Meet Derrick Crowe: Climate Activist. Future Congressman?

Derrick Crowe

*Please note – this interview is part of a series, during which the Austin EcoNetwork will be interviewing and profiling several Austinites considering a run for elected office at the state and federal levels. If you’re a candidate thinking about tossing your hat into the rink and would like to be profiled, please send an email to*

Meet Derrick Crowe – Climate activist. Former Democratic staffer and small business owner. Future congressman?

Crowe is one of several Austinites who has officially announced their candidacy against one of the most vocal climate change deniers in Congress.

Crowe is vying to run against US Representative Lamar Smith for Texas’ 21st US Congressional District seat in Congress (Crowe will have to win the Democratic primary first). The district includes downtown and south Austin, as well as large swaths of the Hill Country and parts of San Antonio. For over 30 years, this district has been represented by Lamar Smith. Crowe is trying to change that. (You can figure out which US Congressional District you live in here).

21st Congressional District
Texas’ 21st US Congressional District, photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The Austin EcoNetwork’s Editor-In-Chief, Amy Stansbury, sat down with Crowe last month to talk about his decision to run for Congress and his plans for fighting climate change if he gets there.

You can watch the entire video interview above. But for those who don’t have time to watch the entire clip, we’ve put together a brief summary below:

Who is Derrick Crowe?

  • Currently works as the communications director for a local nonprofit that works against domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse
  • Former staffer for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, as well as for the top Democrats on agriculture (U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Texas) and counterterrorism (U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash.)
  • Founder and former co-owner and operator of Mothership Books and Games, a small retail business in Austin focused on geek culture and gaming
  • One of the founders of the Austin chapter of 350, a global grassroots climate movement that seeks to hold leaders accountable to the realities of science and the principles of justice.
  • Lives in Austin, Texas with his wife (Laurie) and young son (Henry)

So why is he thinking about running?

Climate Change/Science

“…I am also a climate change activist here in town… in large part because of my son because he has never known a year that’s not the hottest year in history,” Crowe said during his AEN interview. “He was born in 2014 and that was the hottest year on record at that time, and then 2015 hit, and then 2016 hit. And so I’ve tried to raise a lot of awareness about climate change…and now escalated into a run for Congress against probably the Climate Change Denier-In-Chief…”

The Hill Country in particular is vulnerable to extreme changes in climate, Crowe said, which makes is particularly egregious that instead of trying to fix the problem, Smith is ignoring it.

Crowe also talked a lot about Smith’s repeated use of his subpoena powers (as chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology) to intimidate climate scientists and state attorneys general who are looking into potential wrongdoings by fossil fuel companies.

“I think when a representative behaves that way, it shows that they are not standing up to for their constituents when corporations and other big, moneyed interests try to push them around,” Crowe said.


Climate Change Solutions – Carbon Fee and Dividend

Crowe has put forth an array of solutions for fighting climate change, including something called the Carbon Fee and Dividend. This is a policy that has been championed by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nationwide nonpartisan, nonprofit organization with chapters here in the Austin area.

Here is how it works. If passed, the Carbon Fee and Dividend would:

  • Impose a fee on carbon emissions either when they’re extracted from the ground or shipped into the US
  • Return 100 percent of the revenue from the fees (minus administrative costs) directly back to American households as a monthly dividend. According to projections from the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, about 2/3 of households would break even or receive more back from the dividend than they paid out as the result of higher prices.
  • Issue a rebate to US companies exporting goods to countries without a carbon fee so that their goods do not become less competitive. Foreign businesses seeking to sell goods in the US would be charged an import fee if their country doesn’t already have a carbon fee.

Crowe likes this idea because he says that it will encourage renewed investment in energy efficiency and low-carbon vehicles, while at the same time not costing low- to moderate-income Americans more money.

“And so it will create essentially a conservative solution for mitigating climate change,” Crowe said. “So it lets the market deal with the actual costs of the product, and the consumers get the benefit of people competing to keep those costs down.”

As Crowe sees it, the fact that fossil fuel companies do not currently have to pay for the harm they cause through pollution and climate change is a market failure that needs to be corrected. With Carbon Fee and Dividend, Crowe said, the country would be shaking things up by “… not letting these companies socialize the costs while privatizing all the gains.”

Other climate solutions that Crowe has proposed include a “Marshall plan-style project to electrify our energy sources in this country and get away from these liquid, carbon-based fuels, so you would be using electric cars versus gasoline cars.”

The Marshall plan-style project is in reference to the American initiative which gave a massive $13 billion to Western Europe in order to rebuild after WWII. In Crowe’s estimation, the US needs a similar large-scale initiative in order to reduce emissions and take action on climate change before it’s too late. Most of the spending, Crowe says, should go toward infrastructure, like power lines (to support wind and solar) and an electric vehicle charging network (to support a rapid transition to electric vehicles).

And last but not least, Crowe is also advocating for a greening of our nation’s electric grid (by adding more wind and solar power), and creating energy efficiency standards “with teeth” for our nation’s buildings and appliances.


Green Economy Jobs

In addition to helping to fight climate change, Crowe believes that much of his environmental agenda can help to create jobs.

“That Marshall-style infrastructure project means jobs,” Crowe said during his AEN interview. “Somebody’s got to put those power lines in, somebody’s got to make the buildings more efficient, somebody’s got to build those things. And so there’s a lot of economic opportunity…”

That’s one place where much of our federal policy has gone wrong, Crowe said, explaining that we haven’t done a good enough job retraining people who have lost their jobs to the 21st century economy.


Donald Trump

When Crowe sees Lamar Smith, he sees a lot of Donald Trump… which is a big problem for him. During his AEN interview, Crowe mentioned that Smith was Trump’s first Congressional donor, is a vocal supporter of his, and has voted with him more than 95 percent of the time so far in Congress.

Even though Crowe recognizes that Texas’ 21st US Congressional District has some largely conservative segments, during his AEN interview, he expressed a belief that residents are ready for a change.

“If you look at the electoral results for this district from the Romney/Obama race, Romney won this district by about 60 percent,” Crowe said. “Trump won it by 52 percent, so there’s this clear discomfort, even among Lamar Smith’s most conservative constituents, with Donald Trump as president.”

Crowe also pointed to a series of recent votes taken by Smith that he said, go directly against the interests of the residents of Texas’ 21st US Congressional District. In particular, Crowe points to the Republican-led effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, which Crowe said will take away health insurance from many of the same people who voted for Trump and Smith. On his campaign website, Crowe says that “health care is a human right.” As a congressional candidate, Crowe is advocating for Medicare For All.

“So the votes he’s taking make him particular vulnerable, personally,” Crowe said during his AEN interview. “And when the Trump presidency continues to implode, he’s got to wear that Trump t-shirt all the way down because he has 100 percent tied himself to Donald Trump.”

Another thing that makes Smith vulnerable, Crowe said, is the growth in community engagement and activism amongst his constituents who have been angered over the Trump presidency. For Crowe, the growth in grassroots Democratic organizations and events (like the town hall meeting held for Smith, which he didn’t attend) means that it’s time for change.

“… There are dozens of people in those crowds that will tell you, ‘I’ve never done anything political before, I’m here to learn what to do because I’m so alarmed by Donald Trump and what Lamar Smith is doing on his behalf,'” Crowe said.



Crowe also points to his experience, both running campaigns and serving as a staffer in Congressional offices, as a boon to his own candidacy.

“I ran a successful effort in a very tough district before… I worked for people who had to really fight tooth and nail to win a tough race,” Crowe said, in reference to his work with Congressman Charles Stenholm (who represented a district based in Abilene, Texas).

In addition to helping to run campaigns, Crowe also spent some time inside a Congressional office when we served as a staffer for Representative Nancy Pelosi. During that time, Crowe said that he received, “…an education that you couldn’t buy in school, just learning how it works on the hill, and what the process is, and how to go about getting something done even if you’re in the minority.”


What’s Next?

Primaries for Texas’ 21st US Congressional District are in March of 2018 and the election will be in November of that year… but that doesn’t mean that work isn’t already being done. If you would like to learn more about how to participate in Crowe’s campaign, you can check out his website here>>

Crowe isn’t the only Democrat considering a run against Smith. Several others have also expressed an interest, including Joseph Kopser (a veteran and local entrepreneur), Elliott McFadden (Executive Director of Austin B-cycle), Ryan Allen (an emergency physician). The Race To Replace Lamar Smith has put together a list of Democrats considering a run for Texas’ 21st US Congressional seat, which you can check out here. (As the name implies, the Race to Replace Lamar Smith is a group of Democrat organizers working to oust Smith from office). Stay tuned for additional profiles and interviews with some of the other Central Texans considering a run against Smith. Our interview with Elliott McFadden will Facebook livestreamed on Tuesday, June 6th at noon.

*It is the Austin EcoNetwork’s policy never to endorse candidates running for political office. All articles written about candidates are designed to simply educate and inform the public and should not be perceived as an endorsement.*

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