By Antonia Madian
The drive for effective environmental legislators is strong in California, and no two organizations are more representative of that fact than Leadership for a Clean Economy (LCE) and the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV). They share a common goal: getting candidates with proven environmental policy track records into office so that California can continue to set an example as one of the greenest economies in the world.
LCE and CLCV work closely together in, as Rachel Van Wert, of LCE, describes it, “a thriving ecosystem of environmental and clean economy groups.” LCE recruits candidates to run for office and helps elect those candidates, while CLCV endorses candidates. Together these two organizations cover a great deal of ground in advancing environmental policy candidates in the legislature.
Both Mike Young, of CLCV, and Van Wert stress the importance of a long-standing commitment to the environment in potential office holders. Young says that it’s not just about a candidate’s position on current issues that CLCV takes into account when considering an endorsement, but what they have done to demonstrate this commitment through actions both as a public official and as an individual. He says, “public and private lives tend to be good indicators of how they will perform in the legislature,” along with their voting record, and how they have worked with the environmental community in the past. Van Wert explains that LCE looks to recruit people who both understand environmental policy issues and have “made them a priority in their careers” as a whole. She says we need to make sure we are “electing champions,” because most democratic candidates can say the right things on climate issues, but may not follow through.
Here at close the gap CA, we emphasize how important 2016 is as our last year to put more women in the legislature due to the new term limits, and CLCV and LCE share our concerns with regards to their environmentally-policy-minded candidates. “2016 is our last opportunity to meaningfully shape the legislature before open seats dwindle,” notes Van Wert.
Both LCE and CLCV also recognize the importance of bringing environmentally-minded women into office. Young notes, “women legislators make very effective environmental legislators,” and that “it helps to have many different ways of thinking on complex issues like the environment, especially because public health and the environment tend to be more on the minds of women.” Van Wert says, “California’s premiere climate legislation, which has been exported to other states and the federal government, was written and passed by female legislators and has left a very important footprint.” Both Young and Van Wert provided several examples of female legislators who have had a huge impact on environmental policy while in office. Van Wert highlighted the work of State Senator Fran Pavley and former Assembly Women Nancy Skinner. Young agreed and also cited the critical environmental work of Speaker Toni Atkins.
Both Young and Van Wert are optimistic about the state of climate policy in California, but stress that there is a lot of work to be done. Young emphasizes that, despite having poor showings in recent electoral years, we still have “strong, progressive, and forward thinking leaders on climate change” in office now, like Atkins and Attorney General Kamala Harris, and that we have to continue to back these candidates. Van Wert says that we are fortunate in California to “not be a state of climate skeptics;” however, “if we aren’t systematically cultivating, recruiting, and supporting candidates who will be our best leaders on climate change, we won’t see progress.” Both Young and Van Wert highlight California’s place as a leader for climate policy both nationally and internationally, and note that we are setting a standard for how environmental legislation can be implemented worldwide.
Finally, the people at LCE and CLCV both want to encourage potential progressive female candidates. Young says, “There is always a need for great legislators,” and notes that there are “a lot of structural disadvantages for women,” in politics and that we should all push for “strong, intelligent, liberal women.” Van Wert adds, “We will work really hard to raise money and provide hands-on resources” for strong female candidates who fit the LCE recruiting criteria. “If you are a leader on climate and clean energy issues, we want to get to know you.”