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Climate Politics Almanac: August 9 primaries

Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin

Four states are heading to the polls today. This overview will mostly look at the most high-profile statewide and congressional races. For a detailed look at the primaries in state legislatures, check out the indispensable Primary School preview.

Connecticut

CT-Gov: With the exception of a bill directing Connecticut’s Department of Insurance to evaluate climate risk, the Connecticut legislature failed to deliver much climate legislation last year, forcing Democratic governor Ned Lamont to take executive action to strengthen building codes, improve energy efficiency, and otherwise get Connecticut on the path to meet its climate goals. The legislature got their act together somewhat this year, sending legislation to Lamont’s desk to expand clean energy programs. In a race that Republicans are signaling that they plan to contest, Lamont is running for re-election this year in a rematch from four years ago against business executive Bob Stefanowski.

CT-Treasurer: Incumbent treasurer Shawn Wooden has had a relatively strong climate record, but announced in April that he would not run for re-election. In the Democratic primary to replace him, the Connecticut Democratic Party convention lined up behind municipal bond lawyer Erick Russell, whose platform promises to develop a “comprehensive plan for moving away from fossil fuels.” Former New Haven city staffer Karen Dubois-Walton makes no mention of climate on her website, but is nonetheless endorsed by the Working Families Party as the progressive choice. Hedge fund manager Dita Bhargava is supported by the state moderate legislative caucus, but has the most detailed policy paper of the candidates in the field, including a call for expansion of Connecticut’s Green Bank.

CT-01: Rep. John Larson is known as one of the House’s biggest champions of Social Security, but his age and relative anonymity on other issues has drawn a primary challenge nonetheless. Because of his support for a Green New Deal, former Chris Murphy staffer Muad Hrezi has been endorsed by Sunrise Connecticut, but Larson seems to be the favorite.

Minnesota

MN-Gov: Democratic governor Tim Walz is running for re-election. Walz established a climate change subcabinet in his first year in office, and is dedicating a substantial portion of the current budget surplus to climate resilience. Walz has a centrist reputation and has generally enjoyed high approval ratings. Republicans seem poised to nominate former state senator Scott Jensen, a MD who has peddled anti-vaccination misinformation and recently released a poll showing him competitive against Walz.

MN-AG: Attorney General Keith Ellison, who has sued Exxon, API, and Koch Industries for their climate “campaign of deception,” is running for a second term in what is expected to be a close race. At the MN GOP convention, Republicans backed corporate attorney Jim Schultz, who has pledged to “take a sledgehammer” to an AG office that he alleges has been insufficiently supportive of police and complicit in “militant far-left secularism.” Schultz’s Republican primary opponent is MyPillow attorney Doug Wardlow, an ardent 2020 election denier.

MN-02: The most vulnerable Member in Minnesota’s congressional delegation is Rep. Angie Craig, who represents a D+1 district in the southern Twin Cities suburbs. There is no primary here, and Craig’s Republican opponent is going to be Marines veteran Tyler Kistner.

MN-04: Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum has a generally liberal voting record and is known for outspoken stances against the Israeli government, but is nonetheless being challenged from her left by community organizer Amane Badhasso, whose support for a Green New Deal has earned her a boost in the form of expenditures by the grassroots progressive organization Take Action Minnesota and from Friends of the Earth.

Sunrise has endorsed Rep. Ilhan Omar for re-election

MN-05: Like most Squad Members, Rep. Ilhan Omar faces some notable outside spending attempting to unseat her in her primary against former Minneapolis Councilmember Don Evans. Evans has some decent climate rhetoric on his website, but seems to be propped up by right-wing crank funders and Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey, who feuded with Omar last year over a ballot measure to reform the police. Omar is a Green New Deal champion who has attempted to use her purview over foreign affairs to center an equitable international approach to climate justice.

Minnesota Legislature: Minnesota is currently the only state in the country with a divided legislature. Minnesota’s DFL party holds a 69-59 majority in the state house, while Republicans control a 34-31 majority in the state senate. Redistricting gave the DFL decent odds of holding the state house, with somewhat longer odds of flipping the state senate, which would likely give Democrats their only trifecta in the upper Midwest.

The state legislative analysts at Climate Slate have endorsed nine candidates: union president Josiah Hill, running in an open D+3 district (HD 33B) located in the St. Paul suburb of Stillwater; senator Jerry Newton (D-SD37), who is running for the tossup Rockford-based HD 35B; disability advocate Brion Curran, running in the Ramsey County suburb of White Bear Lake (HD 36B); and Inver Groves school board member Mary Frances Clardy, who is aiming to win the open seat in HD 53A. For Minnesota Senate, they’ve endorsed Kerri Rehrauer, who is running to unseat senator Jim Abeler (R-SD35-Coon Rapids); high school teacher Heather Gustafson, who is running against incumbent senator Roger Chamberlain (R-SD36-White Bear Lake); TV meteorologist Nicole Mitchell, running for an open seat in Woodbury-based SD 47; small business owner Bonnie Westlin, the DFL candidate in the open seat Plymouth-based SD 42; and utility-reforming senator Aric Putnam, running for re-election in the St. Cloud-based (and very marginally Democratic) SD 14.

Vermont

Sen. Bernie Sanders with state Sen. Becca Balint. Credit: James Buck

VT-AL: The Congressional Progressive Caucus has joined with a host of progressive outside groups in spending resources to support Vermont Senate leader Becca Balint, a Green New Deal champion who successfully overrode the Republican governor’s veto of a bill called the Global Warming Solutions Act. Balint’s main opponent is Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray, who supports a gas tax holiday and has scolded Balint for wanting to tax oil companies. After Bernie Sanders and other progressives have come out to support her, Balint has seemed to be the frontrunner to replace Rep. Peter Welch, who is expected to win the primary for retiring Senator Pat Leahy’s seat.

Wisconsin

WI-Sen: What was once an intriguing climate primary changed suddenly in late July, when all of the major opponents to Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes dropped out and endorsed him to be the Democratic candidate against incumbent senator (and extreme climate denier) Ron Johnson.

WI-Gov: Democratic governor Tony Evers is running for a second term. Evers’ job has mostly involved blocking an extreme Republican near-supermajority in the legislature, and that seems unlikely to change in a second term. However, as the state’s executive, Evers has initiated bus electrification and tree-planting campaigns, and formed a climate change task force chaired by Barnes, as well as several offices dedicated to climate resilience and environmental justice. In the Republican primary to face Evers in the fall, there are two major contenders. Former governor Scott Walker (one of the Koch brothers’ favorite politicians), Ted Cruz, and Mike Pence are behind Walker’s LG, Rebecca Kleefisch. Trump, reportedly peeved that Kleefisch’s daughter attended a homecoming dance with a conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who refused to help him steal the presidential election, has endorsed Kleefisch’s opponent Tim Michels. In a primary debate, Michels boasted of owning a construction company that “consumes massive amounts of fossil fuel” while defending against Kleefisch’s assertion that he favors a higher gas tax.

WI-Treasurer: Hill Heat readers have long understood the importance of state treasurers to climate, but the threat of Republicans flipping the treasurer’s office in swing states like Wisconsin was recently underscored by a New York Times investigation into the coordinated attack on climate financial action by Republican treasurers and fossil fuel interests.

Angelito Tenorio for Wisconsin treasurer

After outgoing incumbent Sarah Godlewski rescued the elected office of treasurer from a Scott Walker power-grab, she made one of her first official moves overturning a climate change gag order that had been imposed by her predecessor. Godlewski just concluded a losing Senate bid, and is not running for re-election. At the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention earlier this summer, delegates’ top preference was Wausau radiologist Gillian Battino, who is supported by EMILY’s List and Our Revolution, but whose sparse policy priorities do not mention climate change and suggest “preparing for the future” through some unspecified policy regarding cryptocurrency. West Aldis Alderman Angelito Tenorio is endorsed by the Working Families Party and his former employers at Wisconsin Conservation Voters, and he calls for addressing climate change at every level of government. Fitchburg Mayor Aaron Richardson is also running, though he seems to be trailing the other two candidates. On the Republican side, Ron Johnson staffer Orlando Owens somehow plans to use the treasurer’s office to “stop all critical race theory,” while attorney John Leiber offers a more traditional “fiscal conservative” pitch.

WI-03: After a career of touting corporate trade deals that facilitated the Midwest’s drift toward Trumpism, Democratic Rep. Ron Kind is retiring, leaving behind a district that is now R+9. (Republican Rep. Brian Steil’s southeastern WI-01 is actually a better Democratic pickup opportunity at R+6, though probably not this year.) The Republican nominee will be former Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden, who used campaign funds to participate in the January 6 insurrection. The Democratic candidates are former CIA officer Deb Maldus McGrath, who says she wants to support green jobs and seems to have support from other House Dems with a national security background; La Crosse Councilmember Mark Neumann, who challenged Kind last cycle on a platform supporting Medicare for All, is endorsed by Our Revolution, and emphasizes his support for nuclear energy; small business owner Rebecca Cooke, who pledges PFAS remediation, wants to address water runoff hurting farmers, and seems to have the most support from labor organizations; and state senator Brad Pfaff, whose website has the most vague climate platform, and who is endorsed by Kind and the corporate New Dem caucus.

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