Unless you live in Massachusetts, you may not be aware that there was a debate in the
state commonwealth’s Senate race on Thursday. You may also have not been aware that there is a Senate race. (You are hopefully aware that there exists a governmental body called “the Senate.”)
The race has drawn a lot of attention for a few reasons. First, the sitting senator, Republican Scott Brown, won election in 2010 in a heavily Democratic state over a candidate supported by President Obama. Second, his opponent is Elizabeth Warren, whose work inspired the president to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Third, the GOP is making a push to control the Senate this year. If they lose the Massachusetts seat, that becomes all but impossible.
As befits a Senate race, the debate focused on national issues, including, among its seven questions, a question on climate change. Video of the full debate is below; the question on climate change begins at 48:19. (An editorial aside: Watching this will bring back memories of high school class president elections in which the smart honor roll student takes on the popular quarterback.)
The question: “Do you believe climate change is real, and, if so, what should the federal government be doing about it?”
Brown answered first, asserting strongly that he does believe in climate change — but that it’s a combination of “manmade and natural.” Which is technically true, but a massive cop-out. His answer on what the government should do was substantially worse.
One of the biggest things we can do is get an energy policy, and we don’t have one. Wind, solar, nuclear, hydro, geothermal, coal, siting, permitting, conservation. A true all-of-the-above approach as I have. Professor Warren has a none-of-the-above approach. She’s in favor of wind and solar.
He then, oddly for the topic, transitioned to Keystone.
She’s against the Keystone pipeline, which will help create union — all you union guys listening out there? — She’s denying union jobs and non-union jobs. Making sure we can get more of our energy on the world market, to stabilize those costs that you’re paying at the pump.
(Protip: Union guys don’t get excited about hearing that non-union jobs will be created.)
Brown then dinged Warren for supporting Cape Wind, the offshore wind-power development loathed by William Koch, of the Koch Kochs.
He summarized his argument as advocating for a “balancing role” by the government. Which is where Warren picked up.
Senator Brown says that he’s about a balanced approach. He’s not. He’s about a rigged playing field.
Brown, she notes, supports oil subsidies, which helps “tilt the playing field.” The topic of oil subsidies had also come up earlier, briefly (41:39). During a question on education, Warren pointed out that a key consideration in governance is “priorities, making the right investments.” Instead of subsidizing oil companies, why not invest in education? Scott Brown responded by noting that “taxes” and “small business” and “Warren worked at Harvard.”
As for Keystone, Warren noted that the pipeline won’t create as many jobs as is claimed and, she correctly notes, won’t create a single job in Massachusetts, while clean energy could.
Then she dropped a partisan bomb.
Sen. Brown has been going around the country, talking to people, saying, you’ve got to contribute to his campaign because it may be for the control of the Senate. And he’s right. … What that would mean is if the Republicans take over control of the Senate, Jim Inhofe would become the person who would be in charge of the committee that oversees the Environmental Protection Agency. He’s a man that has called global warming “a hoax.” In fact, that’s the title of his book.
Brown replied, “You’re not running against Jim Inhofe, Professor. You’re running against me.” He then noted that he supports wind and solar, that he was “one of the original sponsors of the production tax credit” for green energy. This is not accurate — it predates his time in the Senate, though he has supported the PTC.
Here’s Warren’s main point: The race isn’t about Elizabeth Warren versus Scott Brown, it’s about which party controls the Senate. “This matters in this race, control of the Senate.”
Brown’s response? He’s bipartisan, unlike Warren. “Can you imagine 100 Professor Warrens down there, placing blame and raising taxes?” He blamed her for both founding Occupy and for inspiring the “you didn’t build that” slogan that the GOP has tried to hang around the president’s neck.
For neither candidate was climate change or the environment a key point to attack or defend: for Brown, it was a chance to point out Warren’s extremism; for Warren, an opportunity to note how much more is at stake. Voters in Massachusetts have delivered over 60 percent of the vote for the Democrat in each of the last four presidential elections. This year will be similar. Scott Brown’s election to the Senate came during an off-year election against a particularly bad candidate. Warren’s argument wasn’t about Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren. It was about the America that voters want to see. In 2012, with this presidential race and in that state, it’s a strong political argument to make.
Get Grist in your inbox