Arizona Sen. John McCain, who died Saturday, came to Fresno on June 23, 2008 as the Republican candidate running against then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for the White House. Here is The Bee’s account from the town hall meeting, written by former staff writer John Ellis:
Republican presidential candidate John McCain proposed Monday at a town hall meeting in Fresno that the U.S. establish a $300 million prize — representing one dollar for every U.S. resident, he said — for an automobile battery with the “size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog” commercially available hybrid or electric cars.
McCain also proposed tax credits for automakers that sell cars with reduced carbon emissions, offering up to $5,000 for zero-emissions cars.
The Arizona senator’s proposals came during a standing-room-only town hall meeting at Fresno State’s Satellite Student Union that focused on breaking the nation’s reliance on foreign oil.
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With gasoline pushing past the $4-a-gallon mark, the Arizona senator noted to the hundreds of people packed into the auditorium that 95 percent of U.S. transportation runs on oil, 25 percent of which comes from Venezuela and the Middle East.
“When we buy foreign oil from these and other sources, there are many consequences — all of them far-reaching and none of them good,” McCain said.
“Worst of all, by relying on foreign oil, we enrich bad actors in the world, some of whom finance terrorists.”
He called the $300 million government-subsidized prize “a small price to pay for helping to break the back of our oil dependency” and suggested the money for his proposals could come from eliminating wasteful pork projects and eliminating special-interest subsidies in the quest for oil alternatives.
But McCain’s appearance was more than merely a talk on energy independence.
He spent far more time answering questions — and it was obvious that some of those queries weren’t cleared by campaign staffers ahead of time.
One question came from Fresno resident Camille Russell, who asked McCain when the U.S. will be out of the Iraq war.
“I can tell by your shirt that you have a different view than I do,” McCain told Russell, who was wearing a “Peace Fresno” T-shirt.
Russell later was seen among about three dozen protesters who greeted McCain’s motorcade outside the Radisson Hotel in downtown Fresno, where he attended a fundraiser.
After some murmurs of discontent about Russell’s question, McCain said the town hall was about taking all questions — even from those who disagreed with his positions.
Russell later said she appreciated that McCain was “genuine and open,” and she said she agreed with about 25 percent of what he said. But when asked what she thought of his answers, she said: “He’s not going to get my vote.”
Overall, McCain showed wit and charm — and not a whiff of temper — as he answered questions on energy independence, the Iraq war, abortion, how to win over young voters, affordable health care and other issues.
McCain also took a few jabs at his likely Democratic opponent this November: Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. He chastised Obama for not opposing a rare medical procedure widely known as partial-birth abortion and for not agreeing to joint appearances at more town hall meetings, such as Monday’s at Fresno State.
Introduced by former CIA director James Woolsey, who is advising the campaign, McCain made a reference to Fresno State’s ongoing success in the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
McCain said he “fully expected” the Arizona State Sun Devils — from his home state — to be playing in Omaha, but they were defeated by the Fresno State Bulldogs. “Congratulations to a dark-horse team,” McCain said.
In a news conference afterward, McCain wouldn’t specifically say he wanted Fresno resident and longtime supporter Bill Jones in his Cabinet. But he did say he wanted California’s former secretary of state somewhere in his administration.
“I rely on him a great deal,” McCain said of Jones.
McCain cast himself as a senator from a Western state who understands issues such as water, agriculture and immigration. As such, he said, “I believe we can win here in the state of California.”
McCain may be able to tout to Californians some of his stances on environmental issues.
Although he backs lifting the prohibition on drilling in the nation’s coastal waters, he emphasized Monday that any final decision should be up to individual states.
But when pressed, he said he would prefer that states allow it.
Obama opposes the idea.
McCain also opposes oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “It’s a refuge, which makes it a unique part of America,” he said at the news conference.
It’s those kind of statements that make Republican voters like Cecily Cassiman question whether McCain is conservative enough.
The Lemoore resident and Fresno State student, who attended the town hall meeting while nursing a broken ankle, is supporting McCain — but reluctantly. “I am going to vote for him,” she said. “I wish I had another choice.”
But some, like Fresno resident Michael Kaser, are strong advocates of McCain. The 28-year-old Fresno resident entered the Satellite Student Union to find a sign on his chair in support of McCain. He enthusiastically picked it up and said he was solidly behind the GOP’s candidate.
“Chump change Obama can’t cut it,” he said.