Immediately after the midterm election environmentalists sounded alarms raising fear that a Republican controlled Congress would undo ecological gains and prevent new ones. Voters in Richmond, California, have given them new hope.
Richmond has long been considered a town owned by Chevron Oil. The company spent millions of dollars in an attempt to have their oil friendly candidate Nat Bates elected to the Mayoral position. On Tuesday several anti-Chevron candidates won their election bids, including the Mayor’s seat, although they were heavily outspent.
Until 2004 Richmond had a reputation in the Bay Area which was highly unflattering. Winning a City Council seat, Gayle McLaughlin began a campaign to turn the city away from high crime, pollution and poverty, and into a desirable place to live. Two years later she was elected as the city’s Mayor. This year term limits required her to relinquish her position; she once again ran for City Council. The newly elected Mayor, Tom Butt, the vice-Mayor, Jovanka Beckles, and six of the seven members of the City Council are anti-oil and pro-Richmond.
Although Chevron is Richmond’s largest taxpayer Mayor McLaughlin refused to back down from challenging the oil magnate. After a refinery fire in 2012 sent thousands to local hospitals complaining about the fumes affecting their lungs, the city of Richmond sued Chevron led by their Mayor.
Chevron spent an estimated $3 million supporting candidates who were deemed ‘oil friendly.’ They purchased nearly every available billboard and spent money in every other possible way in an attempt to buy the election.
Meanwhile the opposition’s entire budget for their campaign was about $50,000. They called it a grass roots effort, and they were heavily supported by voters. Progressives celebrated a victory which was touted nationwide.
Conservatives who supported Chevron may have been dealt a larger blow than the loss of a city they believed belonged to them. Election results proved that whoever spends the most money does not always win elections. It contrasts with the belief that upholding ‘Citizens United’ by the Supreme Court guarantees corporations and wealthy individuals the opportunity to literally buy elections. This particular election is believed to have been about what was good for the city, and spending by Chevron actually became a damning issue.
By James Turnage