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Commentary: Southern Discomfort

If environmental advocates really expect a seismic shift in party sympathies in the midterm elections, they'd do well to look away, look away from Dixieland. It's a mess.

ATLANTA—In the off-year 2017 elections, Doug Jones was just the Dreamland candidate for Southern Democrats' comeback.


Relatively telegenic and a civil rights prosecutor, Jones faced the best odds an Alabama Democrat had in years: His Republican opponent, Roy Moore, had twice been bounced from the Alabama Supreme Court for ignoring Constitutional mandates. And Moore was buried in a dozen complaints that he trolled, stalked, or groped young women decades earlier.

Although Moore denied all accusations, his campaign wallowed in an epic pit of creepiness.

The relatively unassailable Jones managed a 1.7 percent victory for a partial-term Senate seat he'll be hard-pressed to keep in 2020.

One-point-seven percent, over a guy dragging credible child molestation charges to the polls. That may well be the pinnacle of the Democrats' revival in the Confederate states. Trumpian rhetoric on immigration and re-ignition of controversies over Civil War statues and symbols poll well here, thrusting hot-button issues from the 20th and 19th Centuries into a 21st Century template.

And Jones isn't alone. There are few races in the South that offer any hope of flipping either US chamber away from anti-environmental regulatory rollback agendas, or appointments of anti-regulatory judges.

In Tennessee, Rep. Marsha Blackburn stands a good chance of succeeding retiring fellow Republican Senator Bob Corker. Blackburn's green credentials include a fierce fight against energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs as well as a fierce fight for climate denial.

A few other hardcore climate deniers are quitting, but their seats are a virtual lock to stay in GOP hands. Rep. "Smoky Joe" Barton was the guy who offered a House Floor apology to BP after what he saw as rough treatment by the Obama Administration following BP's 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

And fellow Texan Lamar Smith turned his Chairmanship of the House Science Committee into a years-long inquisition into climate science. Their departures will impact climate denial seniority, but not climate denial numbers.

Many environmental advocates are banking on the uphill battle of Stacey Abrams, former Georgia House Minority Leader, to defeat Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Incumbent Florida Senator Bill Nelson may be fiercely challenged by Tea Party Governor Rick Scott, who currently has a slim polling lead. A Scott victory could nullify any Democratic hopes for a US Senate takeover.

And continued GOP control over statehouses and legislatures could stop clean energy's advance in its tracks down here.

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BarbiAnn Maynard drives 45 minutes from her home in Martin County, Kentucky, to a spring at the Mingo-Logan county line in West Virginia to fill containers with fresh water. (Credit: Curren Sheldon/100 Days in Appalachia)
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