By Bill Moore
David Hahn can trace his family's presence in Nebraska back to 1856, more than a decade before the vast American plains territory became a state. A successful attorney in Lincoln, like many Democrats, he's grown increasingly frustrated and discontented with what he sees as years of political stagnation in a predominately Republican-controlled state that has slowly sapped its vitality, leaving it with more rural communities in poverty than any other state in the union.
He decided to run for governor because he "got tired of yelling at the television."
Hahn, aged 51, took 30 minutes from his busy campaign schedule just four weeks before Election Day to stop by for a “kitchen” interview with me about his views on energy and his vision for Nebraska. Trailing the incumbent in the polls, he reminded me that at this point in his campaign, then-gubernatorial Democratic candidate Bob Kerry, was also trailing by 20 points. The charismatic Vietnam War vet went on to win the election and later become a U.S. Senator. Hahn obviously is also counting on a late surge as well, one that events in faraway Iraq and on scandal-ridden Capitol Hill could give him.
One thing that I can say about Dave Hahn, he came prepared and he's articulate. As we sat down at the kitchen table, he showed me an article entitled, American Petrocracy that he'd photocopied from The American Conservative magazine. He makes no apologies for his view that the war in Iraq is about oil and who controls the world's largest remaining oil reserves, the same conclusion Kevin Phillips reaches in his article.
I first met Hahn at the NRDC's Re-Energize America town hall meeting last Spring on the campus of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He was there making the rounds, shaking hands, handing out campaign cards and letting folks know he was running for governor, an often quixotic quest for any Democrat in such a conservative bastion. Even the renowned Cornhusker football team color is red.
Almost on a whim, I decided to invite him a few weeks ago to do a telephone interview with me. Days passed and no response came. Then out of the blue, I got an email saying he would be in town and could take some time to talk to me. I don't usually conduct interviews in the kitchen, but if Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev could do it, so could I.
David Hahn and his driver arrived about ten minutes early in a mud-spattered GMC Yukon. I had set up my interview equipment in advance, but foolishly hadn't tested it. So, after some small chat and fumbling with microphones that mysteriously didn't work, I got a fall back set up to work and we launched into the interview, the complete MP3 audio of which is available on the EVWorld.Com web site.
I first asked Hahn to tell me about himself . He talked about his family's century and a half heritage in Nebraska, that included founding one of the original businesses in Omaha in 1856 and creating the Nebraska Settlement Society to encourage development in what would become a state in 1867.
But from his perspective, the state has lost the sense of vision that our early pioneer forefathers had, including a lack of a clearly defined energy policy, which is why I wanted to talk to him.
I had provided his campaign staff with a list of ten questions in advance, which is my policy when interviewing anyone. So, he had a heads-up on what I was interested in discussing: topics like nuclear power, ethanol, the state's 'least cost' energy law, the role of wind power and tax incentives for hybrid cars. I also asked him about peak oil and global warming. He even surprised me by talking about hemp farming, which while legal in Canada, Europe and China, is strictly controlled to the point of non-existence in the United States on the assumption – mistaken in my view and apparently in Hahn's as well – that it would encourage illegal pot production. Governor Schwarzenegger in California just vetoed a bill that would have made hemp farming legal there.
Hahn explained that many of the issues confronting Nebraskans from property tax relief to water rights to energy policy are inextricably intertwined. On the latter point, energy policy, he announced that within the next eleven days, his campaign will publish a comprehensive new energy program, hints of which he shared with me as we talked.
Ethanol: He shares environmentalists concerns about the sustainability of ethanol from corn, especially in Nebraska where much of the crop is grown on marginal land and requires heavy use of irrigation and energy. While he believes there is a net gain in terms of energy inputs versus energy output, he believes we need to be promoting other, less energy and water-intensive biomass crops, including industrial hemp, which was briefly legalized for the war effort in the 1940s and then quickly outlawed for fear of marijuana cultivation. He is also concerned that out-of-state corporate investments in ethanol plants are shipping both fuel and money out of Nebraska's rural communities.
Global Warming: Yes, it's real. The evidence proves it. As governor he'd move to encourage greater use of the state's vast wind resources, making Nebraska a net exporter of energy. He'd have the state's decades old “least cost” energy law redefine “cost” to include the environmental impact of energy use.
Wind Power: The state is sixth in the nation in terms of its wind resources, but is far behind neighboring states in wind farm development. He promises to put Nebraska in the top ten in generated wind power. He also wants to encourage the wind industry to locate to Nebraska and he's had talks with German officials already about doing that. Being a 100% public utility state is a blessing for Nebraskans, but we need to work together to get us in the top ten renewable energy producers not at the bottom of the list.
Electric Cars: Interestingly, he sees the development of a strong renewable energy industry in Nebraska as key to attracting other industries, including electric cars, which he sees – surprisingly – as a “great way to store that electricity.” He's obviously been reading up on vehicle-to-grid electric car technology, which is still a pretty esoteric concept only now being evaluated in places like California and Washington State.
I told you he came prepared.
Wyoming Coal: Wyoming doesn't have a state income tax because it charges a severance tax on every ton of coal shipped out of the state, much of it to or through Nebraska, which generates 60 percent of its electricity from coal.
Peak Oil: Hahn is aware of the concept, which is gaining increasing credence in influential circles as global demand for oil presses hard against industry's ability to extract and refine it. He sees the Iraq war as largely about the need to control the world's last large oil reserves.
Hybrid Car Tax Incentives: Hahn favors incentives that encourage people to conserve. He's proposed a $50,000 across-the-board property tax exemption that could be increased to $100,000 if the homeowner implements energy efficiency measures in their home and/ or in the vehicles they drive.
Nuclear Power: Hahn isn't willing to discuss the future of nuclear power in Nebraska until there is some resolution to the nuclear waste dilemma. The state has two operating nuclear reactors and one decommissioned plant and until the fate of their spent fuel rods and other high-level radioactive waste is settled, it doesn't make sense to even think about building more plants in the state.
If you want to get out of a hole, he said, you need to stop digging.
Nebraska in 2020: I asked the Democratic candidate what his vision for the future is and he reiterated is plan to see the state as a net energy exporter, the first in the nation, which will, in turn, attract new business opportunities to the state. He sees that being accomplished through a combination of sustainable energy technologies and conservation.
As Hahn left, he pointed out to me that the Yukon he's driving is a flexible fuel vehicle. Now I know why he was in the Old Market section of Omaha before stopping to see me. That's the only place in town you can buy E-85 in one of the nation's top ethanol producing states.
To paraphrase the lyrics from “Smoky and the Bandit”, David Hahn may have a long way to go and a short time to get there in this election but then so does Nebraska and America, for that matter.