A Smart Energy Policy Could Help Democrats Take Back Congress | Commentary

Posted December 5, 2014 at 4:22pm

The recent midterm elections were really bad for Democrats, but it wasn’t shocking. Democrats had no platform or legislative priorities to campaign on.

The midterms also showed that Democrats risk becoming a party of the more liberal coasts and the big cities. I fear there are those in the party who are willing to give up on the South and middle of the country. As a Democrat who has won elections in the reddest of red states, I think this is a mistake.

One way Democrats can revive a true legislative agenda, and appeal to the South and middle of the country, would be to actually embrace an “all of the above” energy policy which supports the use of all domestic fuels — including oil, biofuels, natural gas, coal and renewables such as solar. President Barack Obama asserted this was his position just a few years ago, but he and the party have drifted away from this stance, and it is hurting him and Democrats.

Take, for example, the renewable-fuel standard, a federal policy that requires biofuel blending in our nation’s fuel supply. Going back to his days in the Senate, Obama supported the RFS. But, in November 2013, the Obama administration proposed an RFS that would reduce biofuel blending levels for 2014 and included a new waiver allowing oil companies to avoid having to blend renewable fuels into gasoline at all. This waiver would gut the RFS.

In Iowa, the White House’s position on the RFS may have cost Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley a Senate seat. The RFS is important in Iowa because it creates jobs and supports rural economies. In 2013, Iowa delivered almost as much fuel to Americans as petroleum imported from Iraq.

Braley campaigned hard on the RFS and put his conservative opponent — who was lukewarm on the program — in a tough position with Iowa voters. But in the end, he could not escape the White House’s refusal to put the RFS back on track before the elections and was instead forced to try and defend his own party’s antipathy to renewable fuels.

A strong RFS is not only smart politics; it is also good for the country.

The RFS contains robust greenhouse gas standards the president champions, and the program is a huge driver for innovation and American job creation.

Sadly, Braley’s loss is a huge blow to Democrats, because it replaces Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin — a leading liberal voice in Congress — with Joni Ernst, a staunch conservative, for at least six years.

In my region, the Gulf Coast, the president’s decision not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline has really hurt Democrat Sen. Mary L. Landrieu’s chances at re-election. Make no mistake about it, on the Gulf Coast, the oil and gas industry is a critical component of the economy and provides thousands of good paying jobs. The president’s refusal to support the pipeline has damaged his popularity and Republicans are doing everything they can to paint Landrieu as a close Obama ally. I hope she can win the runoff. If any senator has shown the gumption to pull it off, she is the one.

It’s too bad the president’s energy policies aren’t making it any easier. If she could have won the recent pipeline vote in the Senate, it could have helped. But losing at the hands of her fellow Democrats and the president, only highlighted that Democrats have surrendered to Republicans in red states.

Another example of the White House’s unpopular energy policies were in Kentucky. Alison Lundergan Grimes had a real shot at knocking off GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell. But the administration’s strident policies against coal hurt her chances. Like nearly every other Democrat running in the midterms, Republicans tied Grimes to the president’s unpopular policies, such as the EPA’s efforts to undermine the coal industry. It worked, and now McConnell is going to be the majority leader of the Senate, presumably for at least two years.

If Democrats want a real shot at taking back Congress, they need to look back at how Howard Dean ran the Democratic National Committee and how Rahm Emmanuel ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Both understood that you need candidates who can win elections all across America — not just in Chicago, New York or San Francisco. A smart energy policy would be something that Democrats could embrace, allowing them to campaign on an agenda that promotes domestic energy production. This would be good for our economy and could hand Democrats control of Congress just two years from now.

Ronnie Shows was a member of the Blue Dog Democrats when he represented Mississippi’s 4th District from 1999 to 2003.