The closer: Climate crusader Al Gore makes final argument for Democrats in Colorado

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Climate politics, anyone?

Colorado Democrats chose Al Gore, the anti-fossil fuel activist and former U.S. vice president, to make closing arguments to voters late yesterday on the eve of the 2016 election.

“This election in particular is a climate election,” Gore said during the first of two stops yesterday in Boulder and Lakewood, according to the Boulder Daily Camera.

In some ways, Gore is a curious choice to rally support for Hillary Clinton in Colorado. When Gore ran for president in 2000, he won just 42 percent of the vote here. In fact, even if you gave him Ralph Nader’s votes, he still would have lost Colorado by three points to George W. Bush.

Colorado may have changed a lot since 2000, to be sure, but Gore is not exactly the kind of surrogate who’ll persuade undecided voters the day before the election.

Turning out ‘Bernie-like voters’

In other ways, however, the former vice president is the perfect man for the moment – especially when you consider how much environmental politics have underpinned the left’s game plan in Colorado this year.

icon_2016_report_commMore than 2 million Coloradans have already voted and, as of late yesterday, registered Republicans have a narrow lead over registered Democrats, according to Magellan Strategies. To overcome that lead, Democrats will need to rally their base and win the support of left-leaning unaffiliated voters. And Gore’s visit comes right on the heels of another trip to Colorado from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed socialist and fierce opponent of fossil-fuel production, who won Colorado’s Democratic caucus and seriously challenged Clinton from the left during the presidential primaries.

“There is still a block of young unaffiliated voters who live in Jefferson and Boulder counties who could go for a third-party candidate or just not vote,” Colorado pollster and political analyst Floyd Ciruli said in an interview. “Al Gore is no millennial, but he is a very visible advocate on climate change, and Democrats believe they can reach these young Bernie-like voters with that message.”

Soros, Steyer and the down-ballot ‘sweep’

But this is about a lot more than the presidential contest, he added. “They would like to sweep in some other down-ballot races if they can,” Ciruli said.

Those races include a handful of contests that will decide whether Democrats take full control of the Colorado legislature again. In 2013 and 2014, they had control of both the state House and state Senate and pushed through a host of controversial measures, including new gun control laws and renewable energy mandates.

Through a historic series of recall campaigns and general election victories, Republicans clawed back a one-seat majority in the state Senate in November 2014. Two years later, Democrats are determined to take back the Senate and restore one-party rule under the Gold Dome.

Against this backdrop, Colorado’s down-ballot races have seen an extraordinary amount of spending from left-wing billionaires George Soros of New York and Tom Steyer of California.

Through just two groups – Immigrant Voters Win CO and Colorado Safety & Justice – Soros has poured close to $1.4 million into down-ballot contests this year. They include a number of state legislative races and the district attorney’s election for Jefferson and Gilpin counties.

According to hacked e-mails from Wikileaks, Soros is a major supporter of America Votes, a national organization that has poured close to $1.3 million into Colorado politics through direct spending and contributions to other campaign groups. The spending included TV ads from Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in support of Democrats in four state Senate contests.

Steyer, an anti-fossil fuel activist and the nation’s largest single political donor, has spent more than $2 million in Colorado politics this year. The money, funneled through Steyer’s NextGen Climate political action committee, has paid for research, polling and voter turnout. Steyer has also given $280,000 to Conservation Colorado’s campaign to put Democrats in charge of the state legislature. In recent days, the California billionaire has also spent $296,000 on radio ads for Clinton in Colorado.

‘Take power in the states’

Soros and Steyer are leading members of the Democracy Alliance, a coalition of left-wing political donors called “the left’s secret club” by Politico. The alliance has put hundreds of millions of dollars behind liberal causes over the past decade. During the past two years, the left-wing donor network has made a top priority of winning state-level races.

“We can’t have the kind of long-term progressive future we want if we don’t take power in the states,” Democracy Alliance president Gara LaMarch told the Washington Post last year.

Therefore, in the event that Democrats conquer this year’s down-ballot races in Colorado, lawmakers will be under pressure to tackle the “big issues for Soros and Steyer,” Ciruli said.

“If Democrats win control of the state legislature, you will see a lot of momentum on agenda issues, like criminal justice reform, climate change, pushing renewables, putting more costs on hydrocarbons and imposing new regulations on fracking,” he said.

For those concerned with energy – one of Colorado’s top economic sectors – the Steyer agenda is particularly worrisome. The California billionaire opposes fracking. He funds and supports the same “keep it in the ground” activists who were behind this year’s failed anti-fracking ballot measures. He wants the government to impose huge renewable energy mandates and at the same time crack down on fossil fuels.

In fact, earlier this year, Ciruli called Steyer’s political operation in Colorado “The Greenprint.” It was a reference to “The Blueprint,” an effort launched by left-wing donors and political organizations more than a decade ago to put Democrats in control of the Colorado state legislature. But this year there is an environmental twist. “[H]e’s looking for vertical control of the ballot, taking over the state for his environmental agenda,” Ciruli said in May.

steyer-maysmith-twitterIn Colorado, one of the nation’s biggest producers of oil, natural gas and coal, the economic consequences of this agenda would be enormous. For this reason, some Democrats have joined with Republicans in the past to push back against the environmental left. But if the down-ballot candidates supported by Soros and Steyer win tonight, will that still be true?

State legislature, national politics

To be sure, outside pressure on lawmakers does not always mean new laws are passed, Ciruli said. But if left-wing groups have a good election in down-ballot races, all the elements of a 2013-style legislative session would be there. “The environment would look a lot like 2013 when the Democrats kind of got over their skis,” he said.

Sure enough, the Colorado Independent recently reported that Democrats “would like to see the legislature tackle issues such as climate change [and] criminal justice” if they win full control. Democrats are even planning a new committee dedicated to climate change and “supporting more renewable energy,” according to Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman (D). The climate committee idea, first tried in Congress under former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), is a warning sign of what’s to come: National politics driving decisions in the state legislature instead of what makes sense for Colorado.

So, in the end, it makes total sense for Al Gore to close out this year’s election for the left in Colorado. He’s national politics, left-wing politics and climate politics all rolled into one. For people who think Colorado should be more like New York or California, that’s a winning combination. For everyone else, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Simon Lomax is an associate energy policy analyst with the Independence Institute and a consultant who advises pro-business groups. From 2004 to 2012, he was a news reporter covering energy and environmental policy in Washington, D.C. Contact him at simon@i2i.org.

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