Time has come for a return to the old tradition of fact-based conservatism
When my family first joined the Republican Party in the 1800s, they were conservatives in the original sense of the term. As farmers and businessmen, soldiers and public servants, my forebears were intent on conserving New Hampshire’s most precious assets, from our land and water to our self-reliant way of life.
The first John Weeks was elected to Congress in 1828 as a member of the original Republican Party, defined by its Jeffersonian embrace of rural life and against a centralizing aristocracy and corporate corruption. He is best known for leading an 1820 expedition into the White Mountains, which resulted in the naming of New Hampshire’s highest peaks. He died in the shadow of that Presidential Range at the same time a young Illinois Congressman named Abraham Lincoln was helping found the second Republican Party.
Decades later, another Republican John Weeks of Coos County would make his name in Congress as author of the Weeks Act of 1911, establishing the Eastern National Forest as a landmark in land and water conservation. In a letter to his son (my great-granddad) Sinclair Weeks, who would follow in his footsteps as a Senator and Secretary of Commerce under President Eisenhower, John summarized his notion of principled, pragmatic leadership: “A man is a leader, legislatively, when he knows more than those who are serving with him. He does not need to be an orator, have wealth or any other qualifications than to have the facts.”
Although their time has passed, the time for such a brand of fact-based conservatism in Congress and Concord has not. Indeed, all I know of these three men and the conservative tradition out of which they came leads me to believe they would follow the science and act with urgency to conserve our common home for future generations, were they faced with today’s climate crisis.
Against this backdrop, I have been saddened to see New Hampshire’s Republican governor question climate science and pressure his fellow “conservatives” in the NH House and Senate to sustain a slew of vetoes denying climate action this week.
When asked about climate change in a 2016 gubernatorial debate, Gov. Chris Sununu stated simply, “No, I don’t believe in it.” To back up his position, Sununu provided the following perplexing logic from his position as then-CEO of a family-owned ski resort: “I don’t believe in [climate change] because I know we might have had an awful mild winter this year, and we saved an awful lot of money in our snow budget but I can tell you that next year, we may not be as lucky.”
Even more perplexing are Gov. Sununu’s oft-repeated assertions that “I’m an environmental engineer” and “you’ve never had a governor with the experience that I bring to the table…when it comes to understanding the environment and climate change.” A NHPR investigation subsequently found that Sununu was never licensed as a professional engineer, never sat for the exam, and more than a decade has passed since he worked in the field of civil or environmental engineering – small comfort for a citizenry that overwhelmingly accepts the scientific consensus on global warming.
But denying scientific fact and exaggerating your own credentials are one thing; blocking the will of the people when it comes to conserving New Hampshire’s natural environment and way of life is something else.
Which brings me to HB 365, the bipartisan bill to raise the net metering cap for homegrown renewable energy projects and cut climate-warming carbon emissions, which was vetoed by Gov. Sununu and narrowly failed an override vote this week.
In the ordinary course of events, this bill would be anything but controversial. It passed the New Hampshire House with over 70% support for the second year in a row (including dozens of Republican backers) and won a unanimous voice vote in the Senate. It is a top priority for environmental advocates and the clean energy industry, which employs thousands of Granite Staters and brings billions in local investment to increase our self-reliance and energy independence.
Beyond the usual suspects, the policy is backed by many of the state’s leading businesses seeking to offset their high electricity rates with homegrown renewable energy, who gathered at the State House this summer in advance of the governor’s veto. Dozens of NH cities and towns have also called on Concord to raise the arbitrary cap so they can turn old landfills into solar farms while saving taxpayer money and combatting climate damage.
Most importantly, surveys find that fully 85 percent of registered voters nationwide – including seven in ten Republicans – support far more aggressive climate action than a 5 MW net metering cap: requiring utilities in state to produce 100% of their electricity from renewables by 2050 rather than the measly 0.7% currently sought from solar.
Yet in spite of this overwhelming public and legislator support, HB 365 died this week after numerous Republican representatives switched their votes under pressure from Gov. Sununu. According to multiple reports, Sununu told a closed-door caucus of Republican lawmakers that sustaining his veto wasn’t about the issue or the people of New Hampshire – it was about him. He even went so far as to attack NH’s fledgling solar industry as “crony capitalism at its worst.” Did he forget the tens of thousands of dollars he has raised from fossil fuel companies and utilities? Or does he remember them all too well?
The time has come for a return to the old tradition of fact-based conservatism and a Grand Old Party that places conservation at its core. After all, what could be more conservative than preserving this one and only Planet we call home by stemming the climate crisis before it is too late?
Dan Weeks is a director at ReVision Energy, an employee-owned solar company in Brentwood. He lives in Nashua with his wife and kids.