A moderate voice emerging in Senate
The notion, or hope, that mainstream Republicans are taking back their party from the tea-party uprising of 2010 might get a little boost from a fairly innocuous email Sen. Curt Bramble received recently from an official of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the business-backed organization vilified by progressives.
Karla Jones, director of International and Federal Regulations for ALEC, was responding to a column I wrote about Bramble and his willingness to consider putting resources into developing clean energy after he visited Germany and learned of the innovations taking place in that country.
"Your statements [quoted in my column] dovetail well with an idea I've wanted to pursue for a while now," she wrote. "The idea might help us attract defense contractors who also believe that alternative forms of energy should not be written off, and renew interest on the part of some private sector members that left us because of concerns that ALEC didn't have the appropriate flexibility on alternative forms of energy."
The interest from a top official of ALEC in pursuing an energy agenda that includes clean fuel sources could be significant. ALEC boasts a membership of a large group of state legislators from across the country, mostly conservative Republicans. It has been criticized for influencing right-wing legislation pushed in many states that benefits corporate interests, which contribute to ALEC, including oil, gas and coal conglomerates.
If ALEC bends toward a flexible energy policy that includes investments in wind, solar and geothermal, perhaps it's a first step toward other moderate policy positions that could at least be part of the dialogue within the meetings of the notoriously conservative organization that has wielded considerable influence in several states.
Bramble has street cred with ALEC because he has been a public policy state chair within the group for about a decade.
He recently left the ALEC board and has been increasing his focus on the mainstream National Conference of State Legislatures, which is much more bipartisan in nature.
Bramble, a strident and somewhat unyielding conservative strong man in the Utah Senate for years, acknowledges his own evolution as a statesmen that includes moderating positions on immigration, antidiscrimination laws that include the equal housing and workplace protections of gays and lesbians, and even some sensible gun laws.
He even has been working with Rhode Island State Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy, a liberal Democrat, on ideas for tax reform they hope can become a policy position from the states.
Bramble is still a committed conservative, he insists, but doesn't subscribe to the take-no-prisoners approach of the tea party 's self-promoting and sometimes silly Patrick Henry Caucus in Utah.
He has a growing appreciation for the relationship between Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, which led to, among other things, widespread access to health care for low-income children, and for the partnership forged by GOP President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill, which led to significant tax reform.
That appreciation has led Bramble to strive for a bipartisanship approach, a departure from the red-meat rhetoric that has dominated the legislatures in many Republican statess.
"I'm working with the NCSL to redefine the mission of NCSL federalism and states rights," he told me recently. "Instead of a strident approach opposing all federal mandates or all federal preemption, there is a core group of Republicans and Democrats in the NCSL working toward of policy of opposing unwarranted federal mandates or unwarranted federal preemption.
"States can't each have their own air traffic control system, or their own individual transportation system without federal involvement. We need federal participation in health and human services. There needs to be a balanced approach."
I'm sure there will be some Republicans in the Legislature who will be shocked.