It will be fun to keep an eye on California this Election Day. The state has drawn a ton of attention for its close races for Senate and governor as well as a few ballot measures. Two of these measures could seriously hinder the progress the state has made in the green energy sector. Oh, and did I mention this item about legalizing marijuana? So yeah, it's worth keeping an eye on. Here are five things to watch:
1. Boxer vs. Fiorina
California voters don’t have the best choices when it comes to the open U.S. Senate seat. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Republican candidate and former chairman and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina aren’t exactly this century’s versions of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. In fact, the San Francisco Chronicle refuses to back either candidate. One of the many topics that differentiate the candidates is California’s renewable energy policy. The issue of Proposition 23 is a state issue and completely out of the U.S. Senate’s hands, but both candidates have their opinions — well, sort of. Incumbent Boxer is a strong supporter of maintaining the emission reductions targets implemented by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. And, as I wrote a few weeks back, Fiorina has been notoriously dodgy about her true feelings on the measure. Boxer is on key environmental committees and has been a voice for passing climate legislation in the Senate, though she has been noteworthy in her failure to help make that happen.
2. Proposition 23: Suspending emissions reductions program
Republicans and big energy interests have had the state’s landmark emissions reduction program in their crosshairs ever since they got Proposition 23 on the ballot this year. If passed, Proposition 23 would remove the standards Schwarzenegger put in place to reduce carbon emissions over the next decade. Schwarzenegger has been campaigning across the state to defeat the measure, saying that the renewable energy industry is likely to leave California if Proposition 23 passes. While some say Prop 23 would only be a temporary measure — it only comes into play if California’s underemployment levels are above 5 percent — it’s important to understand that even in good economic times, California’s unemployment rate is rarely below 5 percent.
3. Proposition 26: Who should pay for pollution?
This is one confusing ballot initiative. It clams to redefine what taxes are, but what it really could do is turn over the fines polluters pay to taxpayers. While Proposition 23 is bad for the environment and perhaps bad for the economy (at least the renewable industry), it is clearly worded. Proposition 26 is potentially just as damaging to the environment, but it's as confusing as quantum physics. So, while at first glance you may think it’s about tax policy, it’s really about pollution policy.
4. Proposition 19: Legalizing marijuana
Proposition 19 is straightforward. There are intelligent arguments for it, and legitimate arguments against it. But this will be the litmus test for the marijuana legalization movement. The planets may have aligned for its passage: The state’s budget mess make the argument for taxation and regulation as relevant as it will ever be, and the same is true for the arguments that legalization will lead to a boost in the state’s economy. So, with these factors at play, what could keep Proposition 19 from passing? The answer is simple: moral issues. Are people cool with pot? Do they think it’s a gateway drug, a danger to society or simply just a bad idea? If that's the case, pot simply won’t be legalized this election, and I am not sure what the legalization movement can do to change the minds of those who morally object to legalization. Still, the issue's profile has been raised again and that may be the big victory for pot this time around.
5. Brown vs. Whitman: The race for governor
For all the money and attention spent on this race I think it’s a bit boring. From an energy standpoint it will be interesting to see who wins the corner office in Sacramento because he or she will have a major say in the energy policies of the nation’s largest state — a state that is often the nation’s leader in green energy solutions. While the other issues mentioned above are the current big things to watch, in the long term, California’s next governor may have the biggest environmental impact of all. It’s just unclear at this point what that impact will be.