My Greyhound bus recently crossed the Colorado state line, putting me squarely back in HCN’s coverage area. So perhaps it’s now time to ask: what did I learn about the West – and Western environmental politics – in my journey away from the region?
The main thing I learned about Western Republicans is that they all see themselves as pro-environment. Many of them still don’t believe in global warming. Many of them are excitedly hoping that Palin will influence McCain to become more in favor of oil and gas drilling. Most of them participated in the raucous chants of “Drill, baby, drill,” that echoed through the Xcel Center on a nightly basis. Still, they think of themselves as supporting conservation.
“I get offended when people from the East say they love the land more than I do,” said Enid Mickelson, a delegate from Draper, Utah. “I think we all care about conservation. I think we all want to make sure there are areas we set aside to keep pristine.”
“When it comes to developing energy and protecting the environment, most Republicans are conservationists,” delegate Chris Harriman from Idaho told me. And Chris has put his money where his mouth is: he owns a company involved in geothermal power exploration.
It’s tempting to dismiss these sorts of comments as delegates trying to make themselves and their party sound good to a reporter. But I think the real story is more complicated. The Western Republicans I met in Minneapolis seemed pretty sincere in their expressions of environmental values. They were just convinced that a lot of our environmental regulations go too far.
This perception – common among the delegates I talked to – that existing environmental regulations are too onerous is probably the result of confusion about what those environmental regulations are. But can you really blame them for being confused? I’ve been living and breathing NEPA and the Endangered Species Act and the Roadless Rule for the past three months, and I still don’t have them all the way figured out.
And the harder something is to understand, the easier it is to misconstrue. Case in point: the recent controversy over Colorado’s regulations on oil and gas drilling. The usually industry-friendly Colorado oil and gas commission wanted to make some modest improvements to the rules governing streamside setbacks and winter habitat, among other things. They got slammed by a misleading industry ad campaign that claimed the regulations would destroy jobs.
Contrast that with a recent success story in Colorado conservation, the Telluride valley floor. A developer wanted to put a whole bunch of houses, apartments, stores, etc. on 572 acres on the outskirts of Telluride. The town was able to condemn the land. Then, through donations and a bond issue, the town came up with the $50 million to buy the land and preserve it.
My guess is that it would have been pretty easy to get Chris and Enid and many of the other Republicans I met this week to support the preservation of the Telluride valley floor. My guess is that it would have been very difficult to get them to support the new oil and gas rules. As we’ve discovered in the debate over global warming, it’s hard to rebut a campaign of coordinated disinformation about a complicated topic, especially when that disinformation confirms people’s prejudices.
I think the lesson for conservationists wanting to recruit help from Republicans is to be at once more and less ambitious. Less ambitious in proposing rule changes – like the Colorado oil and gas rules or the Roadless Rule – that affect the management of huge swaths of land. More ambitious in trying to preserve land outright, either through buying private land or designating public land as wilderness, instead of just making sure it gets developed “responsibly.” The need to preserve specific beautiful pieces of land is something that anyone, even an RNC delegate, can understand. Incremental rule changes may seem more moderate, but in the end they open us up to being misconstrued as hair-splitting lovers of bureaucracy.
You may have gotten the best clean-coal-related video snippet of the conventions. But did you get one of these awesome hats?
Will trade for a beer, if by some chance you're still in the Twin Cities.
Sarah Palin loves the environment, at least according to the bio video they just played on the big screen here at the Xcel Center. But she doesn't seem to be spending too much time outside in it, despite living amidst what's arguably some of the most beautiful scenery in existence. The video features the requisite panoramas of spectacular Alaska landscapes, and plenty of images in which Palin and her family are standing in front of those landscapes. But every single one of them has had the background photoshopped in. (Transparently photoshopped -- the videographers aren't trying to fool us on this one -- but photoshopped nonetheless.) Maybe I'm making too much of this, but if she's really the rugged (though lipstick-wearing) outdoorswoman she claims to be, shouldn't she have a few pictures of her and her family outside?
"As a teenager, Sarah would rise at 3 am to join her dad on pre-dawn moose hunts," the announcer tells us. Apparently she isn't doing that sort of thing any more. Or if she is, she isn't taking a camera.
Everyone expected Sarah Palin's speech last night to be long on biography and short on concrete policy proposals. Focusing on herself and her story -- with occasional jabs at Obama -- was what she had to do to keep from being defined by that gosh-darn liberal commentariat, which doesn't think she's qualified to be VP. But what I realized last night was that focusing on her personal story -- to the complete exclusion of anything substantive -- was not just a defensive move but brilliant political offense.
That's because this year's Republican strategy is not about policy, not by a long shot. Voters know that George Bush has made a hash of governing the country, and they're becoming more and more concerned about the issues -- climate change, economic instability, the availability of health care -- on which Democrats have a clear policy edge. So instead of talking policy, the Republicans are offering us conservative politics as the new identity politics.Read More ...
If you've watched TV recently, you've almost certainly heard from T. Boone Pickens. He's the Republican oil billionaire who recently saw the light on the need for alternative energy and has sponsored a flood of windmill-porn TV ads to make sure the rest of America gets the message. Now he's taking his pitch straight to the who most need to hear it -- the Republican politicians who have blocked the extension of the renewable energy tax credit, which are set to expire this December.
Pickens spoke today at a get-together for South Carolina delegates, explaining his support for renewable energy in terms of energy independence, not environmental benefits. When it comes to energy, "I'm for anything American," he says. He's worried not only about the security risk inherent in getting oil from overseas, but about the massive amount of wealth leaving the country as a result of oil imports. America spends almost $700 billion per year to buy oil from overseas.Read More ...
I have seen the future of the Idaho Republican party. His name is Brett Peterson, he's a 24-year-old student at BYU-Idaho, and he's in favor of more domestic oil and gas drilling. So much in favor of it that he showed up at the Democratic convention with a group of college Republicans who proceeded to drown out Nancy Pelosi's main energy speech with chants of "Drill here, drill now."
Brett says he ended up front and center in the well-viewed YouTube video of the incident. After watching it, I can't figure out which of the protesters he is, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He says that people have walked up to him at RNC-related receptions to congratulate him on his performance.
I suppose this is the point at which I should make a snide comment about Brett, and perhaps college Republicans in general. But you know what? Brett was a really nice guy. A little awkward, suffering from minor delusions of Youtube grandeur, but utterly sincere. He says he wants to "keep moving up and stay in politics my whole life."
When nice young guys like Brett are showing up to shout down alternative-energy proposals, progressives in the West should know they've got work to do.
The West has always had a libertarian streak, and the 2008 election year has proved no exception. Ron Paul, the Republican U.S. house member from Texas who was the favored presidential candidate of his party's libertarian wing, did an amazing job fundraising in the West. (This may be a better indicator of support than the number of votes he got, because Paul was effectively out of the running by the time many Western states got around to voting.) According to the FEC, he out-raised every Republican candidate except McCain in Montana and Wyoming, and everyone but McCain and Mitt Romney in Washington, Oregon, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.
For all the talk of PUMAs at the Democratic National Convention, it's Ron Paul and his fans who are this year's truly implacable primary losers. He didn't get an official speaking gig at the RNC, so today he's holding an all-day rally of his own. The New York Times is covering it more thoroughly than I ever could. It's worth following if you want a sense of how the Republican party could be fracturing in the West this year.
"Make sure you put these credentials in your pocket as soon as you step out of the convention center. The protesters are going through the streets looking for people who are here for the convention. Wearing your credentials around your neck will make you a target."
These were the stern words that the man handing out floor passes had for me yesterday afternoon. And he was not the first or the last person I heard worrying about violent protests. To hear the talk inside the Xcel Center, the leftist protesters were roaming the streets like packs of angry wolves, chanting "f**k Fox News" and having their way with Republican women who stepped outside unescorted.
OK, that might be a bit of an overstatement, but the delegates I talked to were honestly convinced that the protesters were slashing the tires of the delegate shuttle buses and maybe trying to set them on fire. I wasn't present on every shuttle bus in the Twin Cities yesterday, so I can't say for sure that no bus assault happened, but if it did the paper of record here never caught onto it.
It just goes to highlight the difference between the two conventions. The DNC had its share of protests, but it really felt like we were reporting on a city-wide wonk party. Being here feels more like reporting on a siege.
New Mexico is shaping up to be one of the most interesting
battleground states in the West this year. The presidential polls are
starting to look good for Obama, and Representative Tom Udall, a member
of the West's most famous environmentalist family, has a good chance of
taking the Senate seat currently held by the legendarily
anti-green Pete Domenici.
So New Mexico is just the sort of state where the Republican Party should be moving towards the center on environmental issues. Right? Not according to Heather Wilson, U.S House member from the state's first congressional district who recently lost a bid for the Republican nomination in New Mexico's Senate race. She lists jobs, the price of gas, and national defense as the three main issues for voters in her home state. The environment? "Not so much," she says. "The price of energy is a much bigger deal. The environment never even gets into double digits in the polls as the issue that voters think is most important."
Maybe she's right about the polls. Voters have plenty to worry about these days, what with a war and a recession going on. It's hard to get worked up about the Roadless Rule when job just got offshored. But my guess is that there are a lot of New Mexico voters who count the environment as at least the second or third most important issue on their list. And my guess is that a candidate's position on the environment could sway some of these people's votes. And maybe that's why the oddsmakers at the web's most sophisticated electoral projection site give Tom Udall a 77% chance of winning the election this November.
If you ask me, HCN did a damn fine job covering the unreported, uniquely Western stories coming out of the Democratic convention in Denver. So what could we do for an encore? Well, one of your fearless correspondents jumped on a Greyhound bus to get the inside scoop on the other convention -- the convention of the party that, at least for now, controls the lion's share of the intermountain West.
What do Republicans think about the characteristically Western issues -- water, oil and gas development, the managment of public lands -- that HCN follows? Are they monolithic in their support of the Bush administration's environmental policies, or are some of them, as Ray Ring has suggested, begining to realize the importance of environmental issues to the moderates and independents whose votes they need in order to keep winning the West?
I'm going to spend the week trying to get some answers for you. Stay tuned.