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Can This 36-Year-Old Unseat the Biggest Climate Denier in Congress?

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A climate activist and organizer is hoping to put "the worst climate denier in Congress" out of his job.


Derrick Crowe, a 36-year-old former staffer for senior Democrats in Congress, announced his bid for the 21st Congressional District of Texas last month. He hopes to unseat U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the notorious climate-denying chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

"Our message is simple," the Austin-based challenger said. "We will replace a Trump-backing, climate change denier with a progressive who fights for constituents against the corporate interests ruining our future."

Smith has served Texas's 21st congressional district, which includes most of the wealthier sections of San Antonio and Austin, since 1987. In February, Smith held a hearing on Making EPA Great Again that featured a line-up of industry voices. Smith, who has a history of writing op-eds for Breitbart, has accused NOAA of altering climate data "to get politically correct results." The congressman also thinks you should get your news "directly" from President Trump over "the national liberal media."

Environmentalists have long expressed concerns about the Texas Republican's financial ties to the fossil fuels sector. Records show he has received more than $700,000 from the oil and industry since 1989.

"Smith has held his seat for 30 years, and in that time he's benefitted from an outrageously gerrymandered map, corporate PAC money, and the patronage of groups like Exxon and the Koch brothers," Crowe said. "The people of this district are wise to the game now. Anti-Trump energy is evident everywhere you look. It's clearly time for a change."

The Trump administration's indifference on climate change, firing of scientists, purging of data and continued efforts to slash environmental regulations has inspired many scientists and science advocates to run for office. Other Democrats are considering a bid in the historically Republican district in 2018.

"When you have been in Congress for over 30 years and you have no formidable challenger, you have no reason to work hard," Joseph Kopser, another potential Democrat considering a run, told Smith's hometown paper, The San Antonio News-Express. "Just like any company in a private sector that would gain a monopoly, and they would then have no reason to innovate."

Kopser, a West Point graduate with a degree in aerospace engineering, added that he is also concerned about climate change and is baffled by Smith's positions due to Texas' abundance of wind, solar and natural gas.

In an editorial last month, Crowe highlighted the perils of our warming climate and political inaction.

"I've felt increasing alarm at how the escalating warnings from climate scientists about how bad the indicators are for our planet have been met with escalating denialism from people like Trump and Lamar Smith, the congressman who currently holds this seat," Crowe wrote. "To cut right to the chase, if we don't have carbon emissions slashed to nearly zero by the time my son graduates high school, we will virtually guarantee that we'll see catastrophic climate changes in our lifetimes."

Crowe is not a scientist but the self-proclaimed science "nerd" and told the Huffington Post he agrees with the vast majority of climate scientists who say that human activity is the primary cause of climate change.

"If 97 percent of doctors told you that you were going to die without a surgery, you would have that surgery, no problem," Crowe said. "And you would be a very unwise person to say that those 97 percent of doctors are engaged in a conspiracy against you."

So what are the chances that the longtime incumbent could lose his seat? As Fusion pointed out, the San Antonio News-Express withdrew its longstanding endorsement for Smith last year over what was described as an "abuse of his position as chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee."

"Specifically, it is his bullying on the issue of climate change that should concern all Americans," wrote the paper's editorial board.

Smith went on to win the election but with only 57 percent of the vote, the first time it dropped below 60 percent.

Smith's loss of the newspaper's endorsement, his slip in votes as well as more Democrat-voters moving into the heavily gerrymandered district are all optimistic signs for Crowe.

As Crowe told the Huffington Post, "there's a lot of indicators in this race to show that it's winnable and that [Smith] has finally gone too far in this anti-climate change science crusade."

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