BY NOLAN BAKER
Oct. 8, 2020 — The one and only vice presidential debate of the 2020 election season is behind us. Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris headlined a debate that couldn’t have been ore different in tone and energy from the first presidential debate a week prior.
While the presidential nominees spent their time hurling personal attacks at one another, the vice presidential debate looked disarmingly normal — something this election cycle has seen little of. The two candidates stayed away from the jabs and interruptions that marred the presidential debate, and instead focused on the two party’s policy positions.
Topics ranged from the ongoing pandemic to tax codes to climate change, the latter having arguably the most impact on local Washingtonians. Wildfires raged throughout the state this summer, torching hundreds of thousands of acres and burning down hundreds of homes.
When asked about the impact of climate change on the duration and intensity of natural disasters, Vice President Mike Pence simply stated that “the climate is changing,” but stopped short of directly addressing the fact that human behavior and industrialization are to blame for said change.
In a press conference on Sept. 15, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee urged the need for emergency housing for those whose homes were destroyed in the wildfires, and that the Washington State Department of Natural Resources — which handles wildfire response — needed more federal assistance.
Vice President Mike Pence remarked during the debate that state authorities must put more emphasis on “forest management,” but gave no example of how the federal government plans to increase aid to states battling the infernos.
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who also manages the DNR, tweeted on Oct. 9 that as fire seasons get longer and wildfires turn into megafires, “we need enough resources at the state and federal level to be self-sufficient so we aren’t forced to depend on the stretched-thin crews of our neighbors.”
However, Pence and the rest of the Trump administration have been touting the line that the wildfires are worsened by poor land management, not climate change, effectively blaming state governments for the wildfire.
This ignores the fact that hundreds of thousands of acres that have been burned in the Western states this summer were on federal land, which is managed by the United States Forest Service, which is managed and funded by the federal government.
The vice president declined to offer any further explanation on whether fire crews or state and federal land management departments like the Washington State DNR or the USFS would receive more funding during these prolonged wildfire seasons.
While the debate covered a variety of important topics, none seemed more impactful to local voters than the conversation on climate change and disaster preparation.
“Nothing jumped out at me about either candidate,” said Finn Calvert, a fourth-year political science major at Western Washington University who worked with multiple local political campaigns, most recently for Satpal Sidhu’s successful bid for Whatcom County executive.
“To hear Pence accuse Harris of being anti-fracking, and then Harris insisting that they would never outlaw fracking, it makes me feel like nobody is representing the future,” Calvert added.
Other local prospective voters were just happy to not have to endure the shouting-match that was last week’s presidential debate, so much so that they had forgotten what the two vice presidential nominees talked about.
“Honestly, I was just relieved to see an argument about policy,” said Leslie Hay, a local small business-owner and lifelong independent voter.
“This was the only debate between those two, so no more civility after that,” Hay remarked.