Bill Barron is the last guy you’d think of as a politician. Soft-spoken and admittedly shy, the unaffiliated, unlikely candidate is trying to unseat Sen. Orrin Hatch because he’s concerned about something other politicians don’t talk about — climate change. So, like Democratic challenger Scott Howell, he’s spent months jabbing yard signs into supporters’ lawns and handing out fliers.
“I see it as an opportunity to get the message out,” Barron says, canvassing his own central Salt Lake City neighborhood on a brilliant fall morning, his pocket stuffed with brochures and green placards tucked under his arm. ”It’s a central issue that’s not being addressed.”
Many of the people he meets agree with Barron, that candidates and voters ought to be talking more about the environment, even though it’s not getting much traction this campaign season.
The presidential candidates haven’t mentioned wildlands, clean air or fishable water. Nor have they uttered the words “climate change” in three debates.
Only Friday did President Barack Obama mention climate change in an interview on MTV. After noting the impact on future generations, he pointed to his administration’s emissions-cutting steps, including stepping up energy conservation, fuel-efficiency and clean-energy production.
“We are not moving as fast as we need to,” said Obama.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney, meanwhile, has recently said that, while he believes the climate is changing, he does not think climate science is settled enough to take steps to reduce the emissions blamed for the rapid buildup of greenhouse gasses. As Massachusetts governor, Romney’s administration helped develop a regional cap-and-trade program, then abandoned it over fear about cost.
Political insiders say there’s nothing new to the short shrift voters give to environmental issues.
“In poll after poll,” energy-industry lobbyist Frank Maisano told a gathering of reporters this month, “it ranks at the bottom of [voters’ priority lists] every time.”
James Browning, a regional director for the government watchdog group Common Cause in the Midwest, said industry, with its big image-making budget, has sidelined concern about the environment.
“A lot of people who are very concerned about climate change don’t have very good electoral options,” he said.
Which is where the third-party candidates come in, both nationally and in Utah.
Salt Lake City-based presidential candidate Rocky Anderson calls environmental issues a driving force behind his own presidential bid. In every appearance, he raises the problem of climate change, “the most urgent and consequential issue on the planet.” He blames the power of money in Washington for making Democrats and Republicans alike beholden to campaign contributors in the fossil fuel industry.
“We could overcome that if there was the interest and the energy at the grass-roots level,” he said, adding that the mainstream media ignore candidates like himself who raise the climate change issue.
As an unaffiliated candidate running in Utah’s second congressional district against Republican Chris Stewart and Democrat Jay Seegmiller, Joe Andrade also regards climate change as a central issue in his campaign — and one that voters struggle to reconcile with a healthy economy. He tries to tell them there are reasonable answers.
“It can’t be dealt with just as climate change,” he said, suggesting dealing with climate is actually a solution for creating jobs and the strengthening the economy.
For Barron, there have been disappointments, like the people who say climate change is not a problem. There was also the guy who blasted his horn during a honk-and-wave last week so he could brandish an insulting middle finger.
But many have been like Bradley Bassie and his sweetheart Cassie Craig, who promised Barron their votes after he told them about carbon-control legislation that would increase jobs and boost the economy.
“I don’t know why it’s not” a big election issue, says Craig, “and I think its egregious.”
Environmental issues: A concern in Utah’s state races
The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club has a list of endorsements for Utah candidates in races for the state Legislature and some local offices: http://tinyurl.com/8e8ewdk The group also has a scorecard to help voters learn about key environmental votes in the Legislature: http://tinyurl.com/8eea9g6
The non-partisan Utah Foundation surveyed voters this year and found environmental issues were the seventh highest priority in the election year, making them a consistent top-ten issue for Utah voters.
In the group’s latest “Utah Priorities Survey,” 53 percent of Utahns said they are concerned or very concerned with environmental issues in general. Some 64 percent cited air quality as an issue about which they were concerned or very concerned. You can read the summary: http://tinyurl.com/8gtzy23