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U.S. Climate Politics Almanac: State Elections and Ballot Initiatives

North Carolina, New Mexico, and more

The U.S. Climate Politics Almanac continues our look at the 2024 elections, going down-ballot to the states. See also our review of important federal elections and global politics.

State Elections

North Carolina

Josh Stein

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, the Democratic candidate for governor. Credit: WLOS

Numerous polls confirm that North Carolina will probably host the most competitive gubernatorial election this year, with Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein competing against Republican Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson, an extremist and apparent Nazi sympathizer. The Republican gerrymander is far too strong to put control of the state’s General Assembly in play this year, but there are numerous competitive elections for Council of State positions, including Attorney General, Treasurer, and Insurance Commissioner.

New Mexico

Angel Charley

Angel Charley, who unseated Big Oil-backed Sen. Clemente Sanchez in the primary for New Mexico’s 30th Senate District.

For the third consecutive cycle, New Mexico’s primary featured many contests between Democrats who are cozy with the state’s powerful oil and gas industry and more progressive alternatives. In 2022, state representative Patty Lundstrom (D-HD 9-Gallup)—an aspiring speaker—boosted conservative Democrats in the primaries, largely in partnership with wealthy oilman Harvey Yates. After Lundstrom’s efforts mostly fell short, she was removed from her perch as Appropriations and Finance Chair by the new Speaker Javier Martinez (D-HD 11-Albuquerque).1

This year, primaries centered largely around conservative Democrats who had opposed repealing the state’s abortion ban or instituting paid medical family leave, but the power of Big Oil was once again a factor in several competitive primaries. And once again, it was a strong night for progressives, including those endorsed by Climate Cabinet (which went 10 for 10 on the night), Lead Locally, and the local Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters chapters.

Climate groups endorsed senator Shannon Pinto in her victorious primary in Gallup’s SD 3, as well as challenger Heather Berghmans in her successful campaign against incumbent senator Daniel Ivey-Soto in northeast Albuquerque’s SD 15. Progressive senator Linda López—the incumbent in southwest Albuquerque’s SD 11—also won her primary. Many progressives backed Debbie O’Malley in her challenge to senator Bill O’Neill for downtown Albuquerque’s SD 13, and O’Malley won. In SD 30 around Los Lunas, Diné advocate Angel Charley won her primary against senator Clemente Sanchez, who received major funding from Big Oil.

The night’s only loss for progressives in Democratic Senate primaries came in SD 4, where Senate Finance Chair George Munoz—an oily Democrat who single-handedly blocked legislation establishing a green bank—won his primary.

Speaker Martinez joined Climate Cabinet, Lead Locally, Sierra Club, Conservation Voters New Mexico, and others in supporting clean energy advocate Joseph Franklin Hernandez in a winning campaign for the open seat representing HD 4 in Farmington. In the West Albuquerque-based HD 16, state representative Yanira Gurrola won her primary against Marsella Duarte, who had support from Marathon Oil.

Green groups got behind environmentalist Jon Hill’s campaign to oust state representative Willie Madrid, the incumbent in Las Cruces’ HD 53, who opposed a law to raise royalties on new oil and gas wells. Hill, who supports a legislative proposal to make it easier to sue polluters, won the primary. Progressive groups also backed Michelle “Paulene” Abeyta in her primary victory over state representative Harry Garcia, the incumbent in the Pueblo Tribal lands’ based HD 69, who helped kill paid family medical leave. In the Las Vegas-based HD 70, establishment Democrats joined with the climate left in supporting Anita Gonzales’ successful challenge to state representative Ambrose Castellano. In the Las Cruces-based HD 35, Gabriel Duran raised a lot of money from conservative Democrats and outspent state representative Angelica Rubio, but Rubio still won the primary.

In the loss column: Conservation Voters New Mexico was among the groups that endorsed Air Force veteran Greg Seely in his primary challenge against state representative Marian Matthews, who helped kill the paid family leave bill, but Seely fell short in the primary in Albuquerque’s HD 27.

Other States

As Caroline Spears of Climate Cabinet2  told Volts’ David Roberts, closely contested State House majorities in the swing states of Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania will be hugely consequential for climate.

Climate Cabinet is also prioritizing keeping Democrats in control of the Minnesota House, flipping the Pennsylvania Senate, and making a two-cycle play for a pro-climate majority on the utility-regulating Arizona Corporation Commission.

There are also two other notable statewide contests in Pennsylvania. Republican treasurer Stacy Garrity is running for re-election against small business owner Erin McClelland, winner of an upset in the Democratic primary. In the open seat race for state attorney general, former state auditor Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat, faces Dave Sunday, the Republican York County DA.

Ballot initiatives

Fossil fuel interests are looking to unwind climate progress via ballot initiatives in California and Washington. In California, Big Oil has spent millions to qualify a ballot referendum seeking to overturn SB 1137— a 2022 law requiring a health and safety buffer zone between oil wells and schools, hospitals, and other public places. In a first victory for Big Oil, the law has been put on hold pending the results of California Oil and Gas Well Regulations Referendum. Climate advocates have organized as the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy California to support a “keep the law” vote on the referendum.

In Washington, Brian Heywood—a hedge fund megadonor whose apparent understanding of climate science fails basic elementary school concepts—spent millions to qualify Initiative 2117 for the November ballot. The initiative would overturn Washington’s Climate Commitment Act, a cap-and-invest program that has driven billions of dollars toward transportation and other expenditures. The so-called Prohibit Carbon Tax Credit Trading and Repeal Carbon Cap-and-Invest Program Measure is opposed by the Stop Greed campaign and the No on 2117 coalition.

1  Notwithstanding the bitter feelings many Democratic colleagues have, Patty Lundstrom’s constituents still turned out for her, and she won her 9th House district primary against Christopher Brian Hudson, a Navajo activist who’d been endorsed by the Sierra Club.

2  I am a strategist and consultant with Climate Cabinet, and Spears is my colleague.

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