Welcome to Climate Hawks Vote’s first scorecard, covering House Democrats. Each Democrat has two numbers. The first number scores the Representative’s vote on climate-related bills (2011-12) similar to scorecards used by many other issue groups. The second number is what differentiates us - we’re tracking intensity of leadership, we’re very excited about the work we’ve put into it over the last six months, and it deserves a bit of explanation. Our goal is to elect climate hawk leaders - those who prioritize and speak on the climate crisis - not just those who follow leaders’ directions on the rare occasions that climate comes up for a vote and otherwise remain silent. Simply put, climate change is the greatest threat facing the next few generations of humanity, not just another Democratic issue, but many politicians aren’t leading on it.
We began by asking: how can one lead in today’s polarized Congress?
Climate hawks lead by engaging the public on climate change. They give floor speeches and hold press conferences. They headline community town halls and environmental rallies. They author and cosponsor bills, even bills currently being throttled by Republican leadership, because some good bills make it into budget bills and others will be revived when Dems next take the House. They caucus to coordinate their work. Their websites clearly state their position on climate change. They write op-eds for newspapers both national and local. When hurricanes and droughts affect their districts, they publicly connect the climate change dots. When President Obama gave a major speech on climate in June 2013, their press releases praised him and sometimes urged further action. They do all this without detaching from other issues.
Measuring leadership: We analyzed the public records of over 200 House Democrats beginning in 2011, scoring them on public engagement; bills authored; bills cosponsored; press releases (yes, staffers, we do read them), working caucuses joined and led; and websites. We ranked 80-100 introduced bills each session from core to peripheral and awarded more points to authors, less to cosponsors. We weighted public engagement far more than any of our other factors. We focus only on climate, not traditional environmental issues; the only wilderness bills we’re scoring are those that permanently lock away oil/gas reservoirs and the only fracking bills we’re scoring are those affecting air quality. We’re looking in particular for legislation pricing carbon, strongly supporting wind and solar, phasing out coal, and farseeing adaptation.
The leadership score goes from +100 to -100, with the highest leadership score being Henry Waxman’s (CA-33) at +96 and the lowest Nick Rahall’s (WV-03) at -66. A leadership score close to zero means the Democrat is not engaged on climate and/or that mildly positive and negative items cancel each other out; a negative score means that the Democrat leads backward, e.g., speaks in favor of dirty projects such as Keystone XL. The average score is +23 - that modest score can be achieved with, e.g., a website touting clean energy, a handful of cosponsored bills, one public event since 2011, and a press release. Democrats in the 50+ range are finding ways to lead despite the Republican stranglehold on legislation.
Why are so many Dems’ scores so low? Simply put, most don’t lead… yet. Many Democrats want to do something on climate, but see it as just another issue on the back burner given so many urgent needs - immigration reform, Obamacare implementation, gun violence prevention, fighting budget shenanigans. The majority of Democrats are what we call climate ducks - they vote the right way against bad Republican bills, but otherwise duck the issue of climate change. (A handful of Democrats, mostly from coal country and Texas, are flatly going the wrong way on climate.) Over 75% of returning Democrats in Congress have leadership scores 60 points or more below their voting scores; nearly a third of returning Democrats have leadership scored 80 points below their voting scores. In other words, they duck the issue.
We found reasons for optimism among the climate hawks. Coastal Democrats talk both mitigation and adaptation to sea level rise. Michigan Democrats want to build things - wind turbines, automotive technology, a better world. Progressive Caucus leaders incorporate climate into progressive bills. Freshman Scott Peters (CA-52) includes climate within his no-labels, nonpartisan problem-solving approach. Iconic representative John Lewis (GA-05) has begun to engage the public on climate as a civil rights issue. Rush Holt’s (NJ-12) website contains rocket-science-level policy ideas.
We’ve found an equally diverse smorgasbord of American climate policy in the bills buried by Republican leadership - from the grand unified carbon price bills to tax bills providing incentives for big renewable energy projects, bills to end fossil fuel subsidies, bills to aid drivers of electric vehicles, bills to train community college students, bills to innovate and adapt. We’ve even scored, positively, some Republican-written bills.
Why this scorecard? We hope that it’ll encourage more politicians to be proactive on climate - speak out and lead on the greatest challenge facing the next few generations of humanity. The objective measurement backs up, and occasionally tests, general impressions of “Politician X is good on climate.” It will also keep politicians accountable. We’ve already identified California Democrats whose rhetoric in office hasn’t matched their 2012 campaign rhetoric, and New York Democrats representing Hurricane Sandy-ravaged districts whose leadership scores are 10 or below.
What’s next? We’ll expand the scorecard to cover Senators from both parties and Republicans in the House. We’ll create a modified scorecard to analyze challenger candidates - again, public engagement is key to scoring well, whether on the campaign trail or in office. We expect to issue endorsements in carefully selected primary and general elections in 2014. Now that we can demonstrate a working scorecard, we’ll begin fundraising (funds raised will be subject to SuperPAC rules) to help elect climate hawks - politicians who demonstrate leadership on climate.