Donations and endorsements from groups with ties to major anti-fossil fuel donors like California billionaire Tom Steyer are making their way into a city council race in Colorado. The question is: why now?
This fall, voters will have the opportunity to go to the polls in Aurora and vote to fill five seats from a pool of 26 candidates in the running.
Three candidates seem to be attracting the most attention from groups with ties to national “Keep It In the Ground” organizations, including Martha Lugo, candidate for Aurora city council Ward III; Nicole Johnston, candidate for Ward II; and Crystal Murillo, candidate for Ward I.
National Groups Dive Into Race
In recent weeks, the involvement of anti-fossil fuel groups in the Aurora City Council race sparked the interest of reporters in the Denver area. For example, Colorado Politics reported that Colorado’s largest environmental group, Conservation Colorado, is for the first time in its history issuing endorsements and offering up boots on the ground for city council candidates. As a Conservation Colorado spokesperson told Colorado Politics, “We are planning to knock doors, make phone calls, and hit the pavement to help these candidates win.”
Recall that Conservation Colorado is the local chapter for the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). As noted previously by EID, LCV and Conservation Colorado have deep ties to Steyer. In fact, the head of LCV told the Washington Post in 2014, “There’s not a day that goes by that someone on our team doesn’t talk to someone on the Steyer team.” As it turns out, both LCV and Conservation Colorado have been working in Aurora for some time, as Colorado Politics noted:
“The group [Conservation Colorado] already organizes in Aurora, through its Protégete program, a joint Conservation Colorado and League of Conservation Voters program which seeks to ‘elevate Latino voices.’”
But that’s not all. The Aurora Sentinel reported that three of the candidates are actively involved in the group Emerge Colorado, the local chapter of a national group Emerge America, which has number of ties to anti-fossil fuel groups. For instance, one of Conservation Colorado’s board members also serves on the board of Emerge Colorado. Further, Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action is one of the top contributors to Emerge America, as reported by OpenSecrets.org. NextGen Climate was also a top corporate sponsor of Emerge America in 2015. And if that’s not enough, Think Progress reported earlier this year that several anti-fossil fuel groups teamed up with Emerge America to hold candidate trainings in Washington, D.C., with groups including NextGen Climate, Sierra Club, NRDC Action Fund and more.
Last but not least, another “Keep It in the Ground” group, Colorado’s People’s Action (CPA), has been involved in the Aurora race as well. CPA sent out a candidate questionnaire to the Aurora city council candidates to gauge their level of involvement in the anti-fossil fuel movement to determine if endorsements should be made by the group:
We must make decisions now to improve our lives and those of our future generations. Today, however, that legacy is faced with the urgent threat of climate change. Oil and Gas companies are taking over our state and elected officials are prioritizing corporate interests rather than community interests by allowing fracking in our communities. We have an opportunity to build a clean, renewable energy economy. However, little has been done to implement this solution and stop corporate polluters. How would you address this issue at city level?
Answer from Alison Hiltz, Candidate for Aurora City Council At Large:
“We need people on City Council who understand the impacts the oil and gas industry can have on our groundwater and communities and who listens to the communities that will be impacted.”
Answer from Martha Lugo, Candidate for Aurora City Council, Ward III:
“I will push for a complete ban of fracking in Aurora.”
In what concrete ways have you worked with the progressive movement in the past?
Answer from Nicole Johnston, Candidate for Aurora City Council, Ward II:
“Other concrete ways I’ve worked with the progressive movement was Conservation Colorado asking me to testify on several different legislative bills sponsored by Representative Salazar and Representative Foote. I also worked with statewide activists groups to include changes to the state constitution that would address local and state preemptive rules dictating siting of fracking and other harmful industrial projects.”
Birds of a Feather
State Rep. Joe Salazar (D), who is well known for his extreme anti-fossil fuel position, recently hosted a fundraiser and endorsed Johnston. Earlier this year, Energy in Depth reported on an anti-fracking rally held at the state capitol where Salazar worked the crowd by reaffirming his anti-fossil fuel position and went so far as to say that supporting fracking would “relegate me to the depths of hell” in the “spirit world.” Of note, that’s not the first time Salazar has taken an extreme position on fracking, as he was a strong supporter for the failed anti-fracking ballot measures in previous election cycles.
Energy Production in Aurora, Colorado
So, how much of an issue has energy development been before for the Aurora City Council?
In 2014 the Aurora City Council formalized an Oil and Gas Committee made up of citizens to advise the city council but without rule-making power. The citizen Oil and Gas Committee has two-year term limits. That same year, the Aurora Sentinel reported the welcoming of oil and gas development in the community from some of the members of the Aurora City Council.
“If it’s done right, it’s a boon to our economy and the state,” said former Aurora City Councilwoman Polly Page, who helped form Arapahoe Responsible Energy Advocates.
Anti-Fossil Fuel Democrats Have Not Fared Well In Colorado
As Energy in Depth recently reported, many Democrats in Colorado support oil and gas development. Responsible oil and gas development isn’t a partisan issue, it’s something that all parties can get behind and in fact do stand behind.
Yet there’s always those fringe few like U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Salazar, and now these nationally endorsed Democratic city council candidates who take part of the anti-fossil fuel wing of the party. Bottom line: Will Aurora City residents see through this fringe partisan push?
When Coloradans find out that national groups are trying to influence local elections, the answer will be clear on Election Day.