Paul Gosar lost his Natural Resources seat. Will it matter?

By Emma Dumain, Jael Holzman | 01/11/2022 06:36 AM EST

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) on Capitol Hill. Francis Chung/E&E News

For years, as Rep. Paul Gosar cemented his status as one of the far-right’s most reliable torchbearers on Capitol Hill, the Arizona Republican was also carving out a niche in the policy realm of natural resources.

The last 12 months, however, have turned Gosar into a pariah on the issues that once allowed him to transcend his reputation as an ideologue. That shift could complicate his political standing in the future.

Last year, Democrats sidelined him from legislation he had long championed that would promote renewable energy on public lands after he repeatedly sympathized with the violent rioters who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 (E&E Daily, June 8, 2021).

Advertisement

Later that year, Democrats stripped him of his committee assignments after he posted to social media an animated video depicting him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and attacking President Biden.

The loss of committee assignments includes his seat on the House Natural Resources Committee, where he has been active. The panel frequently debates matters of importance to his district (E&E Daily, Nov. 17, 2021).

For Gosar, once the face of conservative mining policy and permitting reform as chair of the Congressional Western Caucus, the fallout from the incident was a steep fall from grace. Some in industries that he has long championed, like mining, have turned a cold shoulder to him.

“I find his tone and I find his approach unconstructive and embarrassing,” said Emily Hersh, CEO of Luna Lithium, a junior mining company. “He quite frankly paints an easy target on the back of companies like myself, who are trying to advance mining projects. It’s very difficult to defend, and it’s not necessary.”

Now that he is unable to weigh in on legislation at the committee level, will any of it matter to voters in the November election? After all, there is recent precedent in former Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who lost his coveted seat on the Agriculture Committee and then lost a primary challenge after making racist remarks.

“No,” Gosar said in a lengthy written statement to E&E News. “They care that I keep my word and fight for America First policies. They know I do.”

Stan Barnes, a former local office holder and political consultant in Arizona, agreed with that assessment. He argued that voters in the newly drawn 9th District, a Republican stronghold, are more interested in his endorsement from former President Trump than his committee assignments.

“Among the general electorate, he is not known for his policy expertise. He is known for being an outspoken conservative member of the House,” Barnes explained, adding that in a 2022 election cycle consumed by “Trump politics, Covid politics, Democrat-controlled-Washington politics, Joe Biden politics … whether or not he’s sitting on a key committee that Arizona in general cares about is not on scale.”

But this apathy may not hold true in 2024, depending on whether Democrats retain control of the House and who ends up running for president.

Chuck Coughlin, another veteran political operative in Arizona, noted Gosar will be representing a district that runs the entire length of the state’s share of the Colorado River: ground zero for some of the most-fought debates over water rights, sales, storage and usage.

“That congressman should have an oversize rule in shaping Arizona’s water policies as it relates to the Colorado River and how that interacts with the federal government,” Coughlin said.

Two years from now, he continued, if another Republican with strong local standing and name recognition stands up and says to Gosar, “‘You’re not delivering, you’re not important on water, you’re not helping the state on water issues,’ it will become an issue.”

A ‘critical’ figure

The closest comparison to Gosar’s predicament could be that of former Rep. King, the Iowa Republican who was kicked off his committees in 2019 after questioning in a New York Times article how and why the term “white supremacy” was offensive.

One of those committees was Agriculture, and members of the farming community in King’s district were livid they no longer had representation on the key panel.

King’s GOP challenger, current Rep. Randy Feenstra, seized on King’s marginalization within the GOP and his removal from the Agriculture panel. He defeated King in the 2020 primary.

In Gosar’s case, however, there has been no such outrage: no formidable Republican candidates emerging to challenge Gosar for his seat, no local press articles in which concerned constituents and industries are sounding the alarm bells. Nor is there a serious Democratic challenger entering the fray.

Indeed, the Arizona Democratic Party believes the loss of the committees will matter less to voters than Gosar’s other actions, like “tr[ying] to block tax cuts for working families and aid for small businesses, and vot[ing] against a popular bipartisan infrastructure package that’s going to be a game-changer for our state,” according to rapid response director Hannah Goss.

That’s not because he hasn’t been a key player in his areas of expertise. Like King, Gosar was for many years successful in fostering a dual identity as a conservative ideologue and a policy warrior who delivered results for his district.

On the Natural Resources Committee, he was once chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources and the top Republican on the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. He was also vice-chair of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Interior, as it was then known.

In 2014, then-President Obama signed into law legislation from Gosar. The bill resolved a long-standing water dispute in Arizona between an American Indian tribe and a major mining company (E&E Daily, Dec. 3, 2014).

In 2019, five Gosar bills promoting economic growth and conservation on Arizona public lands were enacted as part of a broad, bipartisan lands package that permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

And as chair of the Western Caucus from 2016 through 2020, he won praise from the Arizona Farm Bureau for helping secure a Trump administration rewrite of the Obama-era regulation relating to the waters of the United States, or WOTUS.

From this post, Gosar also maintained a particular eye toward Arizona’s active mining industry. He advocated for then-President Trump to set up policies to secure the nation’s “critical minerals,” a set of minerals considered vital for national defense purposes.

He fought for the uranium mining industry and lobbied for uranium — a fuel mineral needed for nuclear energy but largely produced by American allies — to be added to the government’s list of critical minerals.

Gosar led House debate in opposition to an attempt by House Democrats to create a statutory ban on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.

He even waded in to help mining startups, like a Canadian battery recycling company trying to transform a legacy waste site in his district into a modern manganese stockpile for the U.S. military.

"Prior to these latest debacles … he was the most productive member of Congress on these issues,” Coughlin reflected. “I’ve talked to people [in Arizona] who’ve said, ‘Prior to Gosar being put in the woodshed here, he was a very credible person to co-sponsor bills and get things done.’”

Split allegiances

In his statement, Gosar insisted he has burned no bridges with the mining industry specifically.

“My personal experience is that the mining industry supports me and works with me,” he said. “You would have to be a pretty dim bulb to make the far left your friends if you are in the mining industry.”

Scott Melbye, the head of the Uranium Producers of America, said it’s hard to talk about critical minerals without bringing up an ally like Gosar.

“If you have mining operations in your district, you understand the importance of it to the economy," Melbye said. “I’ll leave it to others to comment on all the other political infighting between Democrats and Republicans on a personal level. We’ve found him to be very, very supportive.”

However, Gosar’s fire-breathing politics have led to tensions elsewhere in the mining industry, frustrating some executives who say they are tired of being asked about his controversies.

“It is not a productive use of my time to have to defend my industry, or educate people about my industry, and have to address his behavior while doing that,” said Hersh, the CEO of Luna Lithium.

Gosar’s time in the wilderness might ultimately be short-lived: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has left the door wide open to reinstating the congressman’s committee assignments, and Gosar has no doubts this is the plan.

“Every Republican on the Committee right now is merely keeping a seat warm,” Gosar asserted in his statement to E&E News. “Once we retake the House next year, I will be back on the Committee, and in the majority.”

In the meantime, Gosar has more time to make YouTube videos set to techno music celebrating “Mineral Mondays”.

And in the event Democrats maintain control of the House in 2023, it will also be difficult for Gosar to pull off any comeback without Democratic partners.

Last year, Gosar was taken off as the lead sponsor of H.R. 3326, the "Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act," or "PLREDA," legislation he has championed through four previous Congresses.

His Democratic partner, Rep. Mike Levin of California, said Gosar’s involvement on the bipartisan bill would taint its prospects for passage after his posture surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection.

‘Little practical difference’

Gosar’s relationships with other Democrats, who might have in the past been inclined to help shepherd shared priorities through the Democratic-controlled Congress, have also suffered.

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), a senior member of the Natural Resources Committee who used to consider Gosar a personal friend despite their political differences, advocated for Gosar’s removal from the panel (E&E Daily, Jan. 7, 2020).

In his statement, Gosar brushed off strained professional relationships, saying he would not work with Democratic “turncoats” who don’t “believe in election integrity, or the Constitution and the Electoral Count Act.”

He disputed characterizations that he’s been sidelined from policymaking as a result of being kicked off Natural Resources.

“I am in touch regularly with minority committee staff,” he said, adding that, as chair of the Nuclear Energy Caucus, he is “plan[ning] a major push to gain members and educate other members about the need to expand our nuclear energy grid.”

Also, he argued, committees don’t matter much to Republicans these days, anyway.

On his congressional bio page, Gosar even notes that while he used to serve on the committees, "truth be told, the [D]emocrats are running the committee hearings in such a fashion that the Republican voices are muted and make no difference in any bill or policy discussion."

In his statement to E&E News, Gosar echoed that sentiment: "Being on or off this committee makes little practical difference.”

Suggested Articles