On Wednesday, February 23rd, the four Republican presidential candidates were in my town, Mesa, Arizona, for yet another round of “debate.” As everyone knows (and as Tom Zoellner’s recent book excerpt reminded HCN readers), Arizona is friendly turf for these guys, and conservative Mesa may be friendliest of all. The audience at the Mesa Arts Center consisted mostly of local GOP bigwigs – there are lots of those, including virtually the whole state legislature -- so it was not surprising that Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul spent little time defending the substance of their remarkably similar views and instead squabbled about who disagrees most fiercely with President Obama.
Of course, that’s an oversimplification. No doubt some serious policy concerns were addressed, but isn’t it all starting to blur together after the nineteen previous debates? The local media complained afterward that few hot topics for Arizonans (except immigration, of course) came up, but by now the four men know the script so well they may not be able to stray from it.
So, what are some Arizona hot topics? One that we share with other Western states is energy development, both the renewable and non-renewable kinds. For a red state, Arizona’s been making some positive strides in solar and bio-fuel production. Where do the GOP candidates stand on those? Though the subject of energy was mentioned in Wednesday’s debate, I visited each Republican candidate’s website to check out his views
There are no big surprises, of course. They are unified in their desire to step up exploration for traditional non-renewable sources such as oil, natural gas, coal, and uranium. While Santorum’s site mentions bio-mass, wind, and solar (one of the few to do so) with the vague promise to “expand domestic innovations” into these sources, he is much more explicit about his plans to support private sector oil and natural gas drilling by gutting all regulations associated with them. And, of course, this is the guy who equates President Obama’s environmental views with “phony theology.” Romney and Paul simply dismiss efforts to expand alternative energy sources. Romney, echoing the “phony theology” reasoning, accuses the Obama administration of “operating more on faith than on fact-based economic calculation” in supporting green technologies. Paul blames “environmental alarmists” for designing “federal policies to punish traditional energy production.” Gingrich, on the other hand, proposes a fiendish compromise wherein the U.S. will “finance cleaner energy research and projects with new oil and gas royalties.”
I wish there were a better way – perhaps a real debate? – to engage the presidential contender in a serious, detailed discussion of energy policy. Unfortunately, voters must rely on the carefully spun, substance-free P.R. in websites, ads, and events like the one here in Mesa. Then again, Al Gore tried to talk energy and got dismissed as too boring and wonky. I guess we get what we ask for.
Jackie Wheeler teaches writing and environmental rhetoric at Arizona State University.
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