Opinion

Moderate Democrats: the slaves of big oil?

Pumpjacks in a Kern County oil field, November 2013. (Photo: Christopher Halloran)

As world leaders gathered in Paris last month to come up with a global plan to climate change, California was well represented. Led by Gov. Jerry Brown, other top Democrats like Senate leader Kevin De León, Speaker Toni Atkins and activist Tom Steyer joined the climate summit to help share California’s story and push international leaders to take bolder, most decisive action.

The Paris talks brought into clearer focus just how many so-called moderate Democrats who sided with the oil industry this year are out of touch with their caucus, their party and their state. This small tribe of transactional politicians, whose campaign coffers have been filled with oil company dollars for years, did the shameless bidding of Big Oil once again this year, failing to protect Californians from greater environmental harm.

“These jobs don’t wait for you,” Perea told the Sacramento Bee. “You have to make a decision if it’s something you want to do.”

It’s not surprising to see the oil industry spending millions of dollars, and resorting to misinformation, fear mongering and half-truths to promote their agenda in Sacramento. What is upsetting is that a small group of transactional Democrats sided with lobbyists for the old economy instead of serving the best interests of their constituents, thus holding their party hostage and thwarting important health protections for some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens.

Even worse, many members of the Oil Caucus come from the very communities that are hardest hit by our continued reliance on petroleum and the damage caused by climate change. Many of these districts are among the poorest in the state, areas that desperately need a strong voice in Sacramento to protect their health and safety against the money and power of the oil industry.

If you need any further proof of who the Oil Caucus truly serves, look no further than their leader, Fresno Democrat Henry Perea. Earlier this month, Perea announced he would resign his elected office a year early so that he could pursue a high-paying government affairs job from one of the powerful interests he was elected to protect his constituents against.

“These jobs don’t wait for you,” Perea told the Sacramento Bee. “You have to make a decision if it’s something you want to do.”

Indeed.

The story of inequality in our state is not just one of economics, where an ever-larger share of our state’s wealth is controlled by an ever-shrinking number of people. There also is a disturbing environmental inequality in California. We are in danger of creating a state where basic rights like clean air and clean water only are available to the wealthy, while poorer areas with larger Latino and African American populations bear the brunt of the damage caused by fossil fuels.

Latino voters are more likely than their white counterparts to say they are concerned about climate change.

These are areas that feel the direct impacts of climate change – from record drought to polluted air and dirty water – more than the rest of us. Residents from these areas deserve representatives that support core Democratic values, and will stand up for them even in the face of powerful interests.

The debate over climate change in California has evolved past the discussion of whether or not the science is real. It is now a matter of what we can do to reverse its harmful effects before it is too late.

As a recent survey from the Public Policy Institute of California showed, Latino voters are more likely than their white counterparts to say they are concerned about climate change. That’s because many of them live in parts of the state that are suffering environmental impacts, in real time.

Lawmakers who continue to ignore the core needs of their constituents are putting themselves at great political risk. Those who refuse to provide a voice for the people they serve leave themselves open to primary challenges this year as the environment becomes an increasingly important issue for California voters.

Ed’s Note: Arturo Carmona is the Latino Outreach Director and Southwest Political Director for a major Democratic presidential campaign. He previously served as Executive Director of Presente.org, a Latino advocacy group based in Los Angeles.


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