Long-time Senator Richard Lugar lost to Tea Party darling Richard Mourdock in Tuesday's Indiana Republican primary contest. In a legislative body like the Senate where compromise and bipartisanship have long been necessary, this is another blow for getting things done.
In recent years, the upper chamber has lost -- due to primary challenges, general election losses or resignations attributed to frustration with polarization -- a number of moderates, including Olympia Snowe, Evan Bayh and John Warner. These Senators were often willing to buck their party leaders and cross the aisle on issues like climate change and energy security, forging the coalitions necessary to pass legislation.
Although not a central reason for why Lugar lost , Mourdock had criticized Lugar's associations with groups like the Alliance to Save Energy and the Brookings Institution's Energy Security Initiative. That's because these groups had the nerve to endorse comprehensive energy legislation that would have dramatically improved the efficiency of our nation's buildings and appliances while reducing costs. They also supported policies to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, which increases our national security and protects our troops. All issues which should not be polarized by partisanship.
In his lengthy concession statement, Lugar focused on the costs of partisan politics and the need for elected officials to study the issues and sometimes take a different view than their party. He said,
Too often bipartisanship is equated with centrism or deal cutting. Bipartisanship is not the opposite of principle. One can be very conservative or very liberal and still have a bipartisan mindset. Such a mindset acknowledges that the other party is also patriotic and may have some good ideas. It acknowledges that national unity is important, and that aggressive partisanship deepens cynicism, sharpens political vendettas, and depletes the national reserve of good will that is critical to our survival in hard times.
Protecting public health and our environmental safeguards not only confronts Congress on a daily basis, it is also moving front and center in the 2012 elections. At the same time, new science suggests that the consequences of inaction on climate change could be more severe than we had previously imagined and today renowned climate scientist James Hansen wrote a scathing editorial in the New York Times calling for serious action to be taken.
Lugar is correct to point out that the inability to work across party lines threatens our ability to address this and other challenges. That's why the NRDC Action Fund is a nonpartisan organization working to rebuild the environmental majority regardless of party affiliation. We want to remind candidates that you can run on clean energy and protecting public health and the environment, because it's what Americans really want from their leaders.
Mother Nature is not registered with a political party. She's just looking for all the help she can get.
Follow Heather Taylor-Miesle on Twitter: www.twitter.com/heathertayl