Communicating Climate Policy in Purple States with Janet Napolitano

By Danielle Elliott and Isabel Lyndon

When it comes to crafting policy solutions to climate change, government messaging often depends on the ideological leanings of the electoral base. When an elected government official’s politics align with the politics of the majority of the constituent base, like it does in “red” and “blue” states, political support is easier to find. But what about in purple states where there are similar levels of Democratic and Republican support? For government leaders in purple states, writing policy that appeals to everyone can be difficult. 

Two-term Governor of Arizona Janet Napolitano found a solution. Once a Republican stronghold, Arizona began to trend purple during Napolitano’s time in office from 2003-09. To accommodate the mixed political constituency, Napolitano was careful to use particular vocabulary to describe her climate-related solutions in order to achieve bipartisan support. 

Napolitano focused on ideals  such as “climate safety” and “preserving the environment,” rather than risks, and promoted renewable energy in the sun-soaked state by harnessing the momentum of the nascent solar power industry. Concentrating on amplifying the existing resources of the state, rather than spotlighting its deficiencies, allowed for more positive messaging about  creating opportunities for economic growth and industry leadership. While not every purple state has renewable energy resources at their disposal, selecting the right words to describe policy solutions that encourage shifts in constituent behavior can make an impact on the longevity of the solution’s success. 

Resources for communicating climate policy more effectively: 


Ethan: How can conservative state governments persuade their constituents to support climate action? This is Ethan Elkind of Climate Break. I spoke with former Arizona governor and former president of the University of California, Janet Napolitano, about the lessons she learned crafting climate policy solutions while leading a purple state from 2003 to 2009. 

Ms. Napolitano: One of the things we did was really a simple matter of vocabulary. We tried to stay away from terms that unfortunately had taken on too much political baggage and just talk about what we were actually going to do. 

Ethan: Napolitano found broader support among constituents when her policies emphasized terms like climate safety and preserving the environment. 

Ms. Napolitano: I tried to stay away from the phrase climate change per se. I know that sounds kind of dorky, but, you know, those kinds of things can really help you accomplish an agenda. 

Ethan: Another popular policy choice: developing an in-state renewable energy industry, like solar power. 

Ms. Napolitano: There are lots of sun in Arizona, and some of the manufacturers in solar were located there. And as the cost of solar came down, the adoption of solar by Arizonans grew. 

Ethan: To learn more about ways to communicate on climate action and for more climate solutions, go to or wherever you get your podcasts.

Communicating Climate Policy in Purple States with Janet Napolitano