Democrat Unity Crumbles over Fracking Issue

March 13, 2014
By
Rep. Jared Polis is on one side of the Democrat Party schism in Colorado that could hurt Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Rep. Jared Polis is on one side of the Democrat Party schism in Colorado that could hurt Gov. John Hickenlooper.

DENVER — For a decade, the Colorado Democratic Party has enjoyed incredible success by holding together its diverse constituencies and presenting a unified front, but now cracks are emerging.

The party’s schism on the core issues of energy and the environment is becoming too obvious to cover up and increasingly difficult to manage as tension grows between advocates of oil-and-gas development and the environmental left.

“We spend all this time talking about the terrible divisions in the Republican Party between the Tea Party and the [establishment]—well, that’s exactly what you’re watching here with the Democrats,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli.

At one end is Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who famously drank fracking fluid to show his support for the fossil-fuel industry. At the opposite end is Democratic Rep. Jared Polis, who is reportedly the secret moneybags behind the anti-fracking measures aimed at the November ballot, according to Fox31’s Eli Stokols.

Support from the multi-millionaire Polis “would really make those initiatives very, very viable,” said Ciruli.

“If you’ve got Polis funding them, you’re in a whole different situation, because he is a very high-profile Democratic officeholder,” said Ciruli. “It definitely is a huge problem. It both fractures the base and could clearly damage certainly the governor’s race, because he [Hickenlooper] is not eager to alienate some environmentalists, and this puts in high relief that he’s not on their bandwagon, that he’s supporting gas and oil.”

That Polis may be working behind the scenes against Hickenlooper in a critical election year is the most stunning but not the only example of the party’s widening chasm on energy issues.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet are generally peas in a pod when it comes to voting, but not on the Keystone XL pipeline. Last year, Bennet supported a non-binding resolution in favor of the pipeline, while Udall voted against it.

Then Udall participated in the Senate Democrats’ all-nighter Monday on climate change, while Bennet did not.

“People like John Hickenlooper are trying to head off a fracking ban statewide that would drastically hurt Colorado’s economy,” said Republican strategist Dick Wadhams. “Colorado’s two Democratic senators are split on the Keystone pipeline. I mean, the fissures are occurring everywhere.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic legislature, caught between a pro-fracking governor and an aggressive green movement, has been so far unable or unwilling to offer legislative fixes to head off the proposed anti-fracking initiatives.

“They were going to try to offer some kind of legislation that was ameliorative. I don’t know where that is,” said Ciruli. “But I do know these initiatives are moving through the title board. They’re moving right down the road.”

Wadhams said that may be because “the vast majority of legislative Democrats are definitely more comfortable with the Polis view.”

“You look at the kind of Democrats who have been elected in the last few election cycles, and they are to the left, way to the left of center in Colorado, and they’ll support this fracking ban,” said Wadhams.

The Democratic Party’s ability to keep its far left in line and avoid fractious battles on issues has helped it win the support of the business community, which values political stability. That could change if business leaders suspect Democrats are aligned with the anti-fracking forces.

“So you’re watching the fracturing of the base, but also as important, they’re going to alienate the business community and [even] the progressive business community,” said Ciruli. “I don’t think those people won’t give to Hickenlooper, but they might not give to these Democratic Senate campaigns.”

The oil-and-gas industry is gearing up for a battle royale on fracking in November, launching educational efforts like Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development and promoting lawmakers who support fossil fuels.

The American Petroleum Institute recently sent out flyers and robocalls urging voters to contact Hickenlooper and “say ‘thank you’ for supporting Colorado’s energy economy.”

The split “highlights that the Democratic Party is not able to discipline its own far left,” said Ciruli.

“I think it undermines their job and economic message, or at least it’s going to confuse it, because as best as I can tell, gas and oil is going to spend all the money they have—I’m exaggerating slightly, but we’re talking multi-tens of millions of dollars–to basically say these people are against the economy,” he said. “And these people are going to be Democrats.”

Comments made by visitors are not representative of The Colorado Observer staff.

6 Responses to Democrat Unity Crumbles over Fracking Issue

  1. Brian McFarlane
    March 14, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    The far left does not have a realistic view of what fossil fuels mean to the overall economy. Bottom line is we need to “drill” for oil and gas for our basic American lifestyles… Fracking relatively allows for more access to the resources that are in hard rock, adding to the supply of gas and oil which equals a better living for the average American. Also horizontal drilling (used with fracking in shale) allows access to more areas from one well reducing the amount of wells drilled. Proposing a “ban” on fracking in the entire state is nonsensical, our society heavily relies on the availability of oil/gas and fracking is relatively an efficient way to access these resources.

  2. MacDaddyWatch
    March 15, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    When your foundation is based on a hoax, its just a matter of time before cracks appear and your agenda eventually crumbles.

  3. Denise Denny
    March 16, 2014 at 1:37 am

    If we were an exporter of natural gas to the EU think of how much more leverage we would have to support Crimean independence from Russia.

  4. david congour
    March 27, 2014 at 11:03 am

    It’s a sad situation when the Fossil Fuel industry holds all of the cards. I’ve been involved in solar thermal for over a decade, and we’ve been sidelined by the money pouring into political coffers by the FFI. It’s hard to argue against the jobs and money being created by the fracking boom, but, rest assured, we will regret the long term consequenses of the damage being done by fracking. For a few more years of prosperity (for some), and satisfaction of our fossil fuel addiction, future generations will ask why we allowed the damage to our water tables for the rest of eternity. No matter what you’re hearing from the Industry, that damage is happening. Roughly two percent of the water on our planet is considered “fresh”. Guess what category the fracking fluids are coming from: that’s right, the processed water returned from fracking comes from that 2%, and leaves the fresh water category forever. The damage is thus being done by punching through existing water tables, as well as by dealing with the processed water. No matter how many assurances are given about how safe the procedure is, those assurances are a whitewash. Meanwhile, the Sun keeps shining on, providing more energy that we could ever use. Collecting it, storing it, and distributing it, are simply engineering challenges, and could be easily done, if we simply had the willpower to stand up to those who are profiting at the expense of our children’s future.

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