High gasoline prices, domestic oil and the right energy alternatives dominated an hour-long town hall forum Wednesday in Windsor hosted by Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar and Betsy Markey, the Fort Collins Democrat challenging incumbent Rep. Marilyn Musgrave for the 4th Congressional District seat.
Audience members commented about America’s need to develop more nuclear energy and about keeping any oil gained by domestic drilling here at home. Then there were also more angry questions asking why the Democrats as a party have failed to win the national energy debate; why there is growing public support for John McCain’s “drill here, drill now” slogan and why the Republicans have been able to swing high oil prices to their political favor.
“Why have the Democrats let the Republicans twist this to their advantage like they always do with everything?” one woman asked.
” I think we need to be moving forward with a comprehensive energy program and we, Betsy and I, have advocated for that,” Salazar answered after slowly approaching the microphone. “The problem, the reality, is that it’s difficult to get there when you have two oilmen in the White House.”
Salazar, joined by Colorado Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Mark Udall, recently expressed support for a National Renewable Energy Standard that requires 20 percent of the nation’s electricity to be generated by renewable sources by 2020 and that allows for off-shore drilling in specific locations.
Other Democrats have made the policy switch, too, in recent weeks, including Sen. Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said they are open to discussing off-shore drilling as long as it is attached to the right energy package.
Markey, the never-elected small business owner and former Salazar field director, has been in favor of exploring the possibility of more off-shore drilling since her campaign began, a stance she reiterated at Wednesday’s forum, attended by about 150 people.
“I am open to off-shore drilling,” Markey said, adding the caveat that it would have to be in the right places and under the proper environmental controls. “What I don’t think people realize is that we are already doing off-shore drilling right now in the Gulf Coast and other places.”
Other audience members wanted to know about drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, commonly referred to as ANWR.
“I am against off-shore drilling and drilling in ANWR,” said Paige Noon from the back row, to some applause. “I hope you realize our planet is already in distress and we need to pursue other (energy) alternatives.”
Musgrave, an Eastern Plains Republican, supports the opening of ANWR to increased drilling and is on a fact-finding trip this week to the area with other congressional colleagues — a fact Markey told the room of primarily Democratic supporters.
“My opponent is in ANWR right now because she believes that (drilling there) is the right way to go,” Markey said, adding there is no proof expanded drilling in the region will lead to any serious gasoline price reduction. “And, I think that is what is wrong with Washington, D.C. We need to stop putting Band-Aid fixes on things instead of (looking) for real long-term solutions.”
Musgrave’s campaign didn’t return a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Joy Breuer, a Greeley resident who was outside the forum campaigning for Musgrave before it began, said being retired and on fixed income have made high energy prices difficult on her family.
“We have got to do something about the high price of fuel, not just car fuel but home heating fuel, too,” Breuer said. “I like what Marilyn and the Republicans have done. I respect Marilyn a lot and know that she is trying to do the right thing for us.”
One longtime oilman and Windsor resident Tom Haiston, who voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 and who supported Musgrave in the past, said he won’t be voting Republican this year.
“I am an oilman and we’re Republican by osmosis,” said Haiston, a petroleum wholesaler in Northern Colorado. “And I agree with the Republican stances but they are like a stick in the mud. I think the country isin need of new leadership and new directions.”