The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change

Vote Here

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I spend a lot of time urging people to vote on climate. Perhaps urging is not enough, however? Who is running, what the various candidates’ voting records are, even how to register and where to vote might not be obvious to everybody. This being a midterm election, there isn’t as much media attention on the individual races and it is all to easy to just sit the whole thing out.

I’m not talking here just about people who are completely unfamiliar with the political process; it’s embarrassing to admit, but more than once I’ve found myself in the voting booth looking at candidates I’ve never heard of, for offices I don’t understand–I know about Congress races and so forth, but what exactly is the Judge of the Orphans Court? Also, while I’ve always considered environmental issues when voting, this will be the first year I look up candidates’ stance on climate change even in races where the issue never came up in the campaign. I can’t be the only person not certain where to go for that kind of information.

So, let’s do this. I’ll go through the process for my own district, plus a few others for variety, and maybe the whole thing will seem a little simpler and clearer for everybody else. I am American, so I’ll focus on American voting, but hopefully voters in other countries will be inspired.

The voting process

I’m in Maryland, and Maryland has a handy-dandy website where I can type in my name and zip code and get my registration record, polling place, whether I’ll need to show ID (I will not), and even a sample ballot. If I weren’t registered already, I could get registered through this site. Every other state I’ve tried has some version of this site, though they are not all equally useful and not all feature exactly the same information, but generally if you do an Internet search on “how to vote in [my state]” you’ll get your choice of websites at your service. You’re looking for the following information:

  • What day is the election?
  • Where is your polling place?
  • Can you vote early? How?
  • Are you properly registered?
  • Do you need to bring identification or your registration card to vote?
  • Who is running for what office in your district?

If getting to the polling place is difficult, look into absentee voting or see if a volunteer group can help with transportation.

Again, some of this might seem obvious, but it’s embarrassingly easy to overlook something–like an ID requirement–and not be able to vote. It’s also possible for something important to change, like the location of your polling place. Or, your registration could have been purged through a weird clerical error. It’s important to check.

The general election is Tuesday, November 4th, by the way. That is 19 days from today.

The candidates

I looked up a sample ballot for my voting district using the website mentioned above. It lists the following races:

  • Governor/Lt. Governor (they run together, on one ticket, in Maryland)
  • Congressional Representative (no Senate race in Maryland this year)
  • both houses of the State Legislature
  • Comptroller
  • State Attorney General
  • County Commissioner
  • Sheriff
  • Judge, Court of County Appeals At Large (two of them, each up for a vote of confidence, rather than running against competitors)
  • State’s Attorney
  • Clerk of the Circuit Court
  • Register of Wills
  • Judge of the Orphan’s Court (the instructions say to vote for any three out of a pool of four candidates)

Plus there are two Constitutional amendments up for approval. Neither has anything to do with climate change.

Arguably, a lot of these candidates don’t have anything to do with climate change, either. I mean, Register of Wills? Of course, it’s important to research all of these races, otherwise we leave part of our power as citizens in a democracy unclaimed–and today’s Register of Wills could be tomorrow’s Senator. And sometimes unexpected people can strike a blow for climate sanity–District Attorneys, for example. But no, I’m not going to write about every candidate for every race. Instead, I’ll just focus on the gubernatorial and Congressional races.

To be clear, I’m not campaigning for anybody, and I’m not going to discuss the candidates’ records on anything other than climate.

The League of Conservation Voters compiles score cards for Congresspeople, as well as for Congress as a whole. That is a good place to start. Each score reflects the number of environmental votes, as defined by a large panel of environmental experts, plus co-sponsoring bills during periods when no such votes reached the floor. The League divides “environmental votes” into several categories–“climate” is one of those categories, but so are “clean energy,” “dirty energy,” “drilling,” “air pollution,” and “transportation,” all of which are obviously part of the climate issue as well. If there is any way to subdivide an individual’s score by category, I have not yet found it, but it is clear that climate-related issues contribute significantly to the overall score and that an individual’s climate score cannot be larger than his or her overall environmental score.

So, the incumbent candidate for Congress in my district is Representative Andy Harris. His score for 2013 is 0. A big goose-egg. His lifetime score is 5%. Our senators, Benjamin Cardin and Barbara Mikulski have excellent records, but neither is up for election this year.

But what about Mr. Harris’ challenger, Bill Tilghman? (“Tilghman” is a common Maryland name; the “gh” is silent) Or anybody campaigning as write-in candidates?  Are any of the alternatives better?

I did an Internet search on “Bill Tilghman Climate Change,” and found electful.com, where you can look up candidates by state. Beside party affiliation, current job, and a brief biography, the site lists each candidate’s official stance for several major issues, including climate. It isn’t clear where the site gets its information–presumably they ask the candidates, since the profile looks like a questionnaire. Their profile for Mr. Harris is consistent with his scorecard from LCV, but  several of the questions were left blank–this suggests that the site is accurate as far as it goes but does not provide a complete picture. The site also includes candidates who were eliminated in the primary, and does not cover races for state offices, but it still seems a good place to start.

Bill Tilghman looks good, here. He believes climate change exists, supports cap-and-trade, supports EPA regulation of businesses and tax credits for renewable energy research and development, and does not support offshore drilling. Good for him. Of course, there is no way to know how he’ll stick to all of this once in office, but he’s obviously better than a goose egg. On the other hand, further searching reveals he supports fracking.  Some environmentalists do support natural gas use as a lower-carbon transitional fuel, so Mr Tilghman may be quite genuine in his opposition to climate change.

I have not found any organized write-in campaigns for District 1, though of course any of us have the option to write in whomever we want.

The gubernatorial race is harder because there is much less information already compiled. Presumably national organizations, like League of Conservation Voters, take less notice of state and local positions. I returned to my sample ballot and randomly chose the Democrat, Anthony Brown. I searched on “Anthony G. Brown Climate Change” and found a voter information site run by our regional paper, The Baltimore Sun. This site also lists Mr. Brown’s competitors, of course, as well at the other state and local races. Great! Except this site does not address climate change at all. It might be a good source of supportive information, but we’ll have to look elsewhere.

Rather than looking for other voter information sites that might be more cooperative, I’ve tried searching for information on individual candidates. I don’t want to rely on the candidates’ statements about themselves, which will likely say more about what they think the electorate wants to hear. Mr. Brown is the current Lt. Governor, and is running as Martin O’Malley’s political heir. In his own campaign materials, Mr. Brown claims O’Malley’s environmental record while in office as part of his own and he is actively presenting himself as an environmental candidate on that basis. So, what is Mr O’Malley’s record on climate change? I haven’t found anything like an objective score card, but Mr O’Malley has spoken extensively about the seriousness of climate change, and has advanced a fairly aggressive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% over the next five years. So that’s encouraging.

Larry Hogan literally has no environmental record at all, according to votesmart.org. The Washington Post described his environmental plans as “gauzy at best,” during the primary race and has since endorsed Mr. Brown, who has himself criticized Mr Hogan on climate change grounds (and much else–the campaign is nasty on both sides), but none of this is especially objective. Mr Hogan is a businessman (he does not say what his business does, besides economic development) and is running largely on an economic message. Climate change is, of course, important relative to Maryland’s economy because so much of the state is coastal–we have escaped from recent storms with very little damage, but a major storm-surge could get extremely expensive. However, in the world of politics, “business-friendly” and “job creation” are often code words for opposition to environmental regulation. While the environment does get a mention on Mr. Hogan’s website, he does not appear to be campaigning as an environmentalist. There is a good chance, therefore, that he isn’t one.

Shawn Quinn is the third candidate on the ballot for Governor. As a Libertarian, he is probably a long shot, but his website is professionally done and this is not his first political campaign. He has not held political office before and therefore has no official record on climate change, but he does not mention the issue on his website. As a libertarian, he is very definite in his belief that the government should not be involved in people’s lives–he opposes Maryland’s efforts to reduce smoking, for example, as well as its subsidies to tobacco farmers. This stated reluctance to allow government to involve itself either in public health or in economic development probably means he would not provide leadership on reducing greenhouse gas emissions or developing alternative energy, either.

This is the kind of detective work I am talking about. Some races are covered by large environmental organizations who can provide analysis of candidates’ records on climate change, but otherwise we are generally on our own. Information might be fleeting, especially for challengers who have no prior political record, but it is often possible to at least eliminate some candidates from consideration if they fail to mention the environment at all (meaning that they don’t think they need the votes of environmentalists) or if their campaigns focus on issues that are traditionally at odds with climate change, such as business.

I’ll keep researching candidates for my own knowledge and will share anything notable I find.

 

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Author: Caroline Ailanthus

I am a creative science writer. That is, most of my writing is creative rather than technical, but my topic is usually science. I enjoy explaining things and exploring ideas. I have one published novel and another on the way. I have a master's degree in Conservation Biology and I work full-time as a writer.

One thought on “Vote Here

  1. This is very helpful.

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