Midterm Elections Are Critical to Both Democracy and Climate: A Tale of Two Congressional Races

by Andres Chang

October 31, 2022

Fossil fuel companies are dead-set on extracting every last drop of oil, gas, and profit from Texas and New Mexico. They back destructive, anti-democracy politicians when it helps them achieve their goals. But voters can make a huge difference in these two closely contested races where climate and democracy are on the ballot.

Big Oil executives and the politicians under their influence are lining up to detonate the next big climate bomb, which is locked beneath the surface of West Texas and Southeast New Mexico, a region known as the Permian Basin.

In some elections, that means Big Oil is supporting extremist politicians who pose a threat to the climate and democracy. Politicians who want it easier to pollute and harder for certain people to vote, and whose actions seem to condone violence.

Many such politicians are running in deep red districts — but not Yvette Herrell or Monica De La Cruz.

Herrell is running for reelection in New Mexico’s 2nd District, which contains majority-blue areas near Albuquerque and Las Cruces, majority-red areas in the Permian Basin, and everything in between. Herrell, a corporate-backed election denier who has repeatedly fought for selling off New Mexico’s public lands, is only slightly favored to win against her challenger Gabe Vasquez, a labor-friendly Democrat endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters.

About a day’s drive southeast of the Permian Basin, in Texas’s 15th District, De La Cruz is running against Michelle Vallejo for an open seat in one of the country’s closest races. The two candidates could not be more different. De La Cruz is a MAGA Republican who threatens to “finish what Trump started,” and Vallejo is a grassroots-powered progressive who champions the working class.

Races like these demonstrate the ruthlessness of Big Oil’s efforts to keep growing, but they also offer hope. Voters in these districts can fight back against the industry’s slate of extremist politicians, helping protect the climate and defend against attacks on our democracy at the same time.

Fossil fueled extremist Yvette Herrell is a danger to New Mexico
Rep. Yvette Herrell (NM-02) has fought for polluting corporations at the expense of New Mexicans since the very beginning of her political career.

Between 2008 and 2010, Herrell was a legislative assistant for a state representative
who introduced unnecessary and restrictive voter ID legislation. Similar bills were introduced across the country, occasionally drawing support from the up-and-coming Tea Party Movement. The thinly-disguised goal of these bills was to make it harder for already-marginalized communities to vote. According to the NAACP, they were part of a “highly coordinated effort” linked to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-funded advocacy group whose sponsors included Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and dozens more.

After she was elected to the state legislature in 2010, Herrell attended corporate-funded ALEC meetings five years in a row and made repeated attempts to transfer New Mexico’s federal lands to the state government to be sold off to oil and gas companies. The bills she introduced fit neatly into ALEC’s agenda and, in 2014, she was named ALEC’s “State Chair of the Year.”

Since being elected to Congress in 2020, Herrell has continued to fight on behalf of polluting corporations, but now she is also fighting on behalf of her extremist friends. Herrell is a Trump loyalist who voted to overturn the 2020 election and spread misinformation about COVID. She also voted not to strip Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene or Rep. Paul Gosar of their committee assignments after each of them openly fantasized about violence to other members of Congress. None of this has stopped Big Oil from lining up to support her: since 2021, Herrell’s campaign has taken more than $100,000 from oil & gas industry PACs, about $1 in every $6 she has accepted from PACs.

Herrell’s opponent Gabe Vasquez puts New Mexicans before Big Oil executives
Gabe Vasquez is campaigning as a moderate, but his politics are still a far cry from Herrell’s extremist agenda. Unlike Herrell, Vasquez supports protecting a pregnant person’s right to choose and ensuring that the government can fund services like Medicare. Moreover, his history as an environmentalist has won him an endorsement from the League of Conservation Action Fund Voters. They called Vasquez “a true climate justice champion” and “a lifelong advocate for protecting our lands and people in New Mexico.”

Big Oil is spending millions on anti-democracy candidates in Texas
Texas’s fossil fueled extremists are making it harder to vote through a combination of discriminatory legislative tactics and election denialism. Texas Senate Bill 1, which Governor Greg Abbott signed into law last year, has drawn outrage and lawsuits from civil rights organizations. According to one of the plaintiffs, SB 1 “deliberately targets people of color, the elderly, and those with disabilities.” State politicians who passed the bill have received a combined $22 million from the fossil fuel industry this cycle (including PACs and large donors).

The law’s dangerous effects are compounded by election denialism. Facing harassment and death threats from “Stop the Steal” activists, nearly a third of Texas’s election officials have left their job.

Texas’s 15th District is the state’s closest race with an election denier on the ballot
Republicans are trying to flip South Texas from blue to red, which would strengthen the party’s hold over state politics and could affect the balance of power in Congress. The disastrous effects would be felt locally, as well as globally. A report from the Sierra Club and Rainforest Action Network showed that new pipelines and terminals in South Texas would pollute low-income Latinx and Indigenous communities, contribute to increased fracking in the Permian Basin, and emit as much greenhouse gas as 40 million cars on the road per year.

The Republican candidate for Texas’s 15th District, Monica De La Cruz, has the makings of a “double denier” who would support projects like these and oppose voting reforms. In December 2020, De La Cruz posted videos blaming both her own loss and Trump’s loss on election fraud, and in recent campaign ads, she has promised to “finish what Trump started.”

De La Cruz claims to stand with South Texans, but her support comes from super PACs (including the Koch-founded super PAC Americans for Prosperity Action) and out-of-state donors, which have spent more than twice as much as in-state Texans to get her elected. Her campaign also accepted $15,000 in PAC donations affiliated with the Texas oil & gas companies Energy Transfer Partners and Valero.

Michelle Vallejo’s progressive vision would uplift working class South Texans
De La Cruz’s opponent Michelle Vallejo is running a grassroots-powered campaign to uplift families and the working class. Vallejo’s bold plan to make Wall Street, corporations, and billionaires pay their fair share has won her endorsements from Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and the Cesar Chavez-founded union United Farm Workers of America. Vallejo has also expressed support for the For The People Act, a major step to fix racist restrictions on voter rights and the corroding influence of corporate money in politics, and investing in clean energy.

Climate and democracy are practically on the ballot
The midterm election will have huge implications for the climate, our democracy, and communities from Texas to New Mexico to Hawaii, Alaska, and Maine. That’s why Big Oil executives and extremist politicians are counting on you not voting. They don’t believe our voices matter. But it’s also why Greenpeace USA is telling the truth about fossil fueled-attacks on democracy and asking you to make a plan to vote on November 8 or sooner, if your state has early voting.

Paid for by Greenpeace, Inc., www.greenpeace.org/ not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Andres Chang

By Andres Chang

Andres Chang is a Senior Research Specialist who supports the Climate and Democracy campaigns.

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