Plain and simple: Republicans achieved a wave of victories nationally and in the Midwest while, as the incumbent national party, Democrats bore the brunt of the public’s dissatisfaction with politicians. The public, however, did vote positively on various referenda issues in ways that aligned more closely to Democrat positions than Republican positions.
For environmental, clean energy and conservation advocates, the election results are mostly not promising, but it’s more complex than simple one-liners aimed at raising money or gearing up for 2016 battles. We lost some strong environmental supporters in the November 4th elections, but some winning candidates, from both parties, have been good supporters of clean energy, passenger rail, and other environmental and conservation programs. As described below, there are some opportunities as well as obvious challenges.
Three trends worked against the incumbent party in 2014 – the first two of which will change in the 2016 elections: (1) Democrats defended an unusually larger number of Senate seats in 2014 than Republicans did. (2) Republicans were able to take advantage of the historic trend of voters electing candidates of the party opposing a sitting President in off-year elections. This is especially the case at the six-year mark in a President’s tenure. Voters are usually ready for change, and frustrations over domestic or foreign policy issues are often taken out on the President and his party. The 2014 voting results are mostly consistent with so-called “pendulum swings.” (3) Older voters continue to participate much more than younger ones, but among senior citizens, Roosevelt Democrats are dying off and being replaced by Reagan Republicans.
Looking at the Overall Results, Lessons Learned and Strategic Opportunities/Challenges:
1. People are completely, totally, overwhelmingly dissatisfied with “politics as usual.”
As the incumbent party, Democrats bore the brunt of this rampant dissatisfaction. Senator-elect Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Governor-elect Bruce Rauner (R-IL), for example, proudly ran on platforms of changing “business as usual” and successfully tapped this wave of public dissatisfaction in a way that parallels President Obama’s successful “change” message in his 2008 election campaign. Opportunity: Environmentalists should build on this “business as usual” concern in our challenges to the Illinois Department of Transportation’s proposed Illiana Tollway, which is a financial boondoggle “road to nowhere” that will harm the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Likewise, Exelon’s, First Energy’s, AEP’s and other energy companies’ attempts to gain more public subsidies and taxpayer bailouts for their uneconomic nuclear and coal plants exemplify a distasteful “business as usual” to much of the public.
2. Opportunities for environmental progress will shift from Washington D.C. to the states. Let’s seize opportunities to go on the offense in states where we can win on specific issues.
In the Midwest, we’ll have to thread the political needle, but there are some focused opportunities for progress. Midwest high-speed rail development enjoys bipartisan support in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri. We expect Governor Rick Snyder (R-MI) to work together with Governor-elect Bruce Rauner (R-IL) on Chicago-Detroit high-speed rail, as he has with outgoing Governor Pat Quinn (D-IL).
Governors Terry Branstad (R-IA), Jack Dalrymple (R-ND), Mark Dayton (D-MN) and Dennis Daugaard (R-SD) are strong supporters of wind power development, as are most members of the Midwest/Great Plains Senate Delegation, including Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD). A challenge: Can we effectively parlay that wind power support into solar energy policy support as the next clean technology opportunity? ELPC will soon be issuing updated renewable energy business supply chain reports, which identify specific companies in each state by legislative district, to underscore the economic value in their communities.
Energy efficiency – Because it saves money for residential and business consumers, it receives at least lip-service bipartisan support; it’s “motherhood and apple pie” in political terms. There seem to be serious opportunities for progress in Illinois and Michigan, although recent setbacks in Indiana and Ohio are disheartening.
Severe fiscal constraints in Illinois and some other states will help ELPC and other partners challenge boondoggles such as the proposed Illiana Tollway, which is opposed by environmental and conservation interests and widely seen as a billion-dollar boondoggle. Environmentalists should consider mounting “green scissors” campaigns, which identify wasteful projects and programs, in the Midwest states that are facing serious budget shortfalls.
3. We’ll be playing climate change solutions defense in Washington D.C.
There’s no way to sugar-coat it: although environmental values historically transcended party lines, many key Republican Congressional leaders actively and ardently oppose environmental programs and climate change solutions in particular. With the U.S. Senate now controlled by Republicans, environmentalists will be on the defensive. Climate change denier Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) will chair the Environment and Public Works Committee, oil-industry friendly Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will chair the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee, and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will become the Senate Majority Leader. Our environmental protection and natural resources preservation values will be under assault in multiple ways. Challenges: (a) Assess when and where to compromise, and where to draw lines in the sand. (b) Build some bipartisan support in the Senate to hold off 60-vote majorities on climate change solutions backsliding and to enable the U.S. EPA Clean Power Plan to move forward. (c) Engage support for President Obama to wield his veto pen when necessary for defending core environmental values and clean energy solutions to our climate change problems.
4. We need to energize environmental voters – especially younger voters – to turnout more.
Too many Democrats ran away from environmental and clean energy issues, and some preliminary data indicates fall-off in voting in some states, especially among younger voters who care about these issues. For example, in Chicago, 2014 turnout was significantly below 2010 voting, and younger voters really did not turnout. That low turnout follows a coordinated campaign by Democrats to identify their hoped-for voters and get them to vote. ELPC plans to work with an analytics team to assess turnout of pro-environmental (especially younger) voters in several key cities and states. That analysis could provide important data in persuading elected officials to talk and act more favorably on pro-environmental and pro-clean energy issues if they want to turnout more voters. If candidates and the national parties want to increase turnout of pro-environmental votes – particularly younger voters – they need to speak to climate change solutions and take actions that “walk the talk.” More news to follow on this point.
5. We should engage and build support with Republican friends who are supportive on particular environmental, clean energy and climate change solutions.
Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) has been a strong supporter of Great Lakes protection and was one of the few House Republicans to vote for the Waxman-Markey climate change solutions legislation. We should urge Senator Kirk to exert leadership on key issues within the Republican Senate caucus. This opportunity is even more important given the close working relationship between Senator Kirk’s staff and Governor-elect Rauner’s staff. It is important to recognize that not all new Republicans entering the Congress are anti-environment. Midwestern environmentalists should be able to work with some new members, including Congressman-elect Robert Dold (R-IL), whose pro-environmental and pro-clean energy campaign ads and positions reflect his Chicago-Northern Suburban district. South Dakota Senator-elect Mike Rounds (R-SD) may be an opponent on many issues, but he also supports extending the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power development. Across a broad range of issues, environmentalists should consider reframing some of their positions into language more consistent with Republican approaches and philosophy. We could see more increased interest, for example, in market-based solutions.
6. Some reality checks on Clean Power Plans in the Midwest states.
All of the Midwest and Great Plains states elected Republican Governors, with Minnesota as the lone exception. Several Republican Governors (e.g., Kasich, Pence, Walker) apparently look in the mirror and see themselves as possible Presidential and Vice-Presidential contenders. Let’s be realistic: their visions do not include supporting the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and, at least until after the November 2016 elections, they will not likely support a “Midwest RGGI” (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) for political reasons regardless of asserted policy and economic rationales. Indeed, they are much more likely to be joining Congressional Republicans in bashing and suing to stop the U.S. EPA from implementing the Clean Power Plan than in joining together in a regional RGGI-type compact. We should focus on actively engaging in each Midwest state to develop and shape their clean power compliance strategies and plans. We should leave doors open to a Midwest RGGI. We should not expend our limited political capital on a Midwest RGGI strategic initiative where we just don’t have support from the current Governors and, ultimately, their state EPAs/DNRs. For those who hope or believe otherwise, to paraphrase Jerry McGuire: “show me the states” who will sign up (beyond maybe Minnesota and, perhaps, Illinois).
7. Relatively few Midwest/Great Plains Senate and House seats actually switched parties.
Three House members in Illinois and Iowa switched from Ds to Rs, and one House seat in Nebraska switched from an R to a D. Two open Senate seats switched parties: in Iowa, Republican Joni Ernst was elected to follow long-time Democrat stalwart Tom Harkin, and, in South Dakota, Republican Mike Rounds was elected to succeed Democrat Tim Johnson. Democrats retained three contested Senate seats: Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN) comfortably won re-election, and Gary Peters (D-MI) was elected to succeed Democrat Carl Levin. The Midwest Senate delegation, overall, is evenly balanced among Democrats and Republicans.
8. 2016 is a Presidential election year with key upcoming Senate Races in Iowa, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The partisan tables turn in 2016 because there is much greater turnout in Presidential election years, which historically favor Democrats, and more Republican Senate seats are in play. Unlike in 2014, Republicans will be defending 24 seats as compared to 10 seats for the Democrats in 2016. The Midwest states are likely to be a key Presidential and Senate battleground, along with states such as Colorado and Florida. Republican Senate seats in Illinois (Kirk), Iowa (Grassley), Pennsylvania (Toomey) and Wisconsin (Johnson) are likely to be among the nation’s most hotly contested races whether the current incumbents run or retire. All of these seats, currently held by Republican incumbents, were carried by President Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Let’s Now Look to the Election Results in Each of the Midwest/Upper Great Plains States:
Governorships – Republicans Dominate
Democrat Mark Dayton won re-election in Minnesota, but Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D) lost to Governor-elect Bruce Rauner (R). Republicans retained the governorships in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Republicans now control the governorships in all of the Midwest/Great Plains states, except for Minnesota and Missouri.
State Legislatures – Some Shifts
Although the compositions of the state legislatures were not expected to change dramatically, there were some shifts. Republicans achieved majority control in the Minnesota House through an 11-seat pickup largely by gaining seats in rural areas, and they solidified their control of both the Wisconsin Senate and House. Democrats kept control of the Iowa Senate and maintained veto-proof majorities in the Illinois Senate and House.
Here’s a State-by-State Review of the Election Returns:
Illinois had a tight gubernatorial election, a not-close U.S. Senate race, and five hotly-contested Congressional races, which resulted in two seats switching from Democrats to Republicans. The Illinois General Assembly remains overwhelmingly Democratic.
U.S. Senate: Three-term U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D) was opposed by State Senator (and ice cream baron) Jim Oberweis (R). The race was never close, and Senator Durbin won his fourth term 53%-43%. Senator Durbin has been a longstanding leader on important environmental, clean energy and high-speed rail funding issues. ELPC looks forward to continue working closely with Senator Durbin, who will likely be the Assistant Senate Minority Leader in the next Congress.
U.S. House of Representatives: Four years ago, Illinois was a battleground state in which several Democratic House seats fell to Republicans. Two years ago, following remapping, Democrats won five of the six contested House races. This year, Republicans made strong runs to retake those five seats and succeeded in switching two of Illinois’ 18 House seats:
- 10th District: Former Congressman Robert Dold (R), who lost this seat in 2012, came back to defeat one-term incumbent Democrat Brad Schneider by a 3% margin. Historically, voters in this district had supported pro-environment, pro-choice Republicans such as Congressman John Porter and former Congressman, now-U.S. Senator Mark Kirk. Remapping put more Democratic-leaning voters in this district. Congressman Schneider (D) has been a good environmental supporter, but Congressman-elect Dold (R) ran stressing his strong pro-environmental values. We’ll want to work with Congressman-elect Dold to move from his campaign ads into positive legislative actions on climate change, clean energy and Great Lakes protection issues.
- 11th District: Incumbent Democratic Congressman Bill Foster held this seat until 2010 when he lost, but then he won the seat back in 2012. He was opposed by State Representative Darlene Senger (R), but, following remapping, the district leans Democratic. It also includes many scientists and technicians from the Argonne and Fermi National Laboratories as well as related businesses and research centers. Congressman Foster won re-election by a comfortable 53% – 47% result.
- 12th District: Incumbent Democratic Congressman Bill Enyart won this seat in Southern Illinois two years ago in a competitive race. In 2014, he was opposed by long-time Republican State Representative Mike Bost. Pre-election polls swung back and forth, but, ultimately, Bost defeated Enyart by an 11% margin. Because the 12th District is dominated by coal interests and other mineral extraction issues, neither Enyart nor Bost was considered particularly supportive of environmental issues.
- 13th District: Incumbent Republican Congressman Rodney Davis originally won this seat in 2012. The 13th district includes university areas in Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana and Springfield and is considered to be a toss-up district. Democratic candidate Ann Callis, a retired judge, did not seem to gain electoral traction. Congressman Davis (R) won re-election handily with a 59% – 41% victory.
- 17th District: Two years ago, Democratic Congresswoman Cheri Bustos upset Republican Congressman Bobby Schilling, who ran again this year in a rematch. This was another competitive race, but Congresswoman Bustos, who has been generally supportive of environmental and conservation interests, gained a strong 55% – 45% victory.
Governor: Incumbent Governor Pat Quinn (D) was running for a second full term following his ascension to the Governor’s office in January 2009 after the impeachment trial of the former governor. He was successfully challenged by businessman Bruce Rauner (R), who won the hotly contested race by a 51% – 46% margin. Rauner won 101 of Illinois’ 102 counties; Quinn only won Cook County (Chicago area). The Quinn/Rauner race surpassed all previous spending records in Illinois, passing the $97 million mark (at least).
Governor Quinn supported many environmental and clean energy initiatives and was a champion of high-speed rail development. However, his Illinois Department of Transportation vociferously advocates the highly-controversial Illiana Tollway (as well as the proposed Peotone Airport), which is being challenged by ELPC, Openlands, Sierra Club and many other conservation organizations. Governor-elect Rauner was mostly silent on these issues during the campaign. He has been supportive of conservation organizations and has voiced support for clean energy. Let’s see.
There was little in play in Indiana with no open Senate seats and Republican Governor Mike Pence in the middle of his first term. There were no changes or especially close races among Indiana’s Congressional seats: seven held by Republicans and two held by Democrats. Both houses of the Indiana Legislature are strongly Republican, and that did not change.
Iowa was a battleground state with an open Senate seat, three hotly-contested Congressional seats, and control of both state legislative chambers potentially in play. Governor Terry Branstad (R) ran for a sixth term and was not closely challenged. Republicans gained a U.S. Senate seat and an additional Congressional seat. Republicans strengthened their majority in the Iowa House while Democrats maintained their slim State Senate majority.
U.S. Senate: Five-term Senator Tom Harkin (D) announced his retirement, opening this seat for the competitive race between Democrat Bruce Braley, Iowa’s 1st District Congressman, and Republican Joni Ernst, an Iowa State Senator. Braley and Ernst appear to have very different views on environmental issues, especially implementation and enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Senator-elect Ernst won by an 8.5% margin after what had appeared to be a much closer race. Some preliminary post-election analysis suggests that Republicans effectively identified “low-propensity” Republican-leaning voters and encouraged them to cast ballots early, and even though Democrats spent millions more in 2014 than in 2010, their turnout was lower.
U.S. House of Representatives: Republicans captured seats in three out of Iowa’s four Congressional districts as two seats opened when Congressman Bruce Braley (D) ran for Senate and Congressman Tom Latham (R) retired:
- 1st District: Democrats nominated former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy for this Eastern Iowa Congressional seat opened up by Braley’s Senate candidacy. Republicans nominated Dubuque businessman Rod Blum. The voter registration is Democratic-leaning, but Blum defeated Murphy by 51.2% – 48.8% as part of the Republican wave and amid campaign missteps by Blum. This seat will likely be a top Democratic “pick-up” target in 2016.
- 2nd District: Democratic incumbent Congressman Dave Loebsack won his race for a fifth term against Republican Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks by 52.5% – 47.5%.
- 3rd District: Republicans had a five-candidate primary for long-time Congressman Tom Latham’s (R) seat in this Republican-leaning district. Because none of the candidates captured 35% of the primary vote, a GOP convention was convened, which nominated David Young who had run 4th in the primary. Young previously served as Senator Grassley’s Chief of Staff. Congressman-elect Young defeated Democratic candidate Staci Appel, the former Assistant Majority Leader in the Iowa Senate, by more than a 10% margin.
- 4th District: Incumbent Republican Congressman Steve King ran for his seventh term in Iowa’s most conservative district. King was challenged by young Democrat Jim Mowrer, who spent $2 million on his campaign. Congressman King won re-election 61.7% – 38.3%.
Governor: Incumbent Republican Governor Terry Branstad was seeking his second consecutive and sixth overall term as Governor. He previously served four consecutive terms that were followed by two Democratic governors (Vilsack and Culver). Governor Branstad outspent his opponent Democratic State Senator Jack Hatch by a 10:1 margin, and he handily won re-election by a 22% margin. Branstad has been a national leader on wind power development issues and is promoting a new parks initiative in his new term as Governor.
State Legislature: The Iowa Legislature has been narrowly divided and remains so. The Senate is controlled by the Democrats with a narrow 26-24 majority. The House is controlled by Republicans who picked up four seats to strengthen their majority to 57-43.
Michigan was also a battleground state with an open Senate seat and a hotly-contested gubernatorial race with first-term Republican Governor Rick Snyder up for re-election. Republicans gained ground in the state House and now have a super-majority in the state Senate.
U.S. Senate: Long-time Senator Carl Levin (D) announced his retirement, opening the seat for a contested race between Democratic Congressman Gary Peters and Republican former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. This race was sometimes considered a possible Republican pickup, but Senator-elect Peters won by a large 13% margin, thus holding the Democratic seat. Senator-elect Peters supports action on climate change and expressed pro-environmental positions during the campaign while Land opposed to taking action on climate change.
U.S. House of Representatives: There were no especially close races for Michigan’s Congressional seats, which include nine Republicans and five Democrats.
Governor: Incumbent Republican Governor Rick Snyder was running for a second term and faced vigorous opposition by Democratic former Congressman Mark Schauer. Governor Snyder won re-election by a 4% margin. Governor Snyder has been a leader advancing high-speed rail development in Michigan and the Midwest, and he has indicated that renewable energy development and energy efficiency advances will be a focus of his second term.
Senator Al Franken and Governor Mark Dayton each won their elections for a second term in office. Democrats held control of the state Senate, but Republicans gained 11 seats and control of the state House.
U.S. Senate: Senator Al Franken (DFL) was opposed by businessman Mike McFadden (R), but it was a very different race than six years ago when Senator Franken won election by defeating an incumbent Republican Senator by an exceedingly close 312-vote margin. This election, clean energy supporter Senator Franken won re-election by more than a 10% margin.
U.S. House of Representatives: Minnesota has eight Congressional seats, which include five Democrats and three Republicans. None of the seats changed hands. Following tough and expensive campaigns, Congressman Rick Nolan (D) won by a 1.5% margin, Congressman Collin Peterson (D) won by a 9.5% margin, and Congressman Tim Walz (D) won by an 8.5% margin.
Governor: Incumbent Democratic Governor Mark Dayton faced challenger Republican former state legislator Jeff Johnson, and he won by 6% margin. Dayton has been supportive on environmental and clean energy issues. He is now the Midwest’s sole Democratic governor.
State Legislature: Despite losing every other statewide race to Democrats, Minnesota Republicans succeeding in flipping the Minnesota House in their favor. Their 11-seat pickup reflected a strategy of contending that Democratic-controlled state government is out-of-touch with rural Minnesotans. Republicans gained 10 seats in greater Minnesota to come away with a 72-62 advantage in the House. Democrats retained their Senate majority.
There was little in play in North Dakota with no open Senate seats and Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple mid-term. Congressman Kevin Cramer (R) easily won re-election to North Dakota’s sole Congressional seat. The state legislature continues to be heavily Republican; however, State Senators Connie Triplett and Tim Mathern, who have been supportive of ELPC’s efforts to require capturing of flared natural gases, were re-elected. Governor Dalrymple has also recently expressed concerns about flared gases in Bakken oil drilling. Unfortunately, a ballot measure designed to provide more state conservation funding suffered a crushing defeat after the oil industry’s heavily-financed ad campaign in opposition.
Ohio did not have a Senate race, and incumbent Republican Governor John Kasich was not effectively challenged for a second term by Democrat Ed Fitzgerald, the County Executive of Cuyahoga County. The race was never close, and Governor Kasich was re-elected by a 31% margin. Ohio has 16 Congressional seats – 12 Republicans and four Democrats. None of the seats changed hands, and no races were close following the remapping that advanced Republicans and packed Democrats in a few districts. All of Ohio’s state-wide elected officials are Republicans, and both houses of the legislature are controlled by Republicans with veto-proof margins that did not change.
Incumbent Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, who has chaired the bipartisan Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition, easily won re-election over Democratic candidate Susan Wismer, a South Dakota House member. Likewise, incumbent Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem easily won re-election over Democrat Corrina Robinson by 66.5%-33.5%. She supports extending the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power development and has supported the Farm Bill’s clean energy programs. Both South Dakota legislative chambers are overwhelmingly Republican, and that did not change. The U.S. Senate race, however, was more interesting.
U.S. Senate Race: There is an open Senate seat due to the retirement of Democratic Senator Tim Johnson. Former two-term Republican Governor Mike Rounds was a strong candidate, but the election became complicated because of a scandal dating from the Rounds gubernatorial administration and due to the entry of third-party candidate Larry Pressler, who had previously served as a Republican U.S. Senator, and fourth-party candidate Gordon Howie. The final election returns show Republican Senator-elect Mike Rounds winning with 50.4% over Democratic candidate Rick Weiland (29.5%), Independent candidate Larry Pressler (17%) and Independent candidate Gordon Howie (3.0%). We will likely differ with Senator-elect Rounds on many environmental issues, but expect to work with him to advance some renewable energy policies and to extend the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) to encourage more wind power development.
Wisconsin had no U.S. Senate Race and no close U.S. House races in the gerrymandered districts, but it held its third hotly-contested gubernatorial election in four years, which Republican Governor Scott Walker won. The state House is controlled by Republicans, who also have a narrowed majority in the state Senate. Both chambers are expected to be hostile on many key environmental issues and supportive of Governor Scott Walker’s policies. Their victories give Republicans almost complete control of Wisconsin state government for another two-year legislative session. Environmentalists will be greatly on the defensive.
Governor: There’s little to be said here that’s not well-known by most readers. Incumbent Republican Governor Scott Walker, whose anti-environmental record is clear, faced Democratic challenger Mary Burke, a former executive at Trek Bicycle Corporation and Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. The gubernatorial race was close from the beginning, and Burke gained endorsements from several state papers, including the moderately conservative Wisconsin State Journal. On Election Day, Governor Walker won by a 5.7% margin. Environmentalists and many others will be analyzing this race particularly because Wisconsin is likely to be a key Presidential election battleground state with a targeted Senate race.
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The Environmental Law & Policy Center sees both strategic opportunities for progress and major challenges with the federal government’s and many states’ fiscally constrained budgets. We look forward to discussing both paths with our colleagues and diverse potential allies. As the views of these newly-elected public officials become clearer and they move from campaigning toward governance, ELPC will continue to assess both ways of seizing opportunities and responding effectively to the challenges. ELPC looks forward to working together with our colleagues and diverse coalition partners to achieve environmental progress and economic development together. We will keep you informed going forward. Please let us know if you have any questions or suggestions.