By: Mark Pischea, President and CEO, Conservative Energy Network
Despite the chaotic nature of the 2020 election and the doom and gloom prognostications of the death of the Republican Party, when the votes were tallied, a different story emerged. Far from being dead and buried, Republicans running down ballot actually outperformed Democrats—they picked up at least six seats in the House and had a historic night in state-level elections, holding every chamber contested and even flipping both New Hampshire chambers.
It can certainly be argued that this year’s presidential election was more about personality than policy – strong feelings about the President turned out both his strongest supporters and his harshest detractors in record numbers – but down ballot another story emerges. Instead of a “blue wave,” in rural and suburban areas voters opted to support GOP candidates for state and local office. While Democrats tried unsuccessfully to make those contests referendums on President Trump, most Republican campaigns focused on the important issues facing local communities and creating their own relationship with voters. This strategic approach was the difference in many battleground states and districts.
For Republicans this show of support must be acknowledged and taken seriously. A new agenda will certainly be coming from the Biden White House and Republicans will have to show up and engage on new issues while maintaining a focus on empowering markets, public-private partnerships, and minimizing government overreach. Areas that will surely be early flashpoints are energy and infrastructure, as the Biden Administration has placed a premium on clean energy and climate.
Republicans, particularly in the U.S. Senate, should see renewable energy and infrastructure issues as a golden opportunity to lead. Infrastructure modernization not only benefits businesses and communities, reduces energy costs and spurs economic growth, but is also vital to national security interests such as grid resiliency and reduced dependence on foreign energy sources. While Democrats may be partial to mandates and subsidy-based energy agendas, such as the controversial Green New Deal, Republicans can act as a firebreak, advocating for public-private partnerships, investment in innovation, and more business-based incentives that harness competitive markets to drive infrastructure reform and protect ratepayers – while making our transition to clean energy.
Support for clean energy technology and infrastructure are not outliers among conservatives, especially at the state level. Texas, a bastion and bellwether of conservative America, is already nearly 20% powered by wind energy (with the most installed capacity in the country), and has a solar revolution brewing. Ruby-red Iowa is the number two producer of wind energy in the country, an effort spearheaded by Republican Governor Kim Reynolds and a conservative statehouse. Republican-led South Carolina passed the Energy Freedom Act in 2019, removing net metering caps on solar energy production and increasing energy competition and transparency. Florida’s solar power is booming, leading the nation in solar job growth in 2019 as state Republicans are primed for more clean energy and climate policy action.
All of these initiatives were conservative-led and rooted in the use of market-based approaches to create jobs, drive innovation, and direct investment into local communities. Federal conservative policymakers can learn from the successes of their state cohorts and embrace these issues. Poll data supports this strategy. An October 2020 Conservative Energy Network Poll conducted in partnership with The Conservation Coalition, as well as a December post-election poll, showed broad support across the board for candidates who favor clean energy initiatives. A majority also indicated support for a free-market approach to clean energy development over mandates and subsidies.
Republicans have been given a duty to lead by voters across the nation. In a Biden Administration, the conversation on issues like infrastructure and clean energy will not focus on “if” but “how?” Conservatives have an opportunity to show leadership on these issues, but it hinges on our ability to create policy solutions that work for the entire country. While voters like the idea of clean energy, they prefer a conservative policy approach. It’s time Republicans provided that – it’s good for the nation, and the GOP.