Climate change, conservatives and the problem with big money

Rob Sisson

One should never expect anything other than slanted platitudes in political convention speeches. So, as I sat in the Tampa Bay Times Forum last week, I didn’t expect any speaker to come within a hurricane’s outer band reach of the topic of climate change.

Tampa was my second Republican National Convention. It was more sedate than the 2008 St. Paul event, which might easily be attributed to 100 percent humidity and 95-degree temperatures in Tampa. Or, to the onerous security and gulag-like fencing that kept greater Tampa off limits for delegates. The truth more likely lies in the fact that the once great GOP tent appeared to be the size of a pup tent this go-around.

Despite the convention stage management intended to send out good vibes to women, Hispanics, African Americans and labor, the words fell mainly upon the approving nods of older, white males on the convention floor. The only special interest group that appeared to make its cause known inside the Forum was the “Paulistas.”

As the leader of the national grassroots organization of Republicans who care about conservation issues — ConservAmerica — I’ve grown too accustomed to networking along the fringes of these gatherings. Even though we believe nothing is more conservative than conservation, we find ourselves in league with representatives of other groups that have been shunted out of the GOP’s big tent, like Republican Majority for Choice and Log Cabin Republicans.

It is those quiet conversations with delegates and behind-the-scenes power brokers in hotel bars, coffee kiosks, and in the men’s room of the convention hall that provide clarity to the state of the American political system. Time and again, people would approach me and ask, “You’re the guy from the Republican environmental group, aren’t you?”

I’d smile and say, “Yes, I am,” and wait for an ill informed dress down. But that didn’t happen. What did happen was illuminating and encouraging. Throughout the convention, people — little known delegates from Iowa to well known governors — told me the same thing.

“We’ve just got to get better on conservation issues, especially climate change, if we want to remain the majority party,” they would say.

Many western delegates told me very personal stories about how fossil fuel interests had ruined some of America’s great landscapes in their home states. Iowans talked about the thousands of new jobs created by wind energy companies in the Hawkeye state, and how wind was so complementary to the agricultural industry.

Almost universally, these delegates talked about their hope that America would take the lead on addressing climate change and, in the process, create a vibrant new economy for their children and grandchildren to work in.

I’d ask each person the same question. “Why do you think our candidates aren’t talking about climate change or clean energy?”  Again, the answer was nearly unanimous.

The big money in Republican politics comes from the fossil fuel industry. Individual donors don’t count anymore. Politicians will do or say anything to keep the money flowing to the super PAC’s aligned with their candidacies. Often shared in a careful whisper, many delegates would add, “Citizens United buried democracy.”

So, when Governor Romney suggested in his acceptance speech that Obama was wrong to worry about rising oceans, he was speaking to the super PAC donors who are pouring millions into the uncoordinated effort to elect him president.

Mitt Romney is a man of deep faith with a keen eye for facts. His environmental record as governor of Massachusetts is superior to that of Barack Obama’s as president.  For Republicans like me, with their nose peering longingly into the tent, faith that President Romney will govern in the best interests of all Americans, and not just the super PAC donors, sustains us.

The fact you may think I’m delusional is the problem with big money.


Rob Sisson is president of ConservAmerica, a national grassroots organization dedicated to restoring the GOP’s great conservation tradition. Robert can be reached at [email protected].