Symposium | Revitalizing Political Leadership

Values-Driven Republicans: They Might Surprise You

By Sarah Hunt

Tagged Climate Changeconservativesvoting

A  number of Republican elected officials across the country are applying conservative values to complex governance challenges that are not commonly considered right-of-center issues. These topics include climate change, voting rights, and LGBTQ rights.

In Utah, for example, Representative John Curtis has proven himself a conservative clean energy leader. As chair of the Conservative Climate Caucus in the U.S. House, he pressed for bipartisan clean technology solutions, recognizing that his state’s vital tourism industry could suffer from climate change. The Conservative Climate Caucus, founded in 2021, now has 81 Republican members. The Rainey Center’s Leadership Alliance for a More Perfect Union boasts a network of lawmakers across the country who are committed to a conservative vision of governance and democracy. Many Republicans have bucked the party’s far right to work in a bipartisan manner on aid to Ukraine. And in 2022, 39 House Republicans and 12 Senate Republicans voted in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act to codify LGBTQ marriage rights.

These conservative leaders recognize contemporary governance challenges because they hear about them from their constituents. They successfully implement enduring solutions by taking an authentically conservative, values-driven approach that reflects the interests of their communities. This selection of brief case studies will show how three elected Republicans are engaging constructively on climate change, voting rights, and LGBTQ rights through the lens of their conservative principles.

Climate Change and Clean Energy Technology

Economic opportunity, national security, and the conservation ethos are three values that can guide conservatives in implementing climate and clean energy policy.

One of the most compelling reasons for conservative Republican officials to engage in climate-related policymaking is the vast economic opportunity presented by the transition to a clean tech economy. The clean energy sector is expanding, and new energy technologies, from renewables to advanced nuclear reactors, are offering communities new jobs and contributing to economic growth. States like Texas and Iowa have become leaders in wind energy and reaped enormous financial benefits, showcasing how embracing these new technologies can bolster local economies while diversifying the energy supply and cleaning up our air.

Climate change is also increasingly viewed as a national security issue. Due to resource scarcity, population displacement, and increased conflicts over water, oil, and arable land, even mild climate change has the potential to contribute to global instability. America’s dependence on foreign nations for energy resources, such as critical minerals and metals located in China, is another concern of conservative leaders supportive of deploying clean energy technologies. Many conservative officials who care about maintaining national security recognize the importance of mitigating climate change and reducing American reliance on foreign energy resources to ensure global stability and protect national interests.

Finally, conservation has long been a part of conservative philosophy, embodied by figures like Theodore Roosevelt, who created America’s National Park System. Many conservative voters are rural farmers and ranchers who understand the necessity of caring for the land; others are hunters and fishers with an interest in proper wildlife management. The principle of stewarding natural resources for future generations resonates with many conservatives who advocate for responsible management of the environment to preserve the nation’s natural heritage.

Case Study: Delegate Daniel Linville, West Virginia

Daniel Linville is a conservative Republican in West Virginia’s House of Delegates who was declared the 2024 “legislator of the year” by the West Virginia Coal Association. He is also an advocate for clean technology and clean energy, having successfully worked to bring several green projects to the Mountain State, including Nucor Steel’s carbon-neutral steel recycling plant, Form Energy’s battery manufacturing plant, and Clean Vision’s hydrogen manufacturing facility, which produces hydrogen from plastic waste.

Linville is committed to bringing clean industry to his state because he believes in clean air, clean water, conservation, and creating good jobs. While concern about climate change itself is not the primary driver of his interest in clean tech and clean energy deployment, he argues that creating new economic opportunities and industry should go hand in hand with having a healthy environment—especially when new technologies significantly reduce waste and pollution from manufacturing and energy production.

Voter Access and Election Administration

The public’s trust in elections, demographic changes, and the importance of local control are three reasons why some conservative Republican leaders are working positively across the country to improve our democracy through voting reform and better election administration. Their priorities include securing our voting system to restore confidence and expanding pro-voter policies like faster ballot counting and the use of technology to streamline voter registration.

Ensuring the integrity of elections and maintaining voter trust are fundamental to a functioning democracy. By promoting transparent and efficient election administration, conservative officials can reinforce public confidence in the democratic process.

As the demographic makeup of the United States continues to evolve, many Republican officials are increasingly aware of the need to engage with a broader electorate. As America has become more diverse, so have both major parties’ coalitions. Recent polling, for example, has former President Donald Trump receiving support from African American, Latino, and LGBTQ voters at unheard-of levels that are significantly higher than past contemporary Republican presidential nominees. Ensuring fair voter access and addressing the concerns of diverse communities can help broaden the party’s appeal and ensure its competitiveness in future elections.

Many conservative leaders value the principle of local governance and the idea that most policy decisions, including election administration, should be tailored to meet the specific needs of local communities. By advocating for each state’s right to manage its electoral processes, they can implement the most effective solutions for their constituents while adhering to federal standards for fairness and accessibility.

Case Study: Secretary of State Michael Adams, Kentucky

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams is a tried-and-true conservative Republican. Before public service, he was an elections lawyer whose prestigious clients included the Republican Governors Association. He was elected promising to make voting more efficient while modernizing and cleaning up Kentucky’s election administration to make it more secure. “[Voters] want to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” he says, and his belief in clean elections, responsibly administered, informs his work.

As secretary of state, Adams implemented changes that made it so easy for Kentuckians to vote that they voted in record numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Adams and his team increased voter access in Kentucky by expanding absentee and early voting, things Republicans generally oppose. During the pandemic, they launched voting supercenters in cities to make it easier for people to vote in a convenient location. Embracing technology, Adams implemented online ballot requests. And, despite primary challenges from candidates critical of his voter access expansion work, he easily won reelection in 2023, showing that Republican primary voters in his state appreciate expanded voter access. As a result of his efforts, he was recognized with the 2024 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

LGBTQ Rights

Valuing family formation and recognizing the need for fairness in economic considerations are principles that can inspire conservative elected leaders to support LGBTQ rights.

Marriage and family formation are traditional values and practices. Ensuring that all Americans can form a family and enter the institution of marriage is a win for traditional values, as marriage is the bedrock societal institution of Western civilization.

Discrimination against LGBTQ individuals can have negative economic implications, from deterring talented workers from residing in certain areas to harming the business climate and curtailing investment opportunities. By promoting policies that ensure equality and prevent discrimination, conservative officials can create a more economically vibrant environment that wisely includes all human capital. LGBTQ marriage equality also reduces the tax burden on LGBTQ couples and allows them to build wealth more easily through joint asset acquisition as a married couple

At the core of conservative philosophy is a strong emphasis on individual freedoms and rights. Some Republican officials support LGBTQ rights on this basis, advocating for the right of individuals to live their lives without undue government interference or discrimination.

Case Study: Commissioner Amelia Powers Gardner, Utah County, Utah

Commissioner Amelia Powers Gardner is a conservative Latter-day Saint with six children. During her time as Utah County Clerk, she developed a policy process that allows the County Clerk and auditor’s office to virtually license and conduct marriages, including international marriages. As a result, thousands of LGBTQ couples who cannot legally marry in their home country have been married over video chat by the Utah County Clerk’s office.

Powers Gardner was motivated to offer virtual marriage licensing by a desire to modernize government services and improve operational efficiency. Virtual marriage licenses are a financial boon for the county, too, as the licensing fees contribute over $1 million in revenue to Utah County coffers.

Like many Latter-day Saints, Powers Gardner believes strongly in religious freedom and personal liberty. “This idea that the government would interfere with religious ceremonies, or with the way that people live their lives—maybe it’s in my DNA, because that’s my ancestry, but it didn’t sit well with me,” she told Jewish Insider of her decision to implement a process that has allowed LGBTQ couples worldwide to marry. “I was very happy that we could find a way for people to be able to legitimize their families.”

From Conservative Values to Creative Solutions

The engagement of conservative Republican elected officials with issues like climate action, voter access, and LGBTQ rights may seem counterintuitive to progressives or partisan Democrats. Conservative values, however, do inspire policymakers to develop creative solutions for these modern issues. The case studies of Daniel Linville, Michael Adams, and Amelia Powers Gardner demonstrate a thoughtful approach to governance that considers economic realities, societal changes, and fundamental principles of conservatism. Their examples show how much potential there is for common-ground solutions that address controversial political issues while incorporating conservative principles.

These conservative leaders’ motivations for caring about and acting on such issues are multifaceted, ranging from economic considerations to national security concerns to a commitment to individual freedoms. How they navigate these topics while successfully creating jobs and administering essential government functions in their communities highlights the power of values-driven approaches in the dynamic universe that is policymaking in modern society.

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Sarah Hunt is the President of the Rainey Center and Director of Policy and Strategy at the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service at Arizona State University.

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