WASHINGTON — Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb has some issues with the way her own party is talking about environmental matters and agriculture lately.
Kleeb briefly addressed a Capitol Hill breakfast for visiting Nebraskans last week and went right to comments by some fellow Democrats about what is known as the Green New Deal.
“First, let me apologize for any Democrat that’s been out there saying that we should not be eating meat or drinking milk,” Kleeb said. “The Nebraska Democratic Party fully supports farmers and ranchers and knows that they’re already confronting climate change.”
Before taking on her current position, Kleeb spent years as an environmental activist warning about climate change threats and leading the charge against the Keystone XL pipeline.
But her words last week reflect how recent rhetoric from national Democrats has left many of their heartland brothers and sisters cringing.
The idea of a Green New Deal is encapsulated by a resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
As a nonbinding and unenforceable resolution, it’s more a statement of principles than an actual policy proposal.
It describes the need to aggressively tackle climate change and lays out highly ambitious goals to be achieved in the next decade. Those include “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers.”
But it also includes a litany of other goals — from guaranteeing every American a high-paying job with good benefits to upgrading every building in the country. It touches on health care, higher education and a host of other areas.
Republican critics were quick to label the resolution a pie-in-the-sky wish list of massive government interventions. And a separate, subsequently retracted, fact sheet about the initiative referred to eliminating airplanes and farting cows — bringing more GOP mocking.
Ocasio-Cortez has suggested that Republican criticisms are overblown and has vowed to keep fighting on the issue of climate change.
Still, Republicans clearly see opportunity. The Iowa Republican Party sent a press release questioning whether Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, would embrace “Ocasio-Cortez’s plan that would require massive tax hikes and drive family farms into the ground.”
Axne spokeswoman Madeleine Russak said the congresswoman supports many of the goals included in the Green New Deal but has concerns about its practicality and offered a statement from Axne herself.
“The Green New Deal provides a broad framework for how we can protect our climate,” Axne said. “Now, we must work on bipartisan solutions to move towards sustainable and resilient communities. Any plan to address climate change must incorporate the needs of our hardworking Iowa families supported by our agriculture and manufacturing industries.”
Kleeb was in Washington last week for meetings with Democratic Party officials from across the country. She said she stressed to them the need to bridge the divide between urban and rural America. In fact, she’s writing a book on the subject.
Kleeb said she plans to invite Ocasio-Cortez and other leading Democrats to Nebraska to visit with farmers and ranchers.
“Urban folks see farmers and ranchers as a problem of climate change, not as a solution, and obviously I would argue that farmers and ranchers are already confronting climate change — water sensors, no-till, the list is long,” Kleeb said.
Issues surrounding the Green New Deal could help sway voters in competitive House races — like Omaha’s 2nd District.
Republican incumbent Rep. Don Bacon has criticized the resolution, saying that he’s all for a cleaner environment, less carbon pollution and more renewable energy, but that he favors a balanced approach.
Bacon cited his support for wind, solar and geothermal energy tax credits, as well as research into battery technology.
But he said the fact sheet was a peek into the thinking behind the resolution and that it represents “far-left extremism” and a “one-way ticket to Venezuela.”
Attacking the beef industry is ludicrous, he said, and the vision of health care and college tuition for all is part of a top-down government approach.
“It’s not free,” Bacon said. “It’s extraordinarily expensive and I think in the end you get worse outcomes in many ways.”
Kara Eastman and Ann Ashford are two Democrats already vying to challenge Bacon in 2020.
Eastman expressed support of the Green New Deal and cited the urgent need to tackle climate change.
“This is such a great, bold vision, and I’m proud that the Democrats are putting this forward,” Eastman said. “We have to do something to actually combat climate change and create an economy that works for everybody.”
But she also said there’s a lot of misinformation swirling about the ideas in the Green New Deal. She said that talk of eliminating cows and airplanes is silly and that she wouldn’t back any provisions that would hurt Nebraska farmers.
“I’m not interested in doing anything that’s going to harm our beef production,” Eastman said. “I’m a carnivore.”
She said Bacon has shown he isn’t concerned enough about climate change.
“We need people who are going to take this seriously, and we know that we have about 12 years before the effects are irreversible and we’ve got to do something now,” she said. “He’s all talk and no action.”
For his part, Bacon says he doesn’t buy into predictions of a tipping point that soon in the future and describes such talk as “scare-mongering.”
Ashford stressed the power of incentivizing the private sector to tackle issues and the role of appropriate regulation in protecting the environment.
But she said she wouldn’t vote for the Green New Deal resolution if she were in Congress and it were brought to the floor.
She said much of what’s in there simply isn’t feasible and represents a government takeover of much of the economy.
“That just goes against my personal grain,” Ashford said.
Still, Ashford praised those who wrote the resolution for outlining their goals.
“It’s a good vision statement,” Ashford said. “If it serves as a wake-up call to legislators to make them understand how important these issues are to their constituents across the country, I think that’s good.”