Beneath the Tea Party’s Anti-Government Rallying Cry, Americans Call for Government to Do More

“Can you hear me?” That’s the recurring refrain in a radio promo for this weekend’s “Virginia Tea Party Patriots Convention,” which—with an estimated crowd of 3,000—purports to be one of the largest rallies yet of so-called “Tea Party” sympathizers. The 60-second radio spot by keynote speaker Lou Dobbs features allegedly outraged Americans repeating that line, interspersed with un-attributed stats about how Americans supposedly oppose stimulus spending, health care,  and other government spending policies  “Maybe Washington can’t hear us,” Dobbs intones dramatically, “because they’re just not listening.”

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Virginia Illustrates Dos and Don’ts in Making Democracy Accessible

Cross-posted at Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters

Participating in democracy should be a simple exercise for anyone who is a citizen over the age of 18, but as voter registration and turnout stats indicate, it’s not always that easy. On their way to the polls, too many people encounter barriers and obstacles, and too often these impediments are a result of varying, nuanced election administration procedures across the United States. As a new Project Vote report illustrates, examples of many of these election administration dos and don’ts can be found in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Unlike other states where there is a significant racial disparity in voter registration rates, Virginia—home to more than five million voting-eligible citizens—has the laudable achievement of “near parity in registration rates across racial boundaries, according to the new Project Vote memo, Voting in Virginia: How the System Works and How it Can Be Improved by Daniel CharltonThe commonwealth also boasts a fair number of its eligible citizens on the voter rolls, ranking just a couple of percentage points above the national average at 74 percent.

Despite these positive points, however, access to the democratic process in Virginia still has room for systematic improvement. In the memo, Charlton discusses some of Virginia’s unclear or unregulated election administration procedures, which can allow some eligible citizens to slip through the cracks. This includes a notorious felon voting law (that depends upon, and fluctuates with, the whim of each governor); undefined deadlines for processing voter registration forms once they reach a registrar; a lack of clear protocols for rejecting or accepting applications; excessive use (and extremely low count) of provisional ballots; and an ultimate lack of transparency and access to records to determine election administration ills, a potential violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

The latter raised issues in the commonwealth in the 2008 election and resulted in a currently pending, potentially precedent-setting lawsuit. In 2008, a large number of voter registration applications from Norfolk State University—a historically African-American college—were mysteriously rejected, causing a stir in the community. Alerted of the issue, Project Vote and Advancement Project asked the State Board of Elections for copies of the applications to determine the cause of the rejections, but were ultimately denied access. The failure to disclose such information to the public appears to violate the NVRA, which requires states to maintain and make available “all records” related to voter registration and list maintenance procedures.

"The NVRA was passed to ensure that all eligible Americans have the opportunity to register to vote,” said Project Vote election counsel, Teresa James. “Confidential information can be redacted for privacy, but registration applications should be available for inspection. The democratic process needs light and air to flourish."

Virginia’s issues illustrate the need for election officials and voters across the country to be aware of state election administration procedures, a necessity that is heightened by the approaching midterm elections. Voter registration—the mainline to the democratic process—needs particular attention as it varies from state to state.

To help officials, voters, and anyone conducting voter registration drives understand these rules, Project Vote has updated and expanded its library of voter registration guides for 25 states, outlining eligibility requirements (including age and felony conviction nuances) and rules for conducting registration drives in each state.

Congressional Candidates’ Views on Clean Energy, Climate Change: VA-05

This is the first in what will be a continuing series by the NRDC Action Fund on the environmental stances of candidates in key races around the country.  Today, we examine Virginia’s 5th Congressional district, a district - stretching south from Charlottesville to the North Carolina border. Currently, the 5th CD is represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by Tom Perriello (D).

Where does Rep. Perriello stand on clean energy and environmental issues?   In 2009, Perriello received a 71% rating from the League of Conservation Voters.  Perriello also voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) and has "touted development of a clean energy economy as a way of creating jobs; improving energy efficiency; increasing this country’s energy supplies and sources and reducing reliance on foreign energy, which also would benefit this country’s national security; and other benefits." With regard to his ACES vote, Perriello says that he "believes there are ‘huge upsides’ in manufacturing and agriculture in a clean energy economy."  As the Union of Concerned Scientists points out, Perriello is exactly right about the agricultural sector, as "Wind, solar, and biomass energy can be harvested forever, providing farmers with a long-term source of income."  And, as California’s experience has shown, Perriello is right about the manufacturing sector as well.

Perriello does, however, favor some things that many environmentalists disagree with. For instance, Perriello says he supports an "’everything and the kitchen sink’ national energy strategy that includes an expansion of oil drilling." On the other hand, it should be noted that Perriello’s support for oil drilling comes in the context of his overall support for "using market-based solutions to create a carbon-limited economy."

The Republican candidate, Virginia State Sen. Robert Hurt, has views on energy and the environment contrast sharply with Perriello’s.  In this video, for instance, Hurt incorrectly claims that cap and trade legislation would "absolutely raise the cost of energy in this country and it will hurt individuals and it will hurt businesses."  In fact, as studies like this one show, "the Waxman-Markey climate bill makes economic sense, offering benefits worth at least twice as much as it costs, if not more."  And, as this study concludes, the climate legislation already passed by the U.S. House of Representatives "would produce an average net energy spending reduction of $354 per household and an increase of nearly 425,000 jobs" by 2030.  Finally, a recent study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration finds that the comprehensive climate and clean energy "American Power Act" being considered in the U.S. Senate would produce increases in income "almost 60 times greater than the estimated $185 annual investment** cost, exceeding $11,000 per year on average" while reducing U.S. oil imports "1.9 to 2.4 million barrels per day by 2035."

For whatever reason, Robert Hurt has ignored or discounted these studies, not to mention the overwhelming scientific evidence regarding the urgent need to act on climate change.  Thus, instead of advocating for a transformation from the dirty fuels of the past, to a prosperous economy based on energy efficiency and clean energy that will never run out, Hurt’s solution is essentially the same-old, same-old: "opening up drilling in off the coast of Virginia, something I have supported year after year." Hurt adds, "We have to include drilling all over this country in order to meet the demands for our society, the demands for our businesses."

In reality, of course, the United States contains only 3% of the world’s oil reserves and is considered by geologists to be a "mature oil province."  In common language, the meaning is simple: our oil production has long since "peaked," which means we can’t "drill our way out of it." Fortunately, we can open up tremendous opportunities for our nation through policies and investments that encourage energy efficiency – also known as "Invisible Energy" – and clean, renewable energy. For whatever reason, Robert Hurt disagrees and instead is pushing to move us backwards in this area.

In general, Sen. Hurt’s environmental record is unimpressive, with a 20% Virginia League of Conservation Voters rating in 2009 and a 38% rating in 2010.  During the 2010 Virginia General Assembly session, Hurt voted the "wrong" way  - in the view of the LCV - on HB 787, which states that "it shall be the policy of the Commonwealth to support oil and natural gas exploration, development, and production 50 miles or more off Virginia’s coast."  Hurt also voted for HB 1300, which "[p]rohibits the Air Pollution Control Board from requiring that electric generating facilities located in a nonattainment area meet NOx and SO2 compliance obligations without the purchase of allowances from in-state or out-of-state facilities."  Obviously, Robert Hurt is no friend of clean energy or the environment.

That concludes our environmental profile of the Democratic and Republican candidates running in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District this year.  We believe that it is important for the public in general, and the voters of specific Congressional districts, be aware of this information as they weigh their choices for November.

Take action today for a cleaner, stronger, and more sustainable future. Join NRDC Action Fund on Facebook and Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest environmental issues and actions you can take to help protect our planet.

Maps of Virginia Elections

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

To follow up the series on Virginia, I’ve posted a few recent presidential elections in the state (courtesy of the New York Times). Each map comes with some brief analysis.

Link to map of 2008 presidential election in Virginia

Capitalizing on a decade of Democratic movement, Senator Barack Obama becomes the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia since 1964. The Senator performs best in eastern Virginia, especially the fast-growing northern Virginia metropolis. Western Virginia is not as enamored; parts of it even vote more Republican.


Link to map of 2004 presidential election in Virginia

Nobody pays attention to Virginia in 2004, and for good reason: incumbent George W. Bush cruises along to a comfortable victory. Amid all the hoopla in Ohio, Republicans fail to notice a disquieting trend. Fairfax County, the populous heart of Northern Virginia, goes blue in the first time for decades.


Link to map of 2000 presidential election in Virginia

Governor George W. Bush sails to an 8% victory. He artfully weaves together a classic Republican coalition: wealthy suburbs combined with Republican-trending rural Virginia.


Link to map of 1996 presidential election in Virginia

Expecting to win the state, incumbent Bill Clinton is surprised to see Virginia slip from his grasp. He does better than in 1992 – performing well amongst Democratic constituencies in the Appalachian west, the black southeast, and the rich inner-core suburbs of Northern Virginia. But it’s not enough: a strong Republican vote in Richmond’s suburbs denies Mr. Clinton his victory.


Link to map of 1992 presidential election in Virginia

Another presidential election, another Republican victory in Virginia powered by suburbs and small towns. Yet Governor Bill Clinton does relatively well. Compared to the 20.5% beating George H.W. Bush gave to Democratic nominee Mike Dukakis in 1988, a 4.4% loss ain’t nothing.




Rating the Virginia Congressional Delegation on Climate Change

Thanks to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, we now have every member of the Virginia congressional delegation on record with regard to climate change.  Here's a synopsis of their responses, with commentary regarding each of their positions on this crucial issue as it comes up for debate in the U.S. Congress.

Sen. Mark Warner (D) hasn't had to vote on a Senate climate and clean energy bill, but he clearly "gets it" when it comes to this issue.   Warner's statement for the Times-Dispatch is generally excellent, talking about the "overwhelming science" of climate change; the "real threat" from both climate change and our addiction to oil "from countries that are anti-American;" the tremendous opportunity afforded by the clean energy sector; and Warner's openness to "a price on carbon" and to "cap and trade."  The main item that's potentially of concern from an environmentalist perspective is Warner's comment that "coal's got to be part, is a huge part of the mix."  Given that coal has the highest carbon content of all fossil fuels, the key here is going to be whether economical, technologically feasible "carbon capture and sequestration" technology is developed, and when. On that issue, there's a great deal of debate and a wide range of estimates. NRDC's position is that "pay-for-performance CCS subsidies are an appropriate hedging strategy or that it's just the price to pay to get the US off the dime on cutting carbon pollution." Anyway, the bottom line is that Mark Warner understands this issue and appears willing to do what it takes to address it. I look forward to Mark Warner voting "yea" on a comprehensive, clean energy and climate bill, sometime in the near future!

Sen. Jim Webb (D) is absolutely correct that "[r]esponsible energy policies have the potential to reduce carbon emissions, provide energy security and create alternative energy jobs for our local communities." Webb's also right that "the temperature increase since the late 1970s has been mostly due to the increase in greenhouse concentration resulting from such activities as fossil fuel burning and deforestation."  In addition, it's great that Webb voted against the heinous Murkowski, "Dirty Air" amendment to gut the EPA's authority over regulating carbon pollution. The question now is, will Webb vote for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation? It's hard to tell from his answers to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Another question for Webb is whether he will oppose a "Murkowski lite" approach to pare back the EPA's ability to regulate carbon emissions.  On both of these questions, we'll find out the answers in the next few weeks. In the meantime, please contact Sen. Webb and send the message that you want him to support comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation.

Clearly, four Virginia Representatives -- Bobby Scott (D-3rd), Tom Perriello (5th), Jim Moran (D-8th) and Gerry Connolly (D-11th) -- are superb when it comes to clean energy and climate legislation.   For starters, all four clearly understand that human activity is dramatically, and dangerously, heating up our planet.  In addition, these Congressmen have put their votes where their rhetoric is, supporting the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) that passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 219-212 on June 26, 2009. Thank you to all four Congressmen for showing leadership where it really matters - on protecting our planet for future generations, as well as for our own!

The position of Rep. Rick Boucher (D-9th) on clean energy and climate legislation is probably best described as "complicated."   To begin with, it's important to recognize that Boucher represents a district that is heavily based in "coal country."  Thus, it is not surprising that Boucher's believes "Congress must act by adopting its own regulatory program that ensures a strong future for coal, allows utilities to continue burning coal and preempts EPA regulation in any manner inconsistent with the Congressional direction." On the other hand, Boucher not only voted for ACES, but was a leader in crafting the legislation (some would argue, in watering it down and in adding provisions highly favorable to the coal industry).  In addition, Boucher supports "the same kind of market-based trading mechanism which was successfully used in controlling sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants in 1990." In other words, Boucher supports a market-based "cap and trade" system, which worked extremely well in slashing sulfur emissions and acid rain back in the 1980s and 1990s. Overall, Boucher represents a mixed bag from an environmental perspective, but perhaps the best we can expect given the politics of his district.

Freshman "Blue Dog" Rep. Glenn Nye (D-1st) acknowledges that global warming "is a real and serious problem, and [that] we must work to correct our current energy practice."  Unfortunately, having acknowledged the problem, Nye does not appear to support any serious measures to address it.  For instance, Nye voted against ACES, despite the fact that his district is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, has no significant fossil fuel interests, and has an economy that's heavily dependent on the tourism industry and the U.S. Navy, both of which are concerned about the potential harm caused by climate change.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th) acknowledges that human-caused global warming is "real" and urges "a comprehensive, bipartisan response to address climate change."  The problem is that Wolf opposes any serious measures to solve the problem.  For instance, Wolf voted against ACES last summer when it passed the House of Representatives by just 7 votes.  Instead, Wolf supports Randy Forbes' gimmicky, "New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence," which relies on a series of prizes "to a private entity" in a number of areas.  That's fine in and of itself, but it doesn't seriously address the massive, complex, intertwined problems of climate change and our "oil addiction."  In the end, the "New Manhattan Project" constitutes nothing more than an unhelpful distraction from the main challenges at hand.

Rep.  Eric Cantor (R-7th) writes that "One of the realities of the 21st century is a changing climate and environment."  He adds the (true) statement that "Our economic and environmental security demands that we diversify energy sources."  Cantor believes "the effort to deal with climate change must achieve meaningful environmental benefits and should rely on technological advancements and consumer choices rather than mandates and bureaucracy."  The problem is, Cantor then rejects ACES and other strong measures to deal with this issue.  He also calls "cap and trade" a "massive bureaucratic" response, even though Cantor must know that it's very similar to the conservative Republican-inspired, market-oriented, and highly successful response this country took to acid rain back in the 1980s.   As for cap-and-trade constituting a "massive energy tax," that claim has been debunked time and again. In addition, if Cantor is so concerned that putting a price on carbon would be burdensome to consumers, then you'd think he would support a revenue-neutral carbon tax that returns all the money to taxpayers.  But he doesn't.   Instead, he supports the "American Energy Act," which relies heavily on increased oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, expedited construction of more oil refineries, more nuclear power plants, increased production of dirty oil shale, even opening up the Arctic for drilling.  This is, quite frankly, the exact opposite of a solution to climate change. It is also the opposite of any serious effort to break our "oil addiction."

About the only positive things you can say about Rep. Rob Wittman (R-1st), Rep. Randy Forbes (R-4th), and Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-6th) is that they don't appear to be outright climate change deniers.  On the other hand, several seem to flirt with the climate change "skeptics." For instance, Rob Wittman talks about how "these climactic cycles of heating and cooling have been going on well before man appeared on earth."  Randy Forbes - author of the gimmicky, "New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence" (see above) - says "there is evidence among scientists and researchers pointing in both directions."  Robert Goodlatte says only that "some experts concur that the earth is once again warming," when in fact it's nearly unanimous.  Other than that, though, they have basically nothing to offer on this issue, voting against ACES and everything else that might actually address the problem.  

Those are the positions of the Virginia Congressional delegation on climate change issues, plus the NRDC Action Fund's analysis.  It would be great if newspapers in other states published similar statements on this issue from their Congressional delegations so we could analyze them as well.



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