From Fighting to Solutions

The following is part of our occasional series on bipartisanship. Cooperation between the two major parties may seem like an impossible dream but the data are clear: it can be done. Grayson Lewis from our Advisory Board provides an example below.

Imagining left-wing Sierra Club environmentalists and right-wing Tea Party activists collaborating on any policy issue seems ludicrous at face value. The former has long sought forceful government intervention in national economic and energy sectors to combat climate change, while the latter decried federal involvement in most aspects of American life. But in the 2010’s, the two groups often found themselves teaming up to amplify each other’s voices on issues of common concern. Calling their combined efforts the “Green Tea Coalition,” they have had a noticeable impact on several environmental developments in the American South.

In 2012, Georgia was holding a referendum to raise a state tax by one percent for ten years in order to fund transportation projects. The state’s chapter of the Tea Party, which formed in 2009 to fight against taxation, was naturally opposed to such an increase. So was the Georgia Sierra Club which thought the planned projects had too light of an emphasis on commuter rail options.  The two factions joined forces to successfully defeat the referendum, consciously putting aside their vast differences on other political differences. As Debbie Dooley, one-time chair of the Atlanta Tea Party put it, “We actually work together pretty well. There are things we disagree on, but we don’t talk about them. I have always believed that the real power is with the people.”

The Green Tea Coalition then also worked together to successfully fight for increased statewide investment in solar energy -525 megawatts worth- from Georgia Power, the state electric utility.  The Coalition later turned its efforts to Florida, fighting for a 2016 ballot initiative that provided for solar power property tax exemptions. Their work had the support of former Vice-President Al Gore, who Dooley considers a friend. The initiative passed, and today, increased citizen access to solar power is the Coalition’s main issue area.

All in all, the Green Tea Coalition’s string of victories have been hailed as a compelling example of cross-partisan cooperation in areas like energy and transportation. “Just because some conservatives disagree with us on, say, climate change or something like that, that doesn’t mean we can’t work together,” said Stephen Smith, director of the progressive Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in 2015. For Ms. Dooley, it’s not just about empowering individuals and finding market solutions to national problems, it’s personal as well. She thinks about her young grandson with asthma, and the environment that she wants to leave behind to him and his generation. “I fully believe we should be good stewards of what God gave us,” she said in 2018.

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