Given that the two members of the U.S. Congress representing Santa Barbara also represent opposite ends of the political spectrum, it’s little surprise that Republican Elton Gallegly and Democrat Lois Capps reacted so differently to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech Wednesday night. Both found aspects of the speech cause for concern; both found parts to praise. But between the two, there was conspicuously little overlap.

Rep. Lois Capps, representing District 23, which hugs the coastline and tends to be more liberal, encouraged Obama’s plans to invest more heavily in clean energy. She said that by pursuing a greener path, the federal government could help usher in a new economic boom that would generate untold jobs while reducing the United States’ carbon footprint.

But Capps remained highly skeptical about the president’s call for the creation of new “clean” nuclear power plants as part of the solution to the nation’s energy needs. “I still have some concerns about expanding the use of nuclear energy,” Capps stated. “We have to address the security, environmental, and health risks associated with our existing facilities and the disposal of nuclear wastes before we seriously consider approving new facilities.” PG&E’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant at Morro Bay lies within Capps’s district, and she’s been forced to deal with issues of waste disposal, potential terrorist attack, and new seismic security questions. (New geologic studies indicate that there are fault lines much closer to the plant than were known about when the plant was first approved.)

Gallegly, easily as conservative as Capps is liberal, praised Obama’s call for more nuclear plants. Gallegly represents the county’s interior, District 24, where voters are more conservative.

Capps was guarded in her reaction to Obama’s call for more offshore oil development in his speech. She h as been a consistent vote against more oil leases off the coast of California. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, opened up Southern California to more offshore oil lease sales, and since then Capps has lobbied both Obama’s Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar, and the Minerals Management Service against the new leasing. Capps has contended that the offshore reserves are not substantial enough to justify the environmental risk to the coast. Capps indicated that she would support new oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico because of the size of the reserves and the presence of an existing infrastructure. But she would oppose any effort by the President to open up the coast of California to new oil exploration.

Gallegly, by contrast, applauded Obama for considering renewed offshore oil exploration, contending that such action is necessary to help create new jobs. Gallegly noted that in the year since Obama took office, three million jobs have disappeared., The federal government, he argued, needs to step aside and let private industry move ahead without any additional regulatory or tax burdens. He also blistered the proposed health care reform measure that Obama championed and Capps supported, saying it would kill five million more jobs.

While Gallegly welcomed Obama’s proposed freeze on additional federal spending, Capps said she was taking a wait-and-see approach. “I want to make sure we’re being careful and strategic about where we make spending cuts,” she said.

Finally, Capps had nothing but praise for Obama’s pledge to repeal the Clinton administration’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy regarding gays and lesbians in the military. “I have long believed that this discriminatory policy does not make our military stronger,” she said, “nor does it make our nation safer.”


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