Republicans Revive EPA Tractor Dust Conspiracy Theory to Gut Environmental Protections

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WillinoisThe EPA wants to regulate tractor dust. Can you believe that? It’s getting to the point where a man can’t even drive his tractor down a dirt road without big government getting in the way!

That’s what Congressman Rodney Davis wants you to believe anyway. It’s a good soundbite and the fact that it’s complete nonsense hasn’t stopped some politicians from peddling this conspiracy theory no matter how many times it’s debunked.

Davis sponsored an amendment to let the Department of Agriculture comment on EPA regulation. In speeches and press statements, he argued that EPA is out of touch with rural America by reviving the old yarn that they want to regulate tractor dust on dirt roads.

Congressman John Shimkus was telling this dusty story back when Rodney Davis was still on his staff. Since then, the EPA administrator has said several times that there’s no plan to consider regulating tractor dust, and multiple news organizations have debunked the talking point. At this point it should be absolutely clear to everyone that it simply isn’t true.

Undeterred by reality, there’s even a bill called the “Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act.” What it actually does is prevent EPA from enacting regulations of soot and particulate matter that are only applied to major sources of industrial pollution, not farms. These are pollutants, often from coal power plants, that cause lung disease, heart attacks, asthma attacks, and other deadly health problems.

In other words, this has nothing to do with protecting rural America. Politicians who talk about tractor dust regulation want rural Americans to fight for the coal industry’s right to kill them a little faster. Continue reading Republicans Revive EPA Tractor Dust Conspiracy Theory to Gut Environmental Protections

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Is Rodney Davis being honest about his relationship with George Ryan? (IL-13)

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My patience has worn thin listening to Rodney Davis complain about campaign ads on his ties to convicted former Governor George Ryan. Davis claims the ads by DCCC are misleading, but Davis has never denied the basic facts: that Davis worked for George Ryan and was on Ryan’s clout list. If you look at the bigger picture, Davis’ denials smell funnier than the original ads.

Davis says the ads are false because they call George Ryan “Governor,” while Davis worked for Ryan only while he was Secretary of State. That’s irrelevant nitpicking, especially since Ryan was convicted for what he did as Secretary of State. Davis further refutes the ad by saying he was a low-level, anonymous employee who never took favors from George Ryan. He doubts that Ryan even remembered his name or knew who he was.

As I wrote before, Davis was granted a leave of absence from his job with the Secretary of State’s office to run for State Representative in 1996. That’s a pretty big favor not available to people in most normal jobs.

I decided to do a little fact-checking with the Illinois State Board of Elections. Davis donated $200 to the Ryan campaign fund in December of ’96, shortly after losing his campaign for State Representative. There was no reporting requirement for smaller donations at that time, so there may have been additional unrecorded contributions, such as low-dollar tickets to fundraisers.I tried to confirm that the donation isn’t from a relative in Taylorville with the same name but the Davis campaign isn’t very responsive to me right now. Regardless, I found something much more interesting.

Campaign finance reports from the time period Davis ran for State Representative aren’t online, so I went to the state election office in Springfield to pick up a copy. I scanned some of the results and uploaded them here. As I looked through the documents, I googled the names of large Davis contributors from outside Taylorville. In most instances, I found that those individuals were working for George Ryan.

Davis raised thousands in campaign contributions from managers he worked with in Ryan’s Secretary of State office.The most generous donor was Craig Roberts, who was serving as a high-ranking aid to George Ryan and would later become Chief of Staff to Congressman John Shimkus.  Over the campaign, he gave a series of donations and in-kind contributions totaling over $4,700.00. That’s pretty generous for someone taking a public salary.

Others include April Cook, who contributed a series of donations and in-kind contributions coming to $579.63. She worked in the Secretary of State human resources division. Jane Vredenburgh, an executive assistant to the Secretary of State, made multiple donations adding up to $650.00, and in later years would be a major Shimkus donor as well. Deb Detmers was manager of the Indexing Department where Davis worked, finance director of the Ryan campaign fund, and later moved to the Shimkus staff. She helped Davis too, making in-kind contributions.

Judging by the items donated, it appears that management staff were helping Davis host fundraising events. One wonders how many other Secretary of State employees made smaller, unreported donations at Davis campaign events hosted by their coworkers and bosses.

All of this by itself isn’t necessarily anything sinister. It’s not unusual to raise political funds from co-workers. Davis and his donors may even have left Ryan’s office to work for Shimkus because they were bothered by corruption in the office. But, if that’s the case, then why not say so? Why the amnesia routine?

What makes it significant is the context of what was happening in the Secretary of State office under George Ryan. Employees were expected to buy campaign fundraising tickets and do political work, sometimes on state time. As one article put it: “In offices all over the state, employees came to believe that their careers, evaluations, promotions, and pay increases all depended on their ability to raise campaign contributions for their political patron, then-Secretary of State George Ryan.”

Davis donated to the Ryan campaign fund at a time when employees were pressured into doing so. In fact, the supervisor of his department, Deb Detmers, testified in court that she was pressured to meet quotas for selling fundraising tickets to employees she supervised. Continue reading Is Rodney Davis being honest about his relationship with George Ryan? (IL-13)

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Congressional candidates Gill, Davis occupy same stage but different realities. IL-13

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Democrat David Gill and Republican Rodney Davis shared the same stage for their debate last night, but they’re clearly not living in the same reality. Let’s review a few issues.

Debt and Taxes

Rodney Davis started the debate by saying his top issue is cutting the national debt. His plan for doing so is to cut taxes. Seriously. He wants to reduce revenue to bring down the debt. He doesn’t believe in that arithmetic thing Bill Clinton was talking about.

Later in the debate a student question asked the obvious. Are spending cuts alone without a tax increase enough to deal with the debt, and what, specifically, would you cut from the budget?

Davis again repeated the magical debt-reducing tax cut theory that worked so well for George W. Bush. He didn’t name any specific spending cuts he would support. He told the university audience that his unspecified spending cuts would free up more money to spend on student financial aid for college.

In a single debate, Davis claimed that everyone will get tax cuts, that tax cuts will reduce the deficit, that only things you don’t like will be cut from the budget, and all the spending you do like will still be increased. Also, everyone gets a unicorn that farts glitter.

David Gill said he supports ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, but does not support any tax increase on the middle class. Unlike Davis, he named something specific he would cut. Gill thinks we should already be out of Afghanistan and that military spending can be cut as we withdraw.

Gill’s plan of proposing specific cuts in a bloated part of the budget, and expiring the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy could be described as a reality-based strategy to cutting the debt. Counting on trickle-down tax cuts to magically grow the economy, as Davis suggests, is exactly how we got the debts of the Reagan and Bush years.

Energy and Climate Change

The moderators didn’t bring up climate change, but David Gill did twice. First, he brought up the droughts that hit farmers hard this year and spoke about the need to keep things from getting even worse due to climate change. He later said he takes a science-based approach to the issue, and that it’s a real problem we need to deal with.

Gill says that if we’re going to subsidize energy sources that it should be clean tech development rather than subsidies going to oil and dirty energy. He brought up the dirty industry dollars going to the Davis campaign several times, including donations from Exxon, Exelon, and the Koch brothers.

Davis debated both Gill and his own flip-flopping positions on energy. First, he said he opposed federal support to clean energy projects like Solyndra. When asked directly about the clean energy tax credit for wind, he said he supported it, even though he opposed them just last week. Later he went back to attacking federal spending for clean energy yet again.

Davis flip-flopped three times in under an hour, and never said a word about climate change. He doesn’t appear to believe in either science or arithmetic.

Health Care Choice

Rodney Davis repeatedly used the fear tactic of telling people that universal health care will result in the government dictating their choice of doctors and health care decisions. He believes a “market-based” insurance system will give people the freedom to choose their own doctors and health care options. It gets truly bizarre when Davis supports this argument by pointing to his own experience while being on a government, taxpayer-funded health care plan provided by his federal government job. Continue reading Congressional candidates Gill, Davis occupy same stage but different realities. IL-13

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Rodney Davis sides with climate change conspiracy theorists. Would kill green jobs in Illinois. (IL-13)

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It finally happened! During an interview with the State Journal-Register editorial board, Rodney Davis was asked if he accepts the scientific consensus behind climate change.

The question came near the end of their interview with the three candidates in the 13th District Congressional race (at 53:00 in the video online). It was finally discussed after independent candidate John Hartman scolded the SJR editorial board for not asking about an issue as important as climate change. When asked if it’s man-made, Hartman spoke about the broad scientific consensus that man-made pollution is driving the climate crisis.

David Gill reinforced the position on his campaign website, saying, “It’s not a question of belief, it’s a question of what is. The science is extremely clear on this. It’s very, very real and it’s a grave threat. Irreversible damage is already taking place now. The failure of the Exxon-Mobil funded politicians in Washington D.C. to address it appropriately is perhaps the biggest mistake that we’re making.”

Gill didn’t mention that his Republican opponent, Rodney Davis, already took the maximum allowable campaign contributions from Exxon and the Koch brothers PAC. Both Exxon and the Koch brothers funded deceptive propaganda campaigns to spread doubt about the science of climate change. Does Davis represent the views of his corporate sponsors who try to undermine science?

Davis claimed that, “I think we all agree that climate change is reality. There’s a debate between how much of it is man-made and how much of it is due to natural causes.”  He didn’t say where he stands in that debate.

Once again, Davis dodged saying plainly what he believes about climate change science. Furthermore, his claim about the debate is misleading. There’s broad scientific consensus that man-made pollutants are driving greenhouse gasses far beyond normal levels, causing the planetary emergency we face now.

After it became impossible to deny that climate change was already happening, the deniers switched to the “natural causes” argument in an attempt to cast doubt on the scientific consensus. Davis is repeating the misleading talking points used by the fossil fuel industry and their puppets like Glenn Beck, James Inhofe, and John Shimkus. He passed on the opportunity to distinguish himself from the anti-science conspiracy theorists who support his campaign.

Davis even brought out the old straw-man argument I often hear from coal industry spokesmen, that we can’t power the country on wind and solar alone. Back on planet reality, no one is seriously proposing we try doing that in the near future. What people do propose is that we create jobs by quickly building a lot of new clean energy. Unfortunately, Davis made it clear in his interview that he opposes meaningful policies to expand wind and solar.

When pressed about what tax loopholes he would close, Davis said “I would like to take away the energy tax credit that gave us the Solyndras of the world.”

First of all, Solyndra made news because it defaulted on a Department of Energy loan guarantee, not because it received a tax credit. Second, Davis personally spoke in favor of a loan guarantee from the same Department of Energy program for a proposed coal plant in Taylorville that was five times bigger than Solyndra’s loan. Continue reading Rodney Davis sides with climate change conspiracy theorists. Would kill green jobs. (IL-13)

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Does downstate Illinois need better energy journalism?

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David Roberts has an interesting article at Grist in response to a reader asking how energy journalism can be better. It got me thinking about my experiences giving interviews and pitching stories on energy topics in Illinois.

He writes that journalists and politicians are mostly sleepwalking into the great crisis of our time. With rare exception, we don’t have energy-specific journalists.

There are finance and business journalists who cover energy as a commodity business, tracking global supply and demand flows, prices, futures trading, all that sort of stuff. There are business and tech journalists who focus on cleantech. There are environmental journalists, who tend to cover energy (when they do it) through the lens of enviros vs. polluters. And there are political journalists who cover energy as a campaign and/or policy issue, sometimes as a specialty, more often as part of a portfolio.

He goes on to write that journalists generally view energy stories from the angle of of their beat, and that isn’t well suited to an issue like climate change that intersects so many national and international problems. How do journalists used to looking through one lens paint the bigger picture?

That is not necessarily something that comes easily to journalists, especially old-school reporters. Pushing climate change or energy poverty into a conversation where it hasn’t typically appeared and isn’t typically taken seriously can feel like advocacy or moralizing. It pushes against some quiet but insistent social and professional pressures. Right now, frankly, think tanks, NGOs, and bloggers are doing a better job of it.

Roberts’ observations make a lot of sense when I think about my interactions with the regional press.

Like most papers, the State Journal-Register doesn’t have a writer dedicated to energy. Several years ago I never would have expected to write that the best reporter on energy at the SJR is the business editor. Tim Landis covers developments in the regional coal industry without the critical view I would take. But, when there’s a controversial story, he does a good job of getting different perspectives and explaining complex issues. I’m consistently impressed by his work.

On the political side, there has essentially been a blackout on climate change at the SJR. In last year’s Springfield city election, they failed to ask candidates about clean energy or climate change even though the city council oversees our public utility. The decision to build a coal plant and purchase wind power was one of the hottest local government issues in the past decade but the SJR felt the top issue to cover at the utility was patronage hiring.

Their election coverage this year is no different. Every candidate is asked about the conservative wedge issues of guns and gays, but nothing on climate change. Despite the fact that state and national legislators will spend far more time on energy issues than gun control or gay marriage; despite the fact that climate change is the subject of intense citizen interest; and despite the fact that every paper in the region believes the impacts of climate change are a front page story when droughts hit farmers and rivers flood. In the 13th Congressional district race, political reporters across the district have helped Rodney Davis continue ducking the most pressing issue of our time. It’s difficult for me to understand why. Continue reading Does downstate Illinois need better energy journalism?

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Nasty Republican attack site complains about negative campaigning. Order a Dr. Radical.

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I’ve heard that Republicans have a guy following around Democratic Congressional candidate David Gill in surgical scrubs and calling himself “Dr. Radical.” The Illinois Republican Party (where Gill’s opponent, Rodney Davis, used to be Executive Director) has a website to match, complete with a cartoonishly bad photoshop job of Gill putting on a surgical glove, as if he’s about to perform a colonoscopy.

The website is mostly full of gross distortions about Gill wanting to end Medicare, when the reality is that he would essentially extend it to everyone. But, the best part is when this sophomoric, ugly campaign site accuses David Gill of “not running a positive campaign.” Seriously!

Dr. RadicalThis made me laugh for a good ten minutes. Isn’t that the perfect conservative talk-radio style attack? The site is saying, “We expect you to run a positive campaign while we call you childish names and lie about your platform.” It reminds me of Mitt Romney’s recent whining that Obama is running a negative campaign after Romney spent the past year lying about Obama’s record. Davis and Romney want everyone else to follow the rules they ignore.

It’s standard operating procedure for talk radio conservatives to accuse Democrats of anything shameful that Republicans are in the process of doing. My favorite was during the Mark Foley Congressional page scandal when Fox News kept bringing up a similar 30-year-old scandal involving a Democrat. Was that supposed to be an excuse for Foley?

Another example is when you have a candidate, like Rodney Davis, who wants to put everyone’s health care in the hands of the private insurance industry, which obviously wouldn’t include a public program like Medicare. Falsely accusing Gill of wanting to end Medicare is a tactic to blur the distinction between the two candidates. Now, reporters who want to seem balanced will write headlines like “both campaigns accuse the other of attacking Medicare” and the issue is successfully obfuscated. The tactic usually works. Continue reading Nasty Republican attack site complains about negative campaigning. Order a Dr. Radical.

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Rodney Davis has more trouble answering questions again, and again, and...

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A pattern is emerging in Rodney Davis’ campaign for Congress (IL-13). He’s trying to run without answering tough questions or taking clear stands on controversial issues. He mostly attends private Republican events and has so far avoided public forums where he would have to answer difficult questions.

When a reporter asked about his previous support for the Ryan budget he said he supported some parts but not others. But, he wouldn’t say which parts. When asked if he supported the parts that cut Medicare he “didn’t want to get boxed in” by taking a position.

Then he scurried away when I asked him about climate change during a press conference about flooding. How does someone rationalize holding a press conference about flooding along the Mississippi and NOT talk about climate change?

When people posted dozens of questions on his campaign page asking for his position on climate change his campaign ignored them and deleted every single question, no matter how politely worded. During a press conference on energy policy (held at a gas station outside the district) he still managed to avoid explaining whether he shares the anti-science, conspiratorial views of his former boss, John Shimkus.

Back in June he walked away from a voter who asked if he supports the Ryan budget and ignored a group who asked if he would support a minimum wage increase.

This Tuesday, Action Now gathered outside Davis’ $250 a plate fundraiser at the Illini Country Club. They asked, once again, why Davis is holding private events outside the district instead of answering tough questions.

Action Now has an online petition asking Davis to hold a town hall meeting in Springfield. It makes the modest request that Davis: Continue reading Rodney Davis has more trouble answering questions again, and again, and…

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FaceMob Floods Congressional Candidate Rodney Davis with Climate Change Questions. Still No Answer. (IL-13)

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If you were watching Rodney Davis’ campaign Facebook page Sunday afternoon you would have seen a flood of questions from citizens asking where he stands on climate change. They’re still waiting for an answer.

I wrote about Davis ignoring my question and hurrying away when I asked if he thought floods and droughts are getting worse due to climate change. That’s not the only question he’s dodging. He attends very few public forums where he will have to answer questions from the public, and he won’t get specific about where he stands on many major issues. Would he respond to citizens on his campaign Facebook page asking about climate change, the great challenge of our time?

I repeated my own question about floods and droughts.

Mr Davis, you didn’t answer my question about whether you think floods and droughts in Illinois are getting worse because of climate change. It will be devastating to farmers, residents, and the regional economy if the extreme weather disasters we’ve had the last few years become the new normal. Do you acknowledge the scientific consensus that man-made pollutants are contributing to climate change and what would you do to solve the problem?

Dozens of questions by others were posted on his page.

My respectful questions were removed quickly and I was banned from commenting on his Facebook page again. That didn’t surprise me. After a while, every mention of climate change by anyone was deleted as quickly as it was posted. Even the most politely worded questions were removed, like this one:

Thank you for putting forth an energy policy but I’m unclear about your stance regarding climate change. Since I will likely not be able to attend one of your appearances, might you be able to respond in this forum? Thanks so much.

That got deleted.

Many more excellent banned questions can be viewed at my Flickr set. I captured many, but not all, before they were removed by the Davis campaign. My favorite was posted on a comment about a campaign sign in a soy field.

Wonder where he stands on climate change? Rodney are you going to answer ever? It might help out the bean field?

Questions in response to the energy plan posted on his main campaign website haven’t been removed yet. I’m sure they’ll get to those after they read this blog post so catch them while you can. A couple of voters there let Davis know they aren’t happy about their questions on Facebook being ignored and removed. Continue reading FaceMob Floods Congressional Candidate Rodney Davis with Climate Change Questions. Still No Answer. (IL-13)

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Rodney Davis' Copy-and-paste Energy Plan Ducks Climate Change (IL-13)

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Illinois Republican Congressional candidate Rodney Davis announced his energy plan in Springfield Tuesday. The campaign apparently forgot to send my invitation but you can see the plan posted online. The plan consist of several paragraphs in a press release filled with familiar talking points.

Davis supports an “all of the above” energy policy. If that sounds familiar it’s because “all of the above” is also supported by Rodney Davis’ former employer, Congressman John Shimkus, plus Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, David Gill’s previous challenger in the Democratic primary, oil industry lobbyists, the US Chamber of Commerce and nearly everyone else with a consultant who reads polling data. It’s used by so many politicians with vastly different energy policies that the phrase has become a meaningless cliche.

Like John Shimkus, Davis opposes new EPA regulation of coal, cap-and-trade, and any method of putting a price on carbon. He supports building the Keystone XL pipeline and subsidizing every energy source imaginable. That’s known as the “now taking campaign donations from all sectors of the energy industry” subsidy policy.

Davis will also oppose what he calls “radical” international efforts to reduce carbon pollution that causes climate change, such as the Kyoto Protocol. One hundred ninety-three nations already signed the Kyoto Protocol and the United States is on target to meet Kyoto carbon levels thanks to the large drop in coal power generation. Continue reading Rodney Davis’ Copy-and-paste Energy Plan Ducks Climate Change (IL-13)

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Rodney Davis (IL-13) ducks my question about climate change

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Illinois Republican Congressional candidates Rodney Davis and Jason Plummer held a press conference in East St. Louis last week to talk about the flood levee system. Both candidates are running for open seats in two of the nation’s most competitive Congressional races. I decided to tag along and see how it went.

After speaking at length on promoting federal spending for levees, they answered questions about how the current drought is impacting farmers. That’s when I thought, “Hey, I have a relevant question” and asked Davis if he thinks the floods and droughts are getting worse because of climate change.

Davis responded by ignoring me, then asking a reporter if he had another question, and quickly walking away. The scene is caught near the end of a video posted to the IL13RawFootage YouTube page. You can hear me ask the question off-camera before it pans over.


The YouTube ID of Sv01T0tTHSE?t=2m30s is invalid.

I understand why Davis wanted to rush away. He knows who I am and since he has seen my blog, he knows I’m not likely to praise him. But, I was polite. I didn’t interrupt the press conference. I only jumped in when I did because I could tell his staff wanted him to leave. I would have been more than happy to post any answer he gave. Instead, he walked away. Continue reading Rodney Davis (IL-13) ducks my question about climate change

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