After weeks of hedging her position on California's ballot initiative to suspend the state's groundbreaking climate legislation, Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has announced her opposition to Proposition 23. She says that she supports suspending the law, which would establish a cap-and-trade system starting in 2012, but only for one year. Prop. 23 would suspend the law until the state's unemployment rate drops from its current 12.4 percent to 5.5 percent -- and stays there for a full year.
The proposition is largely bankrolled by oil interests, including billionaires David and Charles Koch, who are known for throwing their financial weight behind Tea Party groups. It is opposed by Whitman's opponent Jerry Brown, California's current attorney general, as well as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and much of Silicon Valley. Whitman has previously said that one of her first acts in office would be to suspend the climate law for one year. She has been hesitant, however, to take a stance on Prop. 23.
Republican Senate nominee Carly Fiorina was similarly skittish about staking a position on the subject, waiting until early September to announce her support, and even then calling the proposition a "band-aid fix and an imperfect solution to addressing our nation's climate and energy challenges."
The GOP establishment stands behind Prop. 23, with a few prominent exceptions (Schwarzenegger, the architect of the threatened climate law, and George Schultz, former secretary of state for Ronald Reagan, being two key examples). With all other climate legislation stalled in Congress, the initiative has taken on national significance, pitting interest groups and politicians against each other at a highly charged political moment.
For Whitman and Fiorina, however, Prop. 23 is a tricky line to walk. They must approach the issue without alienating hard-right voters and influential donors, yet also appeal to the 67 percent of Californians who supported California's climate law as of July.