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Editorial: Carbon Tax Advocate; Rubens Plays to Unfriendly Crowd

Jim Rubens’ announcement last week that he hopes to be the Republican challenger to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen next year included a reminder that his previous political success had defied the predictions of experts. The Etna businessman is hardly the first candidate to make that sort of boast: It’s a standard line of longshots who don’t want their candidacies dismissed as hopeless. But rather than focusing voters’ minds on the plausibility of his Senate run, Rubens’ warning not to underestimate his chances might instead prompt people to wonder: Just how did he beat the odds before, and does he really have a shot at doing it again?

The former state senator and one-time gubernatorial candidate is, as he noted last Wednesday, not “your typical politician.” For starters, he’s a policy wonk. And his wonkishness doesn’t manifest itself just by going a bit deeper into the policy weeds than the average politician. Some of the issues that get Rubens’ heart racing would move the average voter to take a nap. Sludge disposal, electric utility deregulation, all-day balloting — these are matters that generally don’t stir voters’ souls, however important they may be.

And even if Rubens gravitated toward more popular causes, it’s far from clear that he would be able to make much use of them on the campaign trail. If the successful practice of the political craft requires the exercise of a certain amount of personal charm, well, let’s just say that Rubens is a smart guy and a successful businessman. Glad-handing, light banter and baby-kissing aren’t in his arsenal.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Few people would argue that our political system is suffering from an abundance of representatives who are paying too much attention to policy analysis and too little time buttering up voters. Still, a politician can’t do much good applying his superior intelligence or judgment unless he first figures out how to get elected.

And in that regard, Rubens is hardly following a well-worn path to a Republican primary victory — assuming that other Republicans will step forward to stop Shaheen from being elected to a second term. At a time when Republican aspirants generally try to outflank each other by moving ever rightward, Rubens is planning to showcase his work with the Union of Concerned Scientists on stopping global warming. And his approach incorporates a proposal that many advocates believe is essential to any serious effort to move people away from fossil-fuel energy consumption — a carbon tax. Rubens suggests the proposal can be rendered palatable to Republicans by framing it in a way that incorporates their tax preferences: All money raised by a carbon tax would be offset by reductions in corporate and payroll taxes.

Sure, Rubens follows the Republican playbook on other issues such as gun control and immigration reform. But don’t underestimate the maverick quality of a Republican candidate trying to preach the global-warming gospel to a party that seldom questions the religion of cheap fossil fuels. One wonders how, if Rubens were to capture the nomination, those Democratic voters who believe global warming to be the single most important issue of their time would vote: for a moderate Democrat who hasn’t distinguished herself on the issue or a Republican who openly advocates a carbon tax?

It’s a big if. Rubens has not held office for many years, he’s not a statewide figure and he’s not a typical Republican. But a candidate who wants to make the Republican Party safe for good climate policy is welcome on the campaign trail.

Related

Letter: Significance of Rubens’ Run

Friday, October 11, 2013

To the Editor: Great editorial on the way in which Jim Rubens’ announcement that he will run for the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Jeanne Shaheen might make the Republican Party safe for talking about climate change policy. Indeed Rubens’ support for carbon taxes as an effective, efficient and economical way to fight climate change makes it safe now for …