• Hill Heat
  • Posts
  • U.S. Climate Politics Almanac: Green New Dealers vs. Ecofascists

U.S. Climate Politics Almanac: Green New Dealers vs. Ecofascists

DeSantis, Crypto Cash, and AIPAC vs. the Squad

In the United States, many primary elections have already taken place, setting the stage for November’s federal elections. Here is a mid-2024 look at some of the important trends and stories in U.S. climate politics.

Ecofascism

The seventh episode of the Netflix documentary “Turning Point: The Bomb and the Cold War” tells the story of how high oil prices in the early 2000s helped strengthen Putin’s authoritarian grip over Russia, laying the groundwork for his placement of major media outlets under the control of Gazprom and other moves that blurred the lines between oligopoly and autocracy. This step on the road to autocracy—where the corporate sector and wealthy individuals forge an alliance with an authoritarian leader—seems to be playing out in the US context right now.

It’s worth looking beyond Trump to see the ways that ecofascism is maintaining its hold on the Republican party, and providing strong reason for doubt that there will any break in the long-term pattern even if Trump loses in November.

Florida

Don and Ron together

Don and Ron. Credit: Joe Raedle

Florida governor Ron DeSantis’ new law stripping any mention of climate change from Florida law is the latest in a series of actions to deny the real and growing danger that fossil fuel pollution poses for Florida’s economy, pension funds, and insurance markets. At the end of 2022, DeSantis signed a costly insurance overhaul. That was the same year that fossil fueled Hurricane Ian caused billions of dollars in damage to Florida, triggering an uptick in insolvencies by Florida’s poorly regulated insurers. It was also the year that the ratings agency Demotech yielded to pressure from Florida politicians to inflate the grades of the smaller insurers that DeSantis’ insurance overhaul encouraged into the market— a practice that is now raising concerns about financial stability. Now unburdened by the requirement to consider climate as a factor in long-term investments, Florida’s pension fund is reportedly increasing its exposure to catastrophe bonds— insurance-linked securities poised to get riskier in the years to come.

Louisiana

Landry in Trump’s shadow

Landry in Trump’s shadow. Credit: Gerald Hubert

Louisiana governor Jeff Landrywhose history using the federal judiciary to undermine climate progress forms a big part of his backstory—has pursued an extreme agenda in his short time in office, signing the nation’s most draconian abortion restrictions. He’s also signed legislation that appears to have been inspired by DeSantis’ insurance overhaul. Now Landry is pushing hard for a state constitutional convention in August, and seems to wants control over the drafting process to be concentrated in his hands and those of his corporate benefactors. Though Landry has been vague about what exactly he wants out of a constitutional rewrite, diversion of state money to support private school tuition, further erosion of transparency laws, and reduction of local control over public safety are clear elements of his agenda.

Texas

Trump and Greg Abbott in February. Credit: Eric Gay

Trump and Greg Abbott in February. Credit: Eric Gay

Texas governor Greg Abbott is another demagogic climate villain with major aims to eviscerate local control and starve public education. This year, Abbott has teamed with wealthy school privatizers, most notably former Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and GOP megadonor Jeffrey Yass, to fund primary campaigns against Republicans in the Texas legislature who oppose him. Though they were sometimes at odds in several of the contests, Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton both actively campaigned to oust numerous state Republicans deemed insufficiently loyal. Having defeated 15 incumbents, Abbott now claims to have the votes to pursue school privatization.

In a May 28 runoff, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan managed to pull off a comeback victory, defending his seat against the Trump-backed challenger David Covey.5 Covey’s campaign was funded with major support from Midland oil tycoon Tim Dunn, whose vendetta against Phelan was strengthened by Phelan’s move to impeach Paxton last year. Abbott claims Phelan’s victory was “blatantly stolen,” and is encouraging Texas House Republicans to replace him as speaker next year. One candidate who has already declared is Texas House Majority Leader Tom Oliverson (R-HD 150), author of last year’s damaging bill to restrict ESG risk analysis in insurance policy.

The Texas Senate acquitted Paxton on 16 different charges that he abused his power. In an interview with Rick Perlstein, one Texas political reporter cited Paxton’s acquittal as a major turning point toward the potential creation of a “fascist state” in Texas. Recently, Trump said he’d consider appointing Paxton as US Attorney General if he wins in November.

AIPAC and challenges to The Squad

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) canvassing with Jews for Jamaal

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) canvassing with Jews for Jamaal, via Micah Sifry

Right-wing billionaires, such as the aforementioned Jeffrey Yass and Paul Singer, have been among the largest donors to a set of pro-Israel electoral organizations that includes AIPAC, United Democracy Project, and the Democratic Majority For Israel. These groups have been among the biggest electoral forces in recent cycles. In early May, these forces aligned to help state senator Sarah Elferth win an open Democratic primary in Maryland’s 3rd congressional district. Then, 314 Action—an organization nominally dedicated to electing people with a background in science—reportedly acted as a pass-through for AIPAC donors to help boost state representative Maxine Dexter over former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal. Dexter handily defeated Jayapal—sister of Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal—in the primary for Oregon’s open 3rd congressional district.2

Various right-wing, pro-Israel forces are now focusing their resources on defeating members of “The Squad,” the vocal faction of Green New Deal champions who have gradually grown their numbers in Congress each cycle since the 2018 election of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). In late April, Rep. Summer Lee (D-Penn.) effectively highlighted the alignment of the money opposing her with Trump, and easily won her primary. Lee also cited concrete accomplishments she had delivered for her district, and then added another one when her bill creating a program to identify methane-spewing abandoned oil and gas wells passed the House.

There will be several more competitive Squad primaries this summer. In New York’s 16th congressional district, Rep. Jamaal Bowman—a champion of the Green New Deal for public schools—is being drowned with outside money and challenged by Westchester County Executive George Latimer in a primary that will take place on June 25. In Missouri’s 1st congressional district, Rep. Cori Bushchampion of the Green New Deal for cities—faces a well-funded challenge from St. Louis County prosecutor Wesley Bell. In Minnesota’s 5th congressional district, Rep. Ilhan Omar—who has emphasized green housing—faces an August 13 rematch against Don Samuels, the former Minneapolis Councilmember she narrowly defeated two years ago.

Crypto cash

Sam Bankman-Fried in 2022. Credit: Suzanne Cordiero

Cryptocurrency is a highly wasteful, scam-ridden, and volatile fraud. It has also emerged as one of the most dominant forces in electoral political spending. Crypto’s political power was a major trend of the 2022 cycle, even as that cycle coincided with a fantastic collapse of the industry, culminating with the arrest of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, whose defrauding of customers went in part toward propping up his political influence.

Nonetheless, crypto has maintained its political power. A recent report from Public Citizen outlined how crypto companies and their venture capital funders are some of 2024’s biggest spenders. According to the report, crypto-affiliated Super PACs rank third for Super PAC fundraising thus far this cycle; crypto associates are amongst the biggest contributors to many congressional committees; and the industry appears poised to target Senate Banking Chair Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Banking Committee member Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

So far, crypto spending has helped propel primary victories for Democrats Shomari Figures in Alabama’s new 2nd congressional district, Julie Johnson in Texas’ 32nd district, and Johnny Olszewski Jr. in Maryland’s 2nd district.

Crypto also played a huge role in ensuring that Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.)— a strong Wall Street critic— did not make the general election against Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), now considered a shoo-in to win California’s open US Senate seat. Crypto has also supported North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, the heavy favorite to win back North Carolina’s 14th congressional district for the GOP after engineering a gerrymander of the seat.

In related news, Congress has used an expansive interpretation of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to attempt to overturn a SEC rule aimed at protecting crypto investors, and the House approved a bill to shift crypto regulation to a weaker and less resourced agency. An astonishing 71 House Democrats voted for the latter bill, including Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi and many other California Democrats.3

President Biden vetoed the CRA resolution, which received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. 21 House Democrats joined all Republicans in voting for it. Reps. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.), and Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) have long stood out as Democrats’ chief crypto boosters even through numerous scandals. But the CRA vote seemed to signal new crypto loyalists, including Rep. Yadira Caraveo (D-Col.), whose campaign has been a major beneficiary of crypto money, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), who will need to compete with Gottheimer for cash if she runs for governor next year, and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a progressive who is fundraising for one of this cycle’s most expensive Senate contests.

Twelve Senate Democrats also supported the CRA resolution, with the most notable Aye votes coming from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and 2020 presidential candidates Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

Crypto has also given generously to campaigns for numerous Financial Services Committee members, including Gottheimer and Torres, as well as Reps. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.), and Brittany Pettersen (D-Col.), Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), Young Kim (R-Calif.) and Zach Nunn (R-Iowa). (Kim and Nunn represent competitive districts.)4

Hill Heat is sponsored entirely by its community of subscribers. If you find value in this work, please contribute to keep it going:

1  That story is illustrated aptly through one Republican political dynasty. In 1988, George H.W. Bush was elected president on a pledge to fight the greenhouse effect with the “White House effect,” but was talked out of joining international climate talks by his Chief of Staff John Sununu. Today, Sununu’s son Chris Sununu is the governor of New Hampshire. Sununu the younger was briefly and disingenuously portrayed as a figure who might steer the GOP away from MAGA extremism, but in April, he appeared on ABC’s This Week to staunchly defend his support for Trump even when pressed directly about the former president’s many crimes.

2  In theory, electing people with a background in science should facilitate stronger climate action. In practice, 314 Action is now adding to its track record of supporting candidates who run counter to that goal. Another example was the 2020 Senate race in Colorado, when 314 Action actively pushed John Hickenlooper to enter the race— supposedly on the basis that he was the likeliest Democrat to beat Republican Senator Cory Gardner. The field already included several candidates who also probably would have defeated Gardner, none of whom were as friendly with the fracking industry as Hickenlooper. 314 Action’s rationale for endorsing Hickenlooper was his scientific background as a petroleum geologist.

3  Kudos to Reps. Barbara Lee, Mark DeSaulnier, and Jared Huffman for being the only Members from the San Francisco Bay Area to vote against weaker regulations for crypto. One might expect heavy crypto spending in the open seat election to succeed Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) in California’s 14th congressional district. Or it’s possible that crypto interests are content with whichever of the two Democrats prevails in the general election between Sam Liccardo, the former San Jose mayor with “strong ties to Silicon Valley tech and real estate firms,” and Assemblymember Evan Low, who is endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus despite his history of crypto boosterism. 

4  Like all industries, crypto gives disproportionately to members of the committees that regulate them. Beyond that though, crypto’s electoral spending is often difficult to trace with few discernible patterns. Politicians that have made bids to attract crypto money have not always succeeded. And cozy relationships and funding from crypto Super PACs don’t perfectly predict how a Member will vote, as illustrated by progressive Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), who was elected with support from “crypto world,” but has so far resisted the deregulatory fervor.

5  Phelan nearly became the third Republican state legislative leader to lose to an even more right-wing primary challenger in the month of May. West Virginia Senate president Craig Blair lost his primary on the same night as several other incumbents lost their seats for insufficiently fear-mongering against vaccines and transgender rights, and Idaho Senate leader Chuck Winder lost his primary after being targeted by the far-right Idaho Freedom Foundation.

Join the conversation

or to participate.