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Politicians have hit ‘green wall’ in solid South

Any piece of political propaganda that pops up in Mississippi most likely features the following: a candidate dressed in khakis and a blue oxford shirt, a candidate with his family, a candidate singing in the church choir, a golden retriever or some combination of all those things.

The packaged image that a candidate loves his family, goes to church and dresses appropriately even when he’s throwing a stick for his golden retriever has won many an election for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Candidates who stray from that message do so at their own peril.

That dynamic has a lot to do with why politics in Mississippi have remained red and blue, and have not turned green like what has happened nationally.

Limiting carbon emissions, to this point, has yet to excite Southern voters.

“I don’t think there’s any question that if it’s handled right, this notion of green politics or promoting energy conservation or promoting organic farming, promoting environmentally-friendly initiatives, all those are good public policy and good political moves for people and politicians anywhere outside the Deep South,” said Jere Nash, Democratic strategist and co-author of several political histories of Mississippi.

“But inside the Deep South, it has yet to gain any traction, which is typical for any kind of progressive public policy movement. So in terms of political parties digging in their heels, this will be good for Democrats around the country, except in the Deep South. It will be good for Republicans only in the Deep South, which is where they are making their last, desperate stand.”

The green wall Democrats have hit should not prevent them from talking up green issues and, ultimately, supporting them, Nash said. For now, it is the only option, with the unavailability of a proven blueprint to turn off the electorate’s automatic kill switch that flips when the subject of global warming surfaces.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” Nash said. “Unlike a lot of other public policy issues, I actually don’t think it will hurt a candidate by talking about it. I just don’t think it’s going to get them anywhere. It’s not a game-changer of an issue in the Deep South. It’s just not going to get you that many votes. My sense is that on a public policy issue like this, the only option available for a Democratic candidate is to talk about it and continue to talk about it and never give up talking about it because it’s where the world is headed. It’s all in how you deliver the message.”

Republicans have been more than happy to engage in green politics, selling the environmental movement as one completely out of touch with reality. 

“It’s one of those things that you can couch in such romantic terms – taking care of the earth and our natural resources,” said Stennis Institute director Marty Wiseman. “The opposite is wasting the earth and our natural resources. Even President Bush admitted global warming was a fact. What he looked at is whether we caused it or if it was just a rhythm in nature.”

Public policy recommendations coming from environmental academics have traditionally been easy targets for the GOP to shoot down. The cap and trade legislation circulating through Congress is the latest example.

“I don’t think people in the South need to be sold to be green,” said Madison attorney and Republican strategist Andy Taggart, who is also Nash’s co-author. “I think we’re green at our core. We were the first conservationists, but that doesn’t mean we buy into the looney schemes of the left about undermining the nation’s economic security in order to satisfy scientific values cooked up in a university lab.”

Two major economic development projects in Mississippi were once mired in what was probably the earliest form of green politics — the Endangered Species Act.

Interstate 10, which stretches from Jacksonville, Fla., to Los Angeles was finished, except for one stretch in Jackson County that was the last-known domain for the Mississippi sandhill crane. The snail darter, a tiny fish, and its habitat stood in the way of the digging of the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway. In each case, compromises emerged and the projects continued.

A more practical application of modern-day green politics within Mississippi, Taggart thinks, will show up in monthly utility bills.

“We can’t live without air conditioning in the South, so the cost of electricity is a day-to-day quality of life issue for us. That’s where the rubber is going to meet the road.”

 

By CLAY CHANDLER I STAFF WRITER

clay.chandler@msbusiness.com

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