Earth '06: An Election Guide

Because the planet really is in the balance. Check out our latest results update!

What’s the conventional wisdom about congressional midterm elections? That with rare exceptions—such as 1994, when the GOP seized control of Congress for the first time in 40 years—midterms don’t matter much, largely because voters don’t turn out in large numbers when they’re not voting for President.

This year, you can throw that conventional wisdom out the window. These elections could rock the electoral landscape.

With Americans displeased with President Bush—under 40 percent of the public approves of his job performance—and increasingly concerned about the direction of the country, the 2006 midterms could well be the most traumatic for incumbents since Newt Gingrich stormed the Capitol twelve years ago. And for the environment, the stakes are high; the Bush-Cheney environmental record has been, in a word, awful.

To help you prepare for November 7th, Plenty presents this guide to the issues and candidates that matter most for green voters. Because the more you know, the greener you’ll vote.

Key Green Campaigns

From Connecticut to California, here are the election races that matter the most. By Carmen Johnson.

California 11th Congressional District

Jerry McNerney (D) vs. Rep. Richard Pombo (R)
Latest poll: McNerney 48%, Pombo 46%

Is the House’s biggest environmental menace endangered?

The Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund are spending some $3 million to take down the man they consider Congress’s greatest threat to the environment: Congressman Richard Pombo. The seven-term representative from Tracy, California, is the chairman of the House Resources Committee and is moving up the ladder on the Agriculture Committee. Pombo, a rancher known for his uncompromising pro-development stands, pushed through the House legislation to end the offshore oil-drilling ban and wants to make mining on public lands easier. But he may be best known for weakening the Endangered Species Act of 1973 by softening restrictions on “critical habitat” land for threatened or endangered species. Pombo’s opponent, wind-energy engineer and Democrat Jerry McNerney, promises to push for investment in solar and wind energy. In a district with high rates of asthma, McNerney is also campaigning for stricter clean-air and clean-water legislation. If Pombo goes, enviros will breathe easier.

Pennsylvania Senate

Bob Casey Jr. (D) vs. Sen. Rick Santorum (R)
Latest poll: Casey 48%, Santorum 40%

A hot-button Republican insists he has a green side

Facing a room of 400 green activists at a dinner in early June, Republican Senator Rick Santorum called himself a “practical environmentalist.” Environmental groups, which have placed Santorum on their November hit-list, aren’t buying it. In 2005, Santorum voted against tightening the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s mercury-emission rates for power plants and against a resolution that gave global warming official Senate recognition as a real threat. Santorum’s opponent, State Treasurer Bob Casey Jr.—endorsed by the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters—opposes oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and supports the EPA’s Superfund program, which taxes polluting companies to clean up industrial sites. Environmentalists hope the green ally will replace the high-ranking Senator.

Missouri Senate

Claire McCaskill (D) vs. Sen. Jim Talent (R)
Latest poll: McCaskill 46%, Talent 43%

A fresh face hopes to convince Missouri voters that Washington needs new energy

Green causes have never been at the forefront of Missouri elections, which may be why Senator Jim Talent got through the Senate door in a special 2002 election. Talent supports oil drilling in ANWR and says he can’t understand why anyone would want to “cut its own country off from oil.” His opponent, State Auditor Claire McCaskill, is using high gas prices to spotlight the incumbent’s hefty campaign contributions from oil companies. McCaskill advocates clean energy and says global warming is threatening Missouri sportsmen’s way of life.

Montana Senate

Jon Tester (D) vs. Sen. Conrad Burns (R)
Latest poll: Tester 46%, Burns 43% 

Can a family farmer convince Montanans that their landscape is at risk?

When it comes to global warming, Montana Senator Conrad Burns knows where he stands: “Do you remember the Ice Age? It’s been warming ever since, and there ain’t anything we can do to stop it,” he said last May. So when it comes to energy policy, Burns wants Montana to mine more coal and build more oil refineries. Meanwhile, Democratic State Senate President Jon Tester says that if he’s elected, his energy policies will concentrate on renewable energy. He’s courting rural voters by stressing preserving clean lands to hunt, fish, and camp, and not selling them to oil companies and developers. Burns recently proposed legislation to protect the Rocky Mountain Front from new oil and gas leases, but Tester says it’s too little, too late, pointing out that oil companies have contributed nearly $500,000 to Burns over the course of his 18-year Senate career.

New Mexico 1st Congressional District

Attorney General Patricia Madrid (D) vs. Rep. Heather Wilson (R)
Latest poll: Madrid 53%, Wilson 44% 

One lawyer’s battle against the EPA prepares her to race against an industrious incumbent

Enviros love New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid: She, along with other state attorneys general, has twice sued the EPA over lax enforcement of anti-pollution laws. Now Madrid is taking on Republican incumbent Heather Wilson, a loyal foot-soldier in the House’s GOP anti-environmental crusade. A member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, the subcommittee on the Environment and Hazardous Materials, and the subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality, Wilson voted to open ANWR to oil drilling this year and pushed the GOP energy bill last year. Facing the toughest challenge in her four terms, Wilson points out that she has helped to protect public lands such as the Ojito Wilderness and Valles Caldera in New Mexico.

Minnesota Senate

Amy Klobuchar (D) vs. Rep. Mark Kennedy (R)
Latest poll: Klobuchar 50%, Kennedy 40% 

Two candidates fight to fill a vacant Senate spot

Three-term GOP representative Mark Kennedy has voted for legislation undercutting the landmark Endangered Species Act of 1973, supported George W. Bush’s Healthy Forests Initiative of 2003 (which encourages logging), and voted “yes” to the Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act of 2006 (which makes it easier for states to open their ocean waters to oil drilling). Now, Kennedy hopes to fill the Senate vacancy caused by the retirement of Minnesota Democrat Mark Dayton. But Kennedy’s voting record has earned the ire of environmental groups, and the League of Conservation Voters is stumping for Kennedy’s opponent, Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar. Greens like Klobuchar’s plan for energy independence: In a 2005 speech, Klobuchar argued that global warming gave the U.S. an opportunity to move away from dependence on fossil fuels. Klobuchar also supports initiatives to limit greenhouse-gas emissions and tax incentives for purchasers of hybrid cars.

Nevada 3rd Congressional District

Tessa Hafen (D) vs. Rep. Jon Porter (R)
Latest poll: Porter 46%, Hafen 39% 

A novice pol eyes an incumbent Republican’s seat

Twenty-nine-year-old Tessa Hafen, former press secretary for Senate minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, is challenging Republican Jon Porter, a two-term incumbent. On environmental issues, the choice is clear: Porter supported drilling in ANWR and weakening the Endangered Species Act of 1973, while Hafen says she wants to take advantage of Nevada’s abundant solar-, wind-, and geothermal-energy sources to help solve America’s energy crisis. As Nevada faces the possibility of a nuclear-waste site at Yucca Mountain, Hafen criticizes Porter for not taking a strong stand against the dump.

Connecticut 5th Congressional District

Sen. Christopher Murphy (D) vs. Rep. Nancy Johnson (R)
Latest poll: Murphy 51%, Johnson 43% 

A green Republican hopes to fend off a young Democrat

Seeking her 13th House term, 71-year-old Republican Nancy Johnson faces a tough challenge from 32-year-old State Senator Christopher Murphy. Johnson’s one of a small House coalition of green Republicans: She’s worked on land preservation issues and pushed for a ban on oil drilling in ANWR. But Murphy, an Environmental Committee member in the state senate, isn’t letting Johnson take all the green glory. On Earth Day, he blasted Johnson’s environmental voting record, saying it was the worst in the Connecticut delegation. But environmental groups, such as the League of Conservation Voters, are sticking with Johnson.

Ohio 15th Congressional District

Mary Jo Kilroy (D) vs. Rep. Deborah Pryce (R)
Latest poll: Kilroy 53%, Pryce 41%

A challenger pushes eco-politics in Ohio

Rep. Deborah Pryce, the fourth-highest ranking Republican in the House, is fighting for her political life. Chairman of the House Republican Conference, a group that crafts GOP campaign messages, Pryce faces Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy, a Franklin County Board commissioner. Pryce supported oil drilling in ANWR and weakening the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Kilroy, a member of the Sierra Club since 1981, successfully pushed for the county’s government cars to use biodiesel; she also supports a county plan to conserve 25,000 acres of land in the Big Darby Creek area, a favorite target of developers.