Locally, the environment won

By Mona Blaber, 
Chapter communications coordinator

Many of us are feeling gutted after November 8’s presidential result. The Sierra Club is preparing for a long, difficult battle ahead.

But locally, the elections bring real rays of hope, even in the face of the presidential result.

In the biggest shift, New Mexicans elected a solid pro-environment majority in both the state House and Senate.

  • With this Legislature, we can pass a Renewable Energy Act that requires 50% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% by 2050.
  • With this Legislature, we can ban cruel trapping on public lands.
  • With this Legislature, we can outlaw coyote-killing contests.

Getting these bills past Gov. Susana Martinez’s veto pen will be challenging. But in 2018, we will elect a new governor, and all New Mexico citizens will have better access to voting with Maggie Toulouse Oliver as secretary of state.

How did New Mexico buck the national trend? It was people like you being engaged in the process, voting and volunteering. Dozens of Rio Grande Chapter volunteers knocked on more than 3,000 doors in key swing districts that decided the balance of the state House. Two thirds of the candidates the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter endorsed came out winners.

With a hostile U.S. House and gridlocked Senate for the past six years, much of America’s environmental progress has come at the state and local level anyway, including significant climate progress. Can New Mexico be a light of hope? Here’s a rundown of New Mexico and El Paso election results and their implications:

New Mexico House

Under Republican control since 2014, the state House passed bills to revoke renewable-energy requirements and weaken groundwater protections. Environmental advocates were forced to play defense and try to stop negative legislation in the friendlier state Senate. But in November, Rio Grande Chapter-endorsed candidates unseated five Republicans with miserable environmental voting records. They regained the majority, and now Rep. Brian Egolf, an environmental leader, enters the January legislative session as speaker of the House.

In Southern New Mexico,

  • Former Las Cruces City Councilor Nathan Small unseated state Rep. Andy Nuñez, who had sponsored legislation calling on the governor to denounce the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, saying his ideal number of wolves in New Mexico was “zero.”  Small was instrumental in the designation of the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument.
  • After losses in 2012 and 2014, Joanne Ferrary was came through on her third attempt for the Las Cruces-area District 37 state House seat.
  • Rodolpho Martinez took back the Silver City-area seat he lost in 2014 to John Zimmerman, who sponsored a bill in 2015 to strip all state protections from cougars.

In Albuquerque, Liz Thomson, who compiled a strong environmental record in her 2012-2014 term in the House, recaptured the seat she lost in 2014.

Daymon Ely, a former Sandoval County commissioner who recently testified for a moratorium on oil and gas drilling there, also unseated an incumbent.

New Mexico Senate

In the Senate, environmental votes aren’t strictly partisan. A coalition of Republicans and anti-environment Democrats allowed polluters and industry interests a disproportionately large voice. However, the ranks of anti-environment senators have slimmed.

Santa Fe County Commissioner Liz Stefanics emerged victorious from a tough race, taking a seat that was long held by a powerful obstructionist. Her election smooths the road considerably for clean-water and climate legislation.

Environmental champion Jeff Steinborn left his House seat to challenge Lee Cotter, who has an astonishing 0% environmental voting record. Steinborn’s win literally takes this seat from 0 to 100.

William Tallman knocked on thousands of doors in his successful upset bid to gain another Senate seat for Sierra Club-endorsed candidates.

Sadly, the Senate lost Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, who fell victim to an onslaught of deceitful attack ads. But Sanchez’s successor as majority leader will be Peter Wirth, whose environmental voting record is excellent.

Public Regulation Commission

The PRC shapes climate action in New Mexico, implementing our renewable-energy law and governing new sources of energy for utilities. Soon, it will decide the future of coal-fired San Juan Generating Station.

New Mexicans concerned about our climate can celebrate the re-election of Valerie Espinoza to the PRC seat in Northern New Mexico. Espinoza, who was unopposed, has been outspoken for consumer rights and the urgent need to transition away from expensive, dangerous fuel sources.

Cynthia Hall’s election in the Albuquerque-area PRC seat is another victory for a safer climate and affordable rates. As a former PRC attorney, Hall will bring knowledge, experience, ethics and a strong commitment to cleaner, more responsible energy sources.

County Commissions

Santa Fe County

Ed Moreno and Anna Hamilton won uncontested elections and will bring integrity and fairness to the county commission.

Sandoval County

One local result that will make protecting our resources more difficult was the defeat of Sandoval County Commissioner Nora Scherzinger, who advocated for a moratorium on oil and gas drilling while the county develops ordinances to address drilling impacts. Citizens can still successfully advocate there as they have in the past year.

Grant County

Alicia Edwards and Harry Browne, two of the Rio Grande Chapter’s three endorsed candidates, won on Nov. 8. Both Browne and Edwards hope to protect the Gila River from a billion-dollar diversion plan that experts have called infeasible and that the county has previously supported.

Secretary of State

Voter suppression has played an insidious role in recent elections across the county. Our endorsee, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, will champion ethics and better access to voting as New Mexico’s head elections official.

El Paso

Endorsed congressional candidate Beto O’Rourke won his El Paso-area seat in the U.S. Congress in a rout. O’Rourke has said he may be considering a run for Ted Cruz’s U.S. Senate seat in 2018.

Sierra Club-endorsed Pete Gallego lost the other congressional seat that represents part of El Paso by just 1 point.

In May, Jim Tolbert, the wonderful former vice chair of our Sierra Club El Paso Group, won an overwhelming victory in a special City Council election.

Yes, it is a tragedy that a climate-denier was elected president. We’re heading toward a cliff and need to slam on the brakes, and we put someone in the driver’s seat who wants to speed up. But New Mexico and other states, cities and counties can throw nails on the road. States representing a large portion of the U.S. economy are acting on their own.

Tragedies can be overcome. We must work hard and be smart. We can do it. Are you in? The importance of your engagement and action is impossible to overstate.

Locally, the environment won