Democrats believe they can win back rural voters by ratcheting up their pre-election mission of moving the country from fossil fuels to green energy.
They are using calls to drastically reduce carbon emission to convince middle-class voters, many of whom voted for Trump, that green energy can provide thousands of jobs to replace those once held by coal workers. Democrat plans to phase out fossil fuels come despite the president-elect’s campaign to restore lost coal jobs.
“This is fundamentally a jobs message,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee told reporters last week in reference to Democrats renewed focus on green energy. “We represent a horizon of job creation that is as great or greater than any other industrial sector.”
Inslee wants Washington legislators to pass a carbon tax that would raise an estimated $2 billion in revenue to pay for education funding and various clean energy projects.
Other Democratic operatives say that pushing the environmental gospel on the converted is not enough. The message has to resonate with blue-collar types.
Tom Steyer, a major Democratic donor and environmentalist, told reporters that Democrats need to reorient their position to focus on American workers.
“No one votes for polar bears. People care about local, human issues, period,” the California billionaire said. “On an economic basis, acting on clean energy is positive in every single fashion, including creating millions of net good jobs,” he added.
Steyer’s political action committee, NextGen Climate, published a report in 2016 urging Democratic political candidates to create policies that will help the U.S. transition to 50 percent carbon-free energy by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.
Steyer registered 1 million voters, including nearly 750,000 in California, all for the purpose of pushing the renewable energy narrative. He spent more than $75 million this election season on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s losing White House bid.
Some chalk up Clinton’s loss to her antagonistic relationship with the coal industry. Clinton told an Ohio audience in March that her policies would close coal companies and force coal miners out of work.
“We don’t want to forget those people” in the coal industry who will lose their jobs as a result my policies, she said. “And now we’ve got to move away from coal,” Clinton added.
Trump meanwhile made revitalizing coal country a central part of his presidential campaign. The pro-coal message likely helped him gain much-needed votes in Ohio and Pennsylvania, both of which are considered battleground states for Republicans.
Coal employment tumbled 12 percent in 2015 to its lowest level in nearly 40 years. West Virginia and Kentucky saw a similar drop in coal jobs, with the former seeing a 16 percent drop and the latter a 17 percent decrease.The former reality-TV star won 63 percent of the vote in Kentucky and just shy of 70 percent of the votes in West Virginia.
Inslee has a different perspective. He chalked up Clinton’s defeat to an economy stuck in transition.
“I don’t think that we should be stunned that when you have the total displacement of millions of jobs by technology that you will not have some degree of concern, backlash, transition on issues and demographics,” the Democratic governor said. “That’s what we’re going through.”
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