WASHINGTON—For a small set of moderate U.S. House Republicans, a funny thing is happening on the way to the midterm election.
Last summer, they felt the hate for supporting the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Remember, for instance, that full-color poster circulating on the Internet that positioned their “mug shots” around an upside-down elephant and pilloried them as the “GOP’s Cap-and-Tax 8?”
This year, however, the “enlightened eight”—a nickname those in environmental circles bestowed upon them—are feeling the love. One received a “promotion” from the Obama administration, two are vying for high-powered U.S. Senate seats and four of the remaining five have already handily survived their House primaries while weathering somewhat bizarre attacks from “tea party” challengers.
Rep. Dave Reichert, the last of that latter handful, is expected to breeze through the Aug. 17 primary in his quest to represent voters from the 8th Congressional District in western Washington State for a fourth term. Observers also predict that the former King County sheriff will prevail Nov. 2 over Democrat Suzan DelBene, a former Microsoft vice president who now works as a consultant for a nonprofit organization.
Washington State resident Jim DiPeso is the policy director for Republicans for Environmental Protection, a Michigan-based advocacy group.
“Moderate centrist Republicans have done well in that district for years, and he fits into that class,” Jim DiPeso told SolveClimate News in an interview. “The district is changing and leaning a little more Democratic now but Reichert is definitely representing his constituents.”
As the home to Microsoft, the 8th Congressional District east of Seattle is a high technology hotbed surrounded by a slew of national forests and parks. Many residents are well educated, well paid, outdoorsy and conservation savvy.
“When Reichert cast that vote for Waxman-Markey, he took a lot of heat from the hard right,” DiPeso noted. “A lot of Republicans were angry with him at the time.”
DiPeso’s organization saw his vote differently, however. It helped him to earn the second highest rating in the group’s 2009 scorecard ranking the greenest Republicans in Congress.
What’s Happening to the Other 7 GOP “Turncoats?”
The eight “turncoats” joined with 211 Democrats to give House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., three more votes than the 216 she needed to deliver Waxman-Markey in late June 2009.
A few weeks before Rep. John McHugh of New York gave his thumbs-up to the measure, President Obama appointed him as Secretary of the Army. He left the House shortly afterward.
Reps. Mike Castle of Delaware and Mark Kirk of Illinois both opted to take a stab at the Senate and are now bent on filling seats vacated by two cap and trade advocates—Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama.
Kirk already made the cut in the Feb. 2 Illinois primary and Castle should glide through the Sept. 14 primary against an opponent endorsed by the Tea party Express, Christine O’Donnell. In the Nov. 2 faceoff against Democrats, Castle is projected to win but the contest between Kirk and state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is considered a tossup.
Before their June 8 primaries, Republican Reps. Mary Bono-Mack of California, and Leonard Lance, Frank LoBiondo, and Christopher Smith, all of New Jersey, were subject to tea party rants.
Scare tactics that attacked cap and trade as insidious, a tax policy that would create a carbon bubble and an internationalist plot didn’t resonate in New Jersey. Lance fended off three tea party candidates with 56 percent of the vote, LoBiondo won 75 percent of the vote against two tea party candidates and Smith beat one tea party challenger by a two-to-one margin.
All three New Jerseyites shared top honors from Republicans for Environmental protection as the greenest Republicans in Congress for 2009, with scores of 103. Kirk and Castle both earned scores of 86.
In California, Bono-Mack rang up 71 percent of the vote after opponent Clayton Thibodeau labeled cap and trade as frightening. Evidently forgetting about Reichert, he also mistakenly labeled her as the only Republican west of the Mississippi River to back cap and trade.
Reichert Open to Education About Climate Issues
Reichert did immerse himself in a bit of a conservation-related pickle this summer when a recording of a meeting with Republican precinct-committee leaders was leaked to the Web, according to a July 1 report in The Seattle Times. He evidently thought he was speaking in confidence when he told them he made some of his pro-environment congressional votes only to keep environmental candidates from running against him.
That gaffe hasn’t served as election fodder for Ernest Huber, Reichert’s opponent in the primary. The Gonzaga Law School graduate says the eight Republicans in name only, or RINOs, voted to enslave Americans by supporting the Waxman-Markey bill.
“This is widely viewed as an attempt at Soviet-style dictatorship using the environmental scam of global warming/climate change,” the tea party candidate writes on his Web site. “This bill was written by the communist Apollo Alliance. It’s a nation-killer due to the (multi trillion dollar) false tax bill it would impose on all of our activities, the massive destruction of jobs, and the loss of our freedoms to government employees.”
Both DiPeso and Beth Doglio, campaign director for the Pacific Northwest advocacy organization Climate Solutions, said Reichert was open-minded when they broached him about global warming.
During a briefing about climate change science three to four years ago, DiPeso recalled, Reichert asked intelligent questions and listened intently.
“This might sound corny but his approach to public policy is methodical not ideological,” DiPeso explained. “With his law enforcement background, he wants to talk to the witnesses, look at the evidence and see where the trail leads.”
Certainly, DiPeso said, Reichert expected the Senate to act much sooner on curbing greenhouse gases. Still, he doesn’t expect the congressman to backpedal on his stance as the upper chamber dithers.
Though his press secretary didn’t return a call from SolveClimate News, Reichert’s campaign Web site says he is committed to a bipartisan approach to the fundamental challenge of the mounting effects of global warming.
“He’s accessible, likes to talk about the issues and has a thoughtful approach to legislating,” Doglio said in an interview about Reichert. “When it comes to climate change, we’ll take the votes where we can get them. We’re not exactly winning this battle to put a cap on carbon.”