KINGSPORT — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander pitched his vision for a new “Manhattan Project” for energy independence to about 500 Republicans at the Sullivan County GOP Reagan Day dinner Saturday night.
“We need to give it the kind of focused attention we did to building a bomb to end World War II,” the Tennessee Republican said of the idea which he proposed at an event on Friday in Oak Ridge, the site of the first Manhattan Project.
Alexander noted the Democrat-controlled Senate hasn’t made progress with energy policy.
“The Democrats haven’t offered any solutions to $4 gas,” he said. All they want to do is tax it or unionize it or sue it. If they stepped in a puddle of oil, they wouldn’t know what to do with it even though gas is at almost $4 a gallon.
“We’re sending $500 billion a year overseas to buy 60 percent of all the oil we use. That’s half our trade deficit. It weakens the dollar. It’s driving up gas prices, and it’s creating a national security problem for us.”
Alexander said part of his energy plan is for the auto industry to build more “plug-in” cars to run on electricity.
“Sixty percent of us drive less than 30 miles a day,” he said. “TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) and AEP (Appalachian Power) have a lot of unused electrical capacity at night. We could plug in at night for a few dollars instead of paying $70 to fill up our gas tank. Nissan, Toyota and Ford are all going to have plug-in cars on the market in 2010.”
In response, the campaign of Tennessee Democrat U.S. Senate candidate Bob Tuke said Alexander, who is running for re-election, is using the Manhattan Project idea as “an election year stunt aimed at covering up the truth about his close ties and vested interests with Big Oil.”
Alexander has received $109,100 this election cycle alone in campaign contributions from fossil fuel industries, according to the Tuke campaign.
Earlier in the day, Alexander called GOP presidential hopeful John McCain’s and Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s hopes for suspending the federal gas tax this summer a gimmick.
“It would be easier to send every driver $10 and send $15 to the (oil) refiners because that’s all the money involved,” Alexander said. “Which traffic jam are you going to extend when you don’t have the (gas tax) money to pay to fix the roads. I think the American people will see through that. Politicians are thrashing around for short-term solutions. We need to use less oil or find more.”
In another recognition of high gas prices, U.S. Rep. David Davis touted his support of “No More Excuses” legislation that would enable oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“We need to increase the amount of our own energy and costs will come down,” said Davis, R-1st.
Davis’ GOP primary opponent, Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe, also spoke and insisted he is a pro-life conservative Republican who has a sound fiscal record managing city government.
Two other Republican speakers at the event, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville and House GOP Leader Jason Mumpower, asked for help in state legislative races.
Ramsey said Church Hill attorney Mike Faulk needs to be elected in the 4th Senatorial District to unseat independent incumbent Mike Williams of Maynardville, and give him a working majority in the state Senate.
Mumpower sought support for Colonial Heights Republican Tony Shipley in Sullivan County’s 2nd House District race.
Mumpower said the incumbent, Democrat Nathan Vaughn of Kingsport, “shares the values” of Clinton and Democrat presidential frontrunner Barack Obama.
“We need a teammate we can work with in Nashville who will help us represent the values of Sullivan County and Kingsport. We do not have that today,” Mumpower said of Vaughn.
Shipley reminded Republicans that they need four seats to win a majority in the state House.
“I need your help. Help me make (Mumpower) speaker (of the House),” Shipley said.