In defeat of Prop. 23, we all came together

As the Democratic daughter of a Republican father, I know firsthand that political parties don't matter when it comes to family. And the coalition that came together to defeat Proposition 23 in California was a bipartisan breath of fresh air.

As the pundits tallied the winners and losers, one victor stood out: the coalition that defeated Prop. 23, the initiative that would have derailed California's clean energy economy.

That's because the battle over Prop. 23 transcended politics as usual. It wasn't an issue of right or left; it wasn't about championing liberal or conservative values. It was about voting for the future or the past. It was about hope and determination against fear and retreat. Californians of all political philosophies looked at Prop. 23 and saw it for what it was: a ploy by a handful of out-of-state oil companies to crush clean energy for their own interests.

The sole intent of Prop. 23 was to stop implementation of AB 32, the landmark clean energy legislation that I worked with the Natural Resources Defense Council to help enact in 2006. California's clean energy policies are generating hundreds of thousands of jobs in California while simultaneously improving public health and reducing carbon emissions.

Prop. 23 fell by nearly a 2-to-1 ratio. Close to 5.4 million people voted against the measure – more than voted for or against any other item on the ballot. No on 23 got more votes than the winning candidates for governor or U.S. Senate. And counties that voted for Republican candidates also voted against Prop. 23, including Butte County, home to the initiative's author, Assemblyman Dan Logue from Chico. Counties such as San Bernardino, Fresno, Placer and Trinity voted for Republican candidates Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman while voting no on Prop. 23.

With California's high unemployment rate, voters expressed their frustration with government, much like was heard across the country. They tied the state Legislature's hands further on fees and funding, but they stood firm for clean air and a clean energy economy. The defeat of Prop. 23 was an undeniable victory for environmental advocates and clean energy proponents – but it was more than that.

This campaign was a public referendum on climate policy. Prop. 23 was defeated because it was clear to a wide swath of California voters that clean tech and sustainable energy – not fossil fuels – will drive the Golden State's 21st century economy. We didn't have to respond to the fear mongering of Proposition 23's backers with scary hyperbole of our own. The basic facts supported our case.

Since the passage of AB 32 in 2006, more than $9 billion in venture capital has flowed to clean-tech startups. Jobs in this sector are growing at 10 times the rate of any other industry. Companies are moving to California to participate in this bonanza.

Tesla and Toyota will soon be manufacturing electric cars here. SunPower, one of the country's largest manufacturers of solar components, soon will employ another 1,000 Californians. A few weeks ago, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved several large-scale solar projects on California's federal lands that will create thousands of jobs and produce enough clean electricity to supply 2 million California homes.

And this is just the beginning. Recall the Internet industry 15 years ago: that's where clean tech and sustainable energy are now, and with the defeat of Prop. 23 they have a chance to grow rather than fade on the vine. A lot of cultural and economic trends begin in California and expand eastward. The defeat of Prop. 23 will guarantee that clean energy will be part of this tradition.

I hope that this campaign will inspire the nation in another way. Proposition 23 was defeated because California voters chose pragmatism and compromise rather than inflexible ideology. California is a mixture of cultures, races and political philosophies, and we all come together when it matters for our families' health. We've done it in the past by passing the nation's most progressive air and water quality laws – regulations that served as models for other states and the federal government. We are now applying this principle of the greatest good for the greatest number to our economy. We proved this Nov. 2.

As we celebrate a victory for common sense, it's more clear than ever that working together is what makes us stronger. We need the technical expertise, brain power and capital resources of businesses, the work force of unions, the reach of diverse community groups and the wide sweep of public and private partners to make an efficient transition to the clean energy economy. And sooner or later, we will all work together for the common good. We have no other choice.


This piece first appeared as an opinion editorial in The Sacramento Bee on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010.