Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Oregon Senate candidate Jeff Merkley was in Austin for Netroots Nation, where he appeared on a panel about energy issues. Merkley is attempting to unseat Gordon Smith, the sole GOP senator on the West Coast, this November, and he’s put climate and environment issues at the top of his campaign agenda.

His plans include calling for a 25 percent renewable energy national standard by 2025, cutting emissions 80 percent by mid-century, and creating incentives for cities to reduce their emissions. He currently serves as speaker of the Oregon House, and before that he was a national security analyst for both the Pentagon and Congress.

His opponent, Gordon Smith, is seen as one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents in the Senate this year, at least in part because of his environmental record. He maintains only a 32 percent lifetime score [PDF] from the League of Conservation Voters, though he did earn a 73 percent score in the 110th Congress. His environmental transgressions include voting against action on climate change, voting in favor of a Republican budget plan that included drilling in ANWR, and in 2003 claiming that scientists are still “evenly split” on the question of whether humans are causing global warming. Smith, too, seems to know that environmental issues will be big this year. His first campaign ad was on his work with Barack Obama to improve automobile fuel efficiency, touting his “bipartisan leadership for energy independence.”

The latest Rasmussen poll puts Merkley ahead of Smith for the first time so far in the election, 43 percent to 41 percent. Grist had an opportunity to talk to Merkley about his plan for the Senate and the accomplishments at home in Oregon that he’s most proud of.