Oil politics in New Hampshire

The trouble with standing your ground in politics is that it makes you a convenient target for your foes. That’s why New Hampshire Republicans won’t have any barrels of dirty, socialist Venezuelan oil to kick around as long as John Lynch is governor.

Neither will New Hampshire have the benefit of low-cost oil that Venezuela has been selling to states in the Northeast to help low-income families cope with high energy costs. According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, Venezuela’s nationalized Citgo Petroleum Corp. has sold oil at a 40 percent discount to Massachusetts, Rhode Island and the Bronx, N.Y. Maine has received a $5.5 million donation from the company. But news that Governor Lynch contacted the Venezuelan government about such cut-rate oil proved a boon to the state’s indignation industry.

“This is a disgrace, and New Hampshire should take no part in such a tragic and misguided charade,” said John Sununu, the state’s junior senator.

Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, is a leftist, friendly with Fidel Castro and disdained by the Bush administration. He has been duly elected by the Venezuelan people in two landslides. Sununu, however, is appalled at his governance. “He is selling Venezuela’s oil at cut-rate prices while his country languishes in poverty and essential infrastructure crumbles,” Sununu said.

His senior colleague, Judd Gregg, warned against “socialist governments who have more on their political agendas than keeping New Hampshire families warm.”

A spokesman for Congressman Charles Bass weighed in the observation that government-owned corporations “are not concerned about what’s in our best interests. It’s really about gaining clout for them.”

So it didn’t take long for Governor Lynch to back away from the idea, explaining that he had only contacted the Venezuelan embassy for information (out of mere curiosity, no doubt). “But I would have some serious reservations about this,” he told the Union Leader.

One might have thought the governor would jump at the chance to get oil at a steep discount, regardless of the seller’s motives or “agenda.”

He might have deflected the criticism by politely asking Senator Sununu if he is more concerned about Venezuela’s poor (and its infrastructure) than he is about New Hampshire’s poor.

He might have asked where keeping New Hampshire families warm fits on Senator Gregg’s agenda. Is it as important as spurning a socialist government disliked by the Bush administration?

He might have noted our nation’s enormous trade deficit with the People’s Republic of China and suggested it’s a little late for Republicans to develop scruples about loathsome regimes with unsavory alliances.

In his State of the State address, the governor spoke in praise of bipartisan cooperation. On the issue of Venezuelan oil, he demonstrated its limitations. In this election year, avoiding conflicts appears to be the priority of the Lynch agenda. Fighting for something, even something that could benefit New Hampshire’s low-income citizens, apparently is not.

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