Lessons from the "Enlightened Eight": Republicans Can Vote Pro-Environment and Not Get "Tea Partied"

On June 26, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 219-212 in favor of HR 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). Only eight Republicans - we'll call them the "Enlightened Eight" - voted "aye." These Republicans were Mary Bono-Mack (CA-45), Mike Castle (DE-AL), John McHugh (NY-23), Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2), Leonard Lance (NJ-7), Mark Kirk (IL-10), Dave Reichert (WA-8), and Christopher Smith (NJ-4).

Republicans voting for cap and trade in the year of the Tea Party? You'd think that they'd be dumped in the harbor by now. Instead, they're all doing fine. In fact, to date, not a single one of these Republicans has been successfully primaried by the "tea party" (or otherwise). Instead, we have two - Castle and Kirk - running for U.S. Senate, one (McHugh) who was appointed Secretary of the Army by President Obama, and five others - Bono-Mack, LoBiondo, Lance, Reichert, Smith - running for reelection.

Rep. Lance actually was challenged by not one, not two, but three "Tea Party" candidates. One of Lance's opponents, David Larsen, even produced this nifty video, helpfully explaining that "Leonard Lance Loves Cap & Trade Taxes." So, did this work? Did the Tea Partiers overthrow the tyrannical, crypto-liberal Lance? Uh, no. Instead, in the end, Lance received 56% of the vote, easily moving on to November.

Meanwhile, 100 miles or so south on the Jersey Turnpike, Rep. LoBiondo faced two "Tea Party" candidates - Donna Ward and Linda Biamonte - who also attacked on the cap-and-trade issue. According to Biamonte, cap and trade "is insidious and another tax policy... a funneling of money to Goldman Sachs and Al Gore through derivatives creating a carbon bubble like the housing bubble." You'd think that Republican primary voters in the year of the Tea Party would agree with this line of attack. Yet LoBiondo won with 75% of the vote.

Last but not least in New Jersey, Christopher Smith easily turned back a Tea Party challenger - Alan Bateman - by a more than 2:1 margin. Bateman had argued that "Obama knows he can count on Smith to support the United Nations' agenda to redistribute American wealth to foreign countries through international Cap & Trade agreements and other programs that threaten our sovereignty." Apparently, Republican voters in NJ-4 didn't buy that argument.

Across the country in California's 45th District, Mary Bono-Mack won 71% of the vote over Tea Party candidate Clayton Thibodeau on June 8. This, despite Thibodeau attacking Bono-Mack as "the only Republican west of the Mississippi to vote for Cap and Trade." Thibodeau also called cap and trade "frightening," claiming that government could force you to renovate your home or meet requirements before you purchase a home. Thibodeau's scare tactics on cap-and-trade clearly didn't play in CA-45.

Finally, in Washington's 8th Congressional District, incumbent Rep. Dave Reichert has drawn a Tea Party challenger named Ernest Huber, who writes that Cap and Trade "is widely viewed as an attempt at Soviet-style dictatorship using the environmental scam of global warming/climate change... written by the communist Apollo Alliance, which was led by the communist Van Jones, Obama's green jobs czar." We'll see how this argument plays with voters in Washington's 8th Congressional District, but something tells us it's not going to go over any better than in the New Jersey or California primaries.

In sum, it appears that it's quite possible for Republicans to vote for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation and live (politically) to tell about it. The proof is in the primaries.

Tags: Clean Energy, Climate Bill, Congress, NRDC Action Fund, Primaries, Tea Party, Politics News, Cap and Trade, Climate change (all tags)

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