CLARKSVILLE — Much will be debatable between Republican Congressman Mike Sodrel and Democratic challenger Baron Hill in the months leading up to November’s election.

For now, the debate is simply over whether or not to hold a debate.

One time congressman-turned-challenger Hill is repeating his call to hold a debate on energy policy. Sodrel and company, meanwhile, are dismissing those calls as no more than a political stunt.

Sodrel and Hill are both vying for Indiana’s 9th district congressional seat.

Hill is simply trying to get the media’s attention, said Sodrel Chief of Staff Cam Savage.

Hill claims it’s all about the issue.

“This is not a political stunt,” Hill said, when asked about the claim. “We need to move this country off dependence on foreign oil.”

Whether it’s a genuine call to arms on an issue or a clever campaigning tactic — it is deja vu.

A similar storyline unfolded during a previous campaign between the two, only the roles were reversed.

Sodrel said he challenged Hill to numerous debates when he was the challenger. Sometimes Hill was too busy, other times he would agree, Sodrel said.

“I guess it depends on whether your buying or selling,” Sodrel quipped.

Hill even had a congressional aide show up to debate for him during the 2004 campaign, according to Savage.

Hill said he didn’t recall how many times Sodrel challenged him to a debate when he was a congressman, but noted that the two did get together to debate the issues a couple of times during the last election.

All this grumbling was kicked off by a Hill press conference Monday afternoon.

Standing in front of the gas pumps outside of Kraft Marathon Service Station in Clarksville, Hill said it’s time for he and Sodrel to hold a debate on energy policy issues. The former congressman criticized Sodrel for calling current gas prices anything less than “a crisis” situation.

The Hill campaign has been showing off an interview in which Sodrel told Indianapolis’ WTHR-TV that gas prices may not be an issue in November.

“He’s lost touch in no time flat,” Hill told reporters Monday.

But Sodrel defended his statement.

“Frankly we don’t know that far out,” he said. “Prices have gone down in some place by 10 to 15 cents per gallon. I don’t know if we’re going to call it a crisis.”

He admitted, however, “it is going to have a ripple effect through our entire economy.”

Sodrel voted in favor of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which he touts as an investment in coal technologies, biodesiel, ethanol and soybean supplements. Critics claim the act is no more than an a give away to the energy companies. The act provides a number of production incentives for those companies.

Sodrel also voted in favor of the Gasoline For Americas Security Act, which provides for the construction of new refineries in the U.S. Critics of that act said it increased dependence on oil, instead of moving towards alternative sources of fuel.

Sodrel said he voted for the act because gasoline production has to be addressed in the short-term.

“You can’t put America’s economy on No. 7 and roll the dice,” Sodrel said.

Gasoline is still going to be needed for the next couple of generations, he said.

There has been a wealth of energy legislation introduced since Sodrel took office.

The Fuel Price Fairness Act of 2005, which sought to put limits on gas prices, died in committee. Because the act never made it to a roll call vote, Sodrel did not have a chance to vote against it. Savage said he would have, calling the bill’s seven co-sponsors, “quazi-socialists.”

The Energy Consumer Relief Act of 2005 took a similar path. That bill sought to repeal tax incentives for energy companies following reports of windfall profits last year. The bill never made it to a vote.

Savage said Sodrel didn’t support the legislation because those tax incentives help energy companies with research and development, which would have supplemented America’s pinched oil and energy supply.

Sodrel did not comment on the two acts personally because he was unfamiliar with them.

The House did not devote as much legislation to energy policy during Hill’s tenure. With the exception of a few appropriations packages, few acts came to a roll call vote on the floor of the U.S. House.

During his first term, Hill voted for Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, which included biodesiel incentives for soybean farmers. The former congressman has received the endorsement of the League of Conservationist Voters, in part because of his promotion of ethanol.

During his second term, he voted in favor of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act of 2004, which made funding available for renewable energy development.

Hill said congress needs to more aggressive in finding alternative sources of fuel for transportation. Hill said he co-authored several bills during his two terms that sought to do just that. However, congressional record shows he’s never sponsored or co-sponsored energy legislation.

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