Energy and environmental issues ranked as the top concern for independent voters in Colorado’s recent governor’s race that saw Democrat and renewable-energy champion Jared Polis win in a landslide, according to a poll conducted shortly after the midterm election.
Andrew Baumann of the national public affairs and Democratic polling firm Global Strategy Group said he was not surprised that approximately 800 Colorado voters surveyed right after the Nov. 6 election focused in so intensely on energy and environmental issues.
“The surprising thing to me about it is it was a part of the campaign and Polis certainly talked about it some and obviously got attacked on energy and the environment, which just shows you how much those attacks didn’t work … but it certainly wasn’t a centerpiece of the [Polis] effort,” Baumann told RealVail.com.
“Still, even with that, voters found it to be such an important issue that independent voters are naming it is the top issue that they voted on, and really, actually, we’ve been sort of seeing this trend happening in Colorado over the last five years or so.”
Democrats in the same poll (pdf) named health care as their top issue, with energy and environment second, and Republicans chose jobs and the economy as their top issue. Baumann said his read on the polling indicates Polis has a clear mandate amongst both his Democratic base and unaffiliated voters – the largest bloc in the state – to move aggressively on carbon emissions.
“I would have no hesitation if I were [Polis] in terms of making some of these environmental policies a centerpiece of what his agenda is,” Baumann said. “And we just see time after time that not only is this a top issue for voters, but they just really want action.”
That growing urgency on environmental issues in polling over the last several years, Baumann said, stems from several factors.
“Some of it has to do with climate change, but it’s not all about that. Partially some of it’s in response to what’s happening at the federal level with assaults on the environment and what’s happening at the EPA [under the Trump administration],” Baumann said. “Voters are more worried now than they have been in the past about what that could mean for Colorado and our way of life out here, and our open space and our air and our water.”
The pro-fossil-fuel, anti-regulatory agenda coming out of Trump’s White House is causing a growing sense of unease in Colorado.
“There’s been a renewed sense among voters that if the federal government isn’t going to do something about it, then the state government has to act to protect the protections we already have and also to go beyond that and take the kind of steps like Jared Polis is suggesting with 100 percent renewable energy [by 2040] that voters very clearly support,” Baumann added.
During the Democratic primary campaign last summer, Baumann’s company did some work for former Democratic state Sen. Mike Johnston, a Vail native whose late father Paul was once the mayor of Vail. Mike Johnston wound up third in the primary behind Polis and former Colorado Treasurer Cary Kennedy, whom Polis recently named his senior advisor on fiscal policy.
Baumann said he knew back then that the environment would be a key issue for both Dems and independents.
“We actually rushed to get our 100 percent [renewable] by 2040 plan out six hours ahead of Jared’s because we thought it was so important to be the first one out there with [a plan],” Baumann said. “We knew that Mike believed it, but we also knew from the polling that it was such a winner, not only in the Democratic primary but amongst the general electorate too.”
Clearly, any candidate for any party looking to win in Colorado in the coming years needs to take the issues of climate change, environmental impacts and renewable energy seriously. For a deeper dive into what that means from a policy standpoint, here’s an excerpt from RealVail.com’s cover story on energy issues for Colorado Politics. Click here for the full story.
COVER STORY: Is the Polis energy plan do-able?
Both as a candidate and as Colorado’s new governor, Jared Polis pushed the goal of producing 100 percent of Colorado’s power from renewable sources by 2040.
That commitment, he said in his State of the State address Jan. 10, “is not just about climate change. It’s about saving money for consumers with cheaper energy, and it’s about making sure the good-paying green jobs of the future are created right here in Colorado.”
A week later, Polis issued an executive order aimed at putting more electric and zero-emission vehicles on the state’s roads. He created a working group involving state agencies to promote electric vehicles and called on automakers to sell more electric vehicles in the state each year.
“In the absence of national leadership, states like Colorado, along with local governments and private and public companies, are leading the way on climate,” Polis said at a news conference announcing his order.
But if Polis’ order on vehicles was the low-hanging fruit of his energy agenda, one possible next step – new state caps on carbon emissions – might just be forbidden fruit, say some GOP lawmakers and even members of the conservation community.
Others see a carbon-cap law as the next logical step to combat climate change in Colorado.
“Our top priority is nationally-leading climate policy like capping carbon pollution. We just don’t have time to waste, so that’s our top priority,” said Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “The state needs to put those carbon-reduction targets in law … to get in line with the science and be sure that we are doing our part to avoid the worst of the climate-change impacts.”
But Republican state Sen. Bob Rankin, who recently took over the fossil-fuel-rich Northwest Colorado seat previously held by Randy Baumgardner, warns against the economic pitfalls of moving too fast to phase out coal and natural gas.
Colorado, after all, is a state where the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports fossil fuels make up a combined 78.2 percent of the electricity mix. Wind and solar currently contribute a combined 18.28 percent of the state’s electricity.
“I believe that an overly aggressive, politically motivated and unrealistic plan for the complete phaseout of fossil fuels will be devastating to many of my constituents,” said the Carbondale Republican, who now represents coal and gas counties such as Moffat, Routt, Garfield and Rio Blanco.
“Is it possible to develop a convincing plan, with cost and time parameters, so that our hard-working miners and oil and gas industry folks could continue to have their own plans for security for their families? If the new governor wants to push this agenda, I’ll be asking for a realistic road map,” Rankin added. “Let’s see if such a plan is even achievable.”
To read the full Colorado Politics cover story, click here.