This Congressional Candidate Isn’t Running From Climate Change, She’s Running On It

CREDIT: AP Photo/Gary Malerba

Nancy Skinner during the 2006 Michigan 9th District race.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN — Congressional candidate Nancy Skinner is taking a novel approach when it comes to the issue of climate change: she’s running on it.

Skinner, a Democratic candidate for Michigan’s 11th district, is making climate change a central part of her campaign, hoping her focus on an issue that so many other politicians have shirked or denied will make her stand out in the race, whose primary election is August 5. She told ThinkProgress that taking action to address climate change is particularly pertinent in Michigan, due to the state’s history in and capacity for manufacturing.

The state could be a hub for the production of renewable energy, she said, and could help slow a warming trend that threatens crop reductions, heat waves, longer periods of drought and decreased health of the Great Lakes in the Michigan and the rest of the Midwest.

“Here we are now with all this infrastructure, where we can ramp up our production of wind turbine engines and solar,” Skinner said. “The United States cannot fall behind on this, and there’s no better place than Michigan to really start producing this stuff quickly. So it’s great for Michigan, and it’s a must for the country.”

The record-setting winter in Michigan this past year — some of which was part of the Polar Vortex, a system whose possible link to climate change scientists are undecided on — helped solidify Skinner’s decision to make climate change a major part of her campaign.

Skinner also is concerned about increased heavy precipitation events and how they’re going to affect Michigan’s agriculture industry. If California continues on its path of extreme drought, she said, Michigan may have to ramp up its agricultural output. But with more extreme precipitation events, which the recent National Climate Assessment forecasts for the Midwest, topsoil could be eroded, making it difficult for Michigan to achieve greater agricultural production.

“We have to get with the scientists and think about how we deal with drainage … so that we are able to step up the production of agriculture to meet the needs of the country,” she said.

Skinner first became interested in environmental issues when her sister-in-law died of melanoma in the early 1990s at 32 years old. At that time, the hole in the ozone layer was growing rapidly, a factor her doctor said could have contributed to the cancer diagnosis. So, Skinner began to research the hole, eventually reading Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance in 1993.

After the Great Midwestern floods of 1993, Skinner worked with President Bill Clinton’s White House to develop a team of federal agencies and architects that rebuilt two communities affected by the floods in Missouri and Illinois on higher ground, so that they wouldn’t be destroyed if the kind of flooding seen in 1993 happened again.

Skinner ran for Senate in Illinois in 2004, but ended up losing to then state-senator Barack Obama.

“[In 2004] I ran on climate change and he ran on health care,” she said. “And he won. And he passed health care. And I hope to run on climate change and advance climate change progress in the way our president got something done that wasn’t done since FDR.”

Skinner also ran for congress in Michigan in 2006, on a platform of eliminating subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and creating a more efficient auto industry, a race in which she was endorsed by then-Senator Obama but which she ultimately lost.

Projected increase in annual average temperatures by mid-century (2041-2070) as compared to the 1971-2000 in the Midwest.

Projected increase in annual average temperatures by mid-century (2041-2070) as compared to the 1971-2000 in the Midwest.

CREDIT: Laura Stevens, Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites/National Climate Assessment

Now, she’s running against incumbent Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R), who’s earned a four percent score from the League of Conservation voters in his year and a half in Congress, along with four other candidates, three of whom are Democrats. One of Skinner’s Democratic primary opponents, Bill Roberts, has said the first thing he will do if he’s elected will be to call for the impeachment of President Obama, on the charge that the president has committed “crimes against the Constitution.”

Michigan’s 11th district has had a Republican representative since 1967, aside from a month and a half term when a Democrat was elected to fill Thad McCotter’s seat after he resigned amidst charges of election fraud.

While she’s running for a House seat, Skinner’s not just focusing on what she’ll do for her own district, or even her state, if she’s elected. She said she plans to create a group that works to get candidates who are pro-action on climate change elected, a sort of Emily’s List — a group that works to get pro-choice, Democratic women elected to Congress — for climate change. She wants her voice on climate change to be among the first of many elected to Congress in the coming years, so that Congress has a chance to produce real, meaningful legislation on climate change. Presidential action helps, she said, but an act of Congress is needed if climate change is to be alleviated, and it’ll only happen if enough people in Congress are supportive of climate action.

“The climate needs one House seat, and then we build on that,” she said.

Michael Mann, Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, told ThinkProgress in an email that he was happy to learn of Skinner’s campaign.

“Nancy understands that unchecked climate change is the greatest threat we face–to our economy, out health, our national security,” he said. “I support her candidacy and I hope that it signals that more folks like her will be entering the world of politics, placing climate change action on the front burner.”

Peter Sinclair, a Michigan native and climate change blogger who runs the site Climate Denier Crock of the Week, highlighted Skinner’s campaign on his website earlier this month, comparing her message to the climate change-denying words of Lenar Whitney, who’s running for Congress in Louisiana.

Skinner is hoping that these endorsements will help motivate the climate community to donate to her campaign before the primary — she’s asking voters to donate “$11 for the 11th district of Michigan for one candidate to lead on climate change.”

Skinner isn’t the only candidate in Michigan who’s incorporating climate change into a campaign this year, however. Rep. Gary Peters (D), who is running for Senate in Michigan, called on his Republican opponent Terri Lynn Land in May to take a stand on climate change, saying that because Michigan is “on the front lines of climate change,” it’s something that needs to be addressed in the race.

“This is something elected officials should be talking about — we have to be concerned about it,” he told the Washington Post. Peters has won the endorsement of the Sierra Club, and said in a speech at the Netroots Nation conference in Detroit on Friday that “climate change is real, it is a threat and we need to deal with it now.”

That’s just what Skinner hopes to get Michigan voters to recognize before the August 5 primary.