewables. If Michigan created stronger clean energy standards and incentives, the state would get more home-grown jobs. And voters would reward candidates who helped deliver those jobs.
Climate Denial Is the New Black Helicopter
A generation ago, candidates sounded out of touch if they tried to convince voters the United Nations was sending black helicopters to take over America. Today, when candidates mention sun spots as a cause of climate change the extremist alarm bells start going off in the minds of voters. In fact, a majority now say that climate change is happening and we should do something to address it. While it may not be the top issue for every voter, most feel uncomfortable with candidates who blatantly reject science and chart out extreme positions...
This is no different in Michigan. Michiganders had their fling with extremism and now they are paying a price. Republican Representative Justin Amash's own party found his positions so far afield that they kicked him off the budget committee--leaving his district without a voice in this critical arena. Now there are rumblings Amash may run to replace Levin. His opponents simply have to ask him what he is going to do to protect the Great Lakes from climate change or where he stands on government efforts to reduce global warming pollution, and voters will see the extremism shine through.
Clean Energy: Good Policy and Good Politics
As we wait and see who jumps into this race, one thing is for sure. Michigan is poised to be a leader in the clean energy economy and Michiganders deserve a U.S. senator who represents those values. If we learned anything from the 2012 election cycle, it's that candidates can run and win on investing in clean energy, protecting the environment and conserving our natural resources. The best part is these aren't just good policies, they are good politics too.