By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN – The grassroots Nebraska group of oil pipeline fighters that has thrown obstacles in the path of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline plans to get more involved in politics by running candidates in local races.
Bold Nebraska is joining the League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club and Nebraska Farmers Union to get candidates elected to local boards that support renewable and alternative energy. They will initially focus on getting the state’s public power energy boards and perhaps a couple of seats in the Legislature.
They also plan to train people to get local resolutions passed opposing “extreme forms of energy” such as tar sands oil from Canada, which would be carried by the Keystone XL pipeline that Bold has fought from the start. This summer and fall the groups plan to build windmills inside the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route to show their preference for local energy.
The trio plans a candidate project called New Energy Voter, a recruitment program called the Farm Team and a training program called Bold Boots to recruit and train volunteers to work on campaigns. The Bold Boots program will work to register Latinos to vote in towns such as Grand Island, Fremont and Schuyler.
“When you look around at our bench… we don’t see a lot of folks who care about energy and ag,” said Jane Kleeb, head of Bold Nebraska, “We don’t think either party is doing a good job going out in the field and really working on these down-ballot races.”
The trio will work to get like-minded people elected to energy boards, because “public power boards have been asleep at the wheel,” Kleeb said.
Kleeb said New Energy Voter will be nonpartisan, and the trio will raise “a good amount of money” to help their candidates.
“It’s a shame that neither party in our state seems to really give a damn about energy right now,” she said.
They don’t plan to run candidates for governor or the U.S. Senate – yet.
“I think we will some day,” she said. “That’s not our focus right now. We want to focus on energy.”
The pipeline fight taught them to focus on areas in which they can succeed, as opposed to trying to push a candidate in a statewide race where they would need to raise millions of dollars.
“That’s just not something that we could do right now,” Kleeb said.
But once they get candidates elected to smaller boards, they can move up to statewide slots, Kleeb said.
“That’s what we have our eye on,” she said.
They’ll continue to fuse culture and politics by merging fundraisers with concerts and rodeos, for example. They’ve already begun talking to some of the most active pipeline fighters/landowners about running for office.
“We do have a couple that are ready to run,” Kleeb said. “They’ve seen up close and personal how incompetent some of these senators are.”
The Farmers Union has long been involved in politics, endorsing candidates and making campaign contributions, and will use that experience to help the candidate project.
“Honestly, I think the parties get so bogged down with party politics that they lose track of what’s important,” said Zack Hamilton, special projects coordinator for the Farmers Union. “That’s ridiculous, to allow party politics to dictate how you vote.”
The pipeline has brought together people from both sides of the political aisle to work together, he said, although he allows that this effort will be “more of a progressive movement.”
“It’s a nonpartisan push,” he said. “We’re just trying to get more people involved in the process.”
The group is progressive, but Kleeb says it has worked with plenty of Republicans in fighting Keystone XL. It’s not just about oil, but property rights, water rights and family legacies.
“The vast majority of landowners are Republican,” she said. “I have no problem with the Republican Party. For us, it’s not about the party, it’s about their values.”
Bold Nebraska has focused on the pipeline since forming three years ago, but it also supports reforming child welfare and expanding Medicaid, a provision of Obamacare.
She never thought the pipeline fight would end up on a national stage, or that she would do up to six interviews a day at times.
“It’s an amazing testimony to citizen power,” she said. “We’re gonna take that energy and win some races.”
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