SANDERS COLUMN: Election driving gas prices?

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 29, 2006

I couldn&8217;t believe the gas (gasoline) prices. Regular gas was nearly $3-a-gallon. This was early August. I said, &8220;Something has got to be done.&8221; I didn&8217;t count on the potential power of the vote.

About 10 days later, I pulled into a service station. Gas prices had fallen 10 cents a gallon. I was so glad that I did not even consider the cause. In the joy of the moment, the potential power of the vote completely escaped me.

Over the next few days, gas prices fell another 10 cents a gallon. I was overjoyed.

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I was also thankful, not just for my own situation, but for all motorists, especially those who struggled when gas was half the price. I&8217;m involved with voting on virtually every level, but its power in forging this moment didn&8217;t even dawn on me.

A few days later, I pulled into a service station and gas prices had fallen another 10 or so cents. That was about thirty cents a gallon in a matter of weeks. Then the connection to the vote hit me. I was not absolutely certain in my own mind, but I felt like the coming November General Election was the moving force in the falling gas prices.

Gas prices started falling almost exactly three months to the day before the November General Election. Various opinion polls have documented gas prices as one of the central factors driving the electorate in the election. As gas prices have fallen, the favorable ratings of President George Bush have risen as well as the prospect for keeping the U.S. House and Senate in Republican control.

Hold on now. I am not charging a grand conspiracy between Republicans and Big Oil. I do believe that Big Oil wants to keep Republicans in control of the national government, and have acted accordingly. I understand why. Tyson Slocum, an expert on oil and gasoline prices, testified before the U.S. Congress that since President George Bush entered office in 2001, the top five oil companies in the U.S. have achieved record profits of $342.4 billion.

A few more days passed. Gas prices fell another 10 or so cents per gallon. I was almost certain that the power of the vote was at work. We were now 60 days before the November 7th general election, and gas prices had fallen nearly 50 cents a gallon.

In a meeting with several electric cooperatives leaders, I asked if natural gas prices were going down. The answer was &8220;No.&8221; Then one of them said, &8220;Gasoline prices are indeed going down. Have you noticed that the price of diesel fuel is not going down the same way?&8221;

I had not noticed, but I began to notice. Diesel is still $2.63 per gallon. Over the last month it has dropped about 29 cents per gallon while regular gas has fallen about 54 cents per gallon, almost twice the rate. How could gas prices go down so much more than diesel when both are manufactured from the same oil? To my way of thinking, diesel only impacts a relatively small percentage of voters, while gas prices affect virtually every voter.

Just to double check myself, I decided to follow the money. I discovered that more than 80 percent of Big Oil&8217;s political contributions go to national Republican leaders. Less than 20 percent go to Democrats. Exxon Mobil, the largest oil company in the world, gives 90 percent of its contributions to national Republicans. Our money usually follows our interests.

I heard one explanation suggesting that the falling gas prices occurred because the hurricane season was not as bad as anticipated.

We are still in the hurricane season, which runs from June 1st &045; November 30. It appears to me that the voting season has far more impact on gas prices than the hurricane season.

Because I could be wrong, I hesitated to write about this subject. However, it brings together two subjects that impact us all: gas prices and voting. I almost wrote when I saw gas at $2.12 a gallon. I came closer when CNN ran an analysis on oil and gas prices. Its experts said the same thing I&8217;m saying: the coming election is the reason gas prices are going down and will rise again after the election. When I saw where one gas station had the price below $2.00 ($1.969) per gallon, I had to write.

I invite you to watch gas prices with me as the election draws near.

Will they continue to fall? After the election, I want you to continue watching the prices with me. Will they start rising again? If they keep falling before the election and rise after the election, you and I will know that the potential power of the vote in the November General Election was strongly at work.