Mark Sanford’s New Integrity Test On Climate

As Republicans soul-search about how to align themselves with the contemporary values and concerns of the American people, global climate change apparently remains verboten. In fact, the GOP is moving farther away from its own voters on the issue, not to mention the new voters it hopes to attract.

That makes Tuesday’s election of Mark Sanford to the House of Representatives even more interesting. As governor of South Carolina in 2007, Sanford was one of several Republican governors who acknowledged anthropogenic climate change and argued that it could be addressed with conservative market-based solutions.

Sanford’s election to the House already is a fascinating story – a dramatic come-from-behind victory and a dramatic comeback for a man who left his governorship in disgrace. He won this week without the support of the Republican National Campaign Committee, but with the backing of the Tea Party Express.

Therein lies a climate-related subplot. Three years ago, the Tea Party helped defeat another Republican congressman from South Carolina — Bob Inglis – after he acknowledged the reality of global warming. Sanford will have to stand for reelection again next year. Will he be intimidated by the Tea Party and the ideological militancy of the Republican Party, and flip-flop on climate change?

Or will he begin restoring his integrity by remaining true to his past position and joining the small group of Republicans who recognize that ignoring climate change is one of the issues that makes the GOP look like “the stupid party“?

As he contemplates the politics, Sanford might ask himself how voters will react next year to the fact that on big national issues such as gun control, budget sequester and climate change, Congress repeatedly ignores the wishes of the majority of the American people. Rather than the public interest, it routinely serves special interests like the National Rifle Association, the Tea Party, and Big Oil.

Inglis, who now runs a project to persuade conservatives that there are ideologically pure ways to deal with global warming, cites a recent poll in which 60% of respondents who classified themselves as Republicans or Republican-leaning want more action on climate change.

Here is what Sanford wrote six years ago in the Washington Post, a time when several Republican governors of coastal states — including Charlie Crist in Florida, Sarah Palin in Alaska, Mitt Romney in Massachusetts and Arnold Schwarzenegger in California — recognized that their states were threatened by climate change:

For the past 20 years, I have seen the ever-so-gradual effects of rising sea levels at our farm on the South Carolina coast. I’ve had to watch once-thriving pine trees die in that fragile zone between uplands and salt marshes. I know the climate change debate isn’t over, but I believe human activity is having a measurable effect on the environment. The real “inconvenient truth” about climate change is that some people are losing their rights and freedoms because of the actions of others — in either the quality of the air they breathe, the geography they hold dear, the insurance costs they bear or the future environment of the children they love…

I am a conservative conservationist who worries that sea levels and government intervention may end up rising together. My earnest hope going forward is that we can find conservative solutions to the climate change problem — ecologically responsible solutions based on free-market principles that both improve our quality of life and safeguard our freedoms.

Romney and Palin flip-flopped when they ran for the presidency. So did former governors Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Jon Huntsman of Utah. Sen. John McCain is the Senate’s most notable climate flip-flopper, although he has been joined by GOP poster-boy Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

So again, aware of what happened to Inglis when he stood with science rather than the Tea Party, will Sanford fall into silence or slip into denial? Or will he join the small group of national Republican realists who agree that we must confront global warming?

It’s a question of whether he is more interested in restoring his integrity or his career in the House. Perhaps with some independence and ingenuity, he will find a way to do both.

9 Responses to Mark Sanford’s New Integrity Test On Climate

  1. Mike says:

    Adultery now, adultery tomorrow, adultery forever!

  2. BillD says:

    I don’t have much hope for Sanford’s integrity. By the way, how did climate change play out in the election that he just won? Was it a big issue that came up in the debates?

  3. Zimzone says:

    If Sanford can lie with a straight face to his constituents, staff, wife and anyone willing to listen,why on earth would he go against his handler / funders?

    He’s consistently dishonest and will fit in well with the other teabag trash.

  4. M Tucker says:

    First, the man has demonstrated very little integrity. Second the only measure of success these new congress people have any longer is reelection. This is especially true of Republicans but it also is evident in many Democrats. No matter what you might say or what some poll says about climate change, addressing climate change is not really important to Republican voters, especially those in the SC first district. It doesn’t matter what some national poll says after sampling a few thousand Republicans about climate change. It is never asked if they will vote for the candidate in favor of climate legislation. If the voters always vote for no action, if the voters always pick the person who denies or minimizes action, if the voters pick the person who says government regulation is not the correct action to take, your only conclusion must be that Republicans want the government to say out of regulating greenhouse gasses.

    You can write a million words about ignoring the dangers and the complete lack of integrity that demonstrates and how Republican voters really do want government action on climate change but the reality is Republican voters don’t care, they aren’t listening, they don’t really trust the government to interfere in their lives unless it is about controlling women’s health or limiting science education. The only poll that counts is the one on election day. SC first district voters now have what they voted for.

    Oh, Republicans that are out of office, will not be running for office and who don’t get into the news cycle DON’T COUNT.

    The only way for those guys to stay relevant to Republican voters is if they buy into the conspiracy theories that Republican voters wholeheartedly believe. Republican voters who will elect representatives who will vote for climate legislation are as real as the Easter Bunny but I would never tell a child not to believe.

  5. Robert in New Orleans says:

    Excellent post Mr. Tucker, sad but true.

    The only way Sanford would pay attention to climate change was if it was a young, hot Latina from south of the border and he realized that it was his soul mate.

  6. Mike Roddy says:

    Sanford is likely to maintain his support of clean energy, and recognition of climate science. That’s because his dalliance in Argentina nuked whatever hope he may have had for ever becoming a Governor or Senator.
    Oil industry errand boys like McConnell and Boehner now have no hold over him.

    It’s pretty sad that it takes a set of circumstances like these to allow for a non denier Republican in Congress.

  7. Ed Leaver says:

    Thanks Mike, first positive spin on this all day. Fact is, SC 1st CD is safely Republican. Yeah, I wanted Mrs. Colbert-Busch to win too, Didn’t happen. And what if she had, and only for the personal foibles of her opponent? She too would be up for re-election next year, and against whom? Someone who actually does have a modicum of climate understanding, or an ignorant denier? Can’t say, but Colbert-Busch’d probably lose either way just cuz she’s a Democrat. Mr. Sanford won. He’ll most likely be with us a while. Mr. Becker is right: hear what Sanford says, see how he votes, and try to work with him on issues of common interest.

  8. M Tucker says:

    This was a special election to fill the vacant seat of Tim Scott who was moved into DeMint’s Senate seat when DeMint resigned. Sanford must go through the election process again in 2014 if he wants to continue. If Sanford starts to talk about taking action on climate change before then he will be primaried. 16 Republicans ran against Sanford in the primary for this special election. I wonder how many might show up in 2014 if Sanford gets all “climate activist” this year? Governors always change their tune when they go for a national position. Just look at Romney.

    But keep up the happy thoughts. They can’t hurt. Hmm, one Republican in the House willing to vote with Democrats for a climate bill that would only come up if allowed by the majority party…Do pigs have wings yet?

  9. klem says:

    It wasn’t even mentioned, not once. The public does not care about this topic anymore, they’ve moved on to bigger issues.

Bill Becker is Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP), an initiative of Natural Capitalism Solutions to help the President of the United States take decisive action on global warming and energy security.