Saturday, September 23, 2017
Common Ground Country Fair
The Trump administration and its allies are pursuing the most aggressive environmental rollbacks in U.S. history. Attacks on federal laws that protect our climate, public lands, air and water as well as attacks on the agencies that administer these laws could set us back decades. These threats, if implemented, would cause serious harm nationwide and would be particularly damaging for states such as Maine, where our environment and economy are tightly intertwined.
How can Mainers fight back? At the 2017 teach-in organized by MOFGA’s Public Policy Committee and moderated by Nancy Ross at the Common Ground Country Fair, three experts offered solutions. A video of the teach-in is posted at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4VDA4tw-54.
Emmie Theberge, federal project director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), explained key environmental issues at the state and federal levels. She said that NRCM is focusing on such rollbacks as cuts to the EPA budget and staff. A lot of those funding resources come to states such as Maine through our Department of Environmental Protection – already worn down by the LePage administration. Cuts may harm programs that protect Maine’s lakes, water quality, clean air, beaches, drinking water, and more.
Under the Obama administration, the Clean Water Rule was established to help protect the smaller streams, tributaries and wetlands that feed into the larger rivers and lakes – where a lot of Maine drinking water comes from, said Theberge. The Trump administration wants to roll back that rule through the EPA and in Congress. Let your senators and representatives know that you oppose that rollback, she advised.
Regarding the national monuments, Secretary Zinke reviewed a number of national monuments, and we’re waiting to hear his final recommendations, said Theberge. Among some 260,000 public comments regarding the Katahdin Woods and Waters monument, fewer than 100 were in opposition.
In 2012 the Obama administration improved fuel economy standards for cars, she continued. Now the Trump administration wants to “re-review” to try to roll back those standards. Maine has high rates of asthma – aggravated by air pollution coming from local sources and from out of state.
Theberge said to check in with NRCM and Maine Conservation Voters to follow these and other issues.
Why and How You Should Run for Office
Senator Shenna Bellows (D-Manchester) spoke about how to run for office at the state and federal levels. Bellows represents 11 towns in southern Kennebec County. She serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee and owns Bellows & Company, a nonprofit consulting firm.
A former Peace Corps and AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, Bellows was Maine’s 2014 Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. Before that she was executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. She was a key leader of the successful 2012 ballot campaign to pass same sex marriage in Maine, and she co-chaired a successful 2011 statewide ballot campaign to expand voting rights.
Bellows said that one of her favorite moments in the 2014 campaign was when her friend’s young daughter, after watching a debate between Bellows and Sen. Susan Collins, asked, “Mommy, can only women be senators?”
“I think a fundamental question that we have to ask ourselves and our country,” said Bellows, “is what do we want our politics to look like? Who do we want our children and our grandchildren to see in office? For me, it is more women, more environmentalists, more people who believe in science and the fact that climate change is a real and immediate threat to our world, more farmers and people who respect and care for our land and our water and our air. That is the number one reason I think you should run for office.”
To make that decision, she said to first think about your story. “There is no linear path to serving in public office. Everyone’s story is unique and brings something important to public service and public life.”
She grew up in Hancock, a small town near Acadia National Park, without electricity or running water until she was in the fifth grade. Her father was a carpenter. “Economic and environmental justice were huge motivations in running for office,” she said. “I’m not wealthy. I worked in nonprofits for my entire career.” She decided to run for U.S. Senate when Susan Collins voted for a budget bill in Congress that would have defunded Planned Parenthood.
Then, when she was working on the Marriage Equality Campaign, she helped found Republicans for the Freedom to Marry – “even though I’m a Democrat – because we needed a bipartisan campaign of support for marriage equality.” The campaign invited Collins to join, and she declined. “I thought, somebody should run against her,” said Bellows.
Finally, when the ACLU brought a bill before the Maine legislature to require a warrant before law enforcement can access your email or phone records, a reporter asked, “Isn’t the real problem with the federal level?”
“That’s when I decided to run for U.S. Senate,” said Bellows.
To form a campaign, she said to ask yourself, “What is your story? Who are you? Where do you come from? What are your values? What’s really important to you?”
Running for office gives you a microphone and venues with crowds as small as five or as large as 500 in Maine; so think about what you want to say about climate change, monuments, clean water and clean air; what you’d like to achieve. “This is the hardest thing, because those achievements can be incremental; they can be defensive (to stop bad things from getting worse). What is your vision for the world you would like to see?”
Then pick your race, said Bellows. “Think about your sphere of influence and what makes you most passionate, because running for office is not easy, and serving in office is not always fun either.” If you believe that young people aren’t learning about climate change or evolution or ecology in school, run for school board. Often those seats are uncontested, and school board members make decisions about what our children are learning – and about budgets; about what departments are being cut or eliminated.
If you care about local wetlands and wildlife, run for planning board. “My mom was an early inspiration for public service for me,” said Bellows, “because in the early ‘80s the bald eagle was endangered. There was a bald eagle nest in our town, and a proposed development that was going to destroy that habitat, so my mom ran for planning board – and the board stopped that development. For me as a child, that was an enormous lesson in the power of public service to make a positive difference.”
Select board or town council members decide overall municipal budgets. “My father was on the select board for about 20 years – because, again, no one else wanted to do it. At these local levels, we need good people to get involved because our local officials are making key decisions about our local environment.”
State Legislature is easier than people think, said Bellows. Maine has public financing through the Maine Clean Elections Act. You can run for office as a publicly funded candidate by collecting $5 each from your friends and neighbors in your town to qualify. Then you don’t have to spend time raising money but can talk to voters instead.
If you are passionate about what is happening at the federal level, run for Congress. “Open seats in Maine’s congressional delegation don’t come along very often,” Bellows noted. Our two members of Congress and two senators are extraordinarily influential in the country. “But running, even if you don’t win, gives you a platform to move the conversation on issues that you care about. Susan Collins had not endorsed marriage equality when I ran for U.S. Senate, but she really wanted the human rights endorsement. I came out as a leading proponent of marriage equality, so she endorsed marriage equality.”
Consider the four Fs of running, Bellows continued – family, financing, field and fun.
Running for office is a 24/7 job, so find out what works with your family in terms of time, finances and other support.
Bellows recommended the public financing route for state Legislature. No public financing is available yet for running for Congress or even local offices, so create a campaign budget and think about how you’ll raise that money. Progressive, environmental donors and organizations will help with fundraising, she said.
Regarding field, “I knocked on 10,000 doors for my state Senate seat. You recruit volunteers to drive you and then knock on doors, introduce yourself and say, ‘What are you most passionate about?’ Ten thousand doors takes thousands of hours, but it can be done. I think that conversation – friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor – is what we need to do to build the resistance and to win our country back. Until we start talking with people with whom we disagree or people who may be undecided or ill informed, until we start having conversations and really listening to them, we’re not going to see the national change that we need.”
Politics is not that much fun, said Bellows. “We’re living in a really dark time. We have days and weekends like this that offer hope. We’re among people who want to save the earth, to do better. We’re investing in solar and limiting waste and finding more sustainable agricultural practices to feed our communities. But the national and state level news can be extraordinarily depressing. When you’re serving in office and you see decisions get made behind closed doors for all of the wrong reasons, when you see that corporate lobbyists sometimes do have more influence than the amazing environmental lobby, that can be heartbreaking and really difficult.”
To counter the darkness, incorporate some fun in your campaign. “I walked from Houlton to Kittery” for a unique, rewarding, meaningful experience. “When I ran for state senate, I looked for events such as a local bird walk that I could participate in as a candidate but that would also feed my soul.”
Bellows said that remarkable political training opportunities exist, including a Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Emerge Maine, which recruits, trains and inspires Democratic women to run for office. “I did a lot of training before I ran for office.”
Make Yourself Heard
Beth Ahearn of Freeport talked about how to make your voice heard by state and federal legislators and how to present testimony and lobby in person.
Ahearn, with a J.D. from the University of Maine, is on the staff of Maine Conservation Voters. She has been a whitewater rafting guide, a sailing instructor, an assistant district attorney in Cumberland and Androscoggin counties, and staff attorney for Maine Audubon. From 2000 to 2005 she represented the best interests of children as a guardian ad litem in custody cases. Most recently Ahearn was a lobbyist with Moose Ridge Associates, where her clients included conservation, social justice and domestic violence organizations.
Ahearn encouraged fairgoers to reach out to their state and federal legislators, who are doing service for Mainers. “State legislators get paid essentially nothing for putting in many, many hours and working very hard,” she said. “The only people that they want to hear from are constituents. Legislators say to me if they hear from three to four constituents on a bill, that’s a lot.” You can find your legislators at Maineconservationvoters.org.
Ahearn reiterated Bellows’ message that we are living in dire times, but, she added, “we get Trump because we’ve had LePage for seven years. We’re coaching states around the country on how to deal with this sort of personality.”
She noted a few bright spots this legislative session. “The governor vetoes everything we care about on the environment, but this year we were able to override his vetoes four-fifths of the time. We now [after five years of work] have the strongest mineral mining protections in the country.
“We are the first state in the country to ban flame retardants in upholstered furniture. Firefighters led on that bill … LePage vetoed that, but the legislature overrode him because they realized Mainers want to protect firefighters. You make the difference.”
Susan Collins, initially unsure about climate change, has become a believer and understands what’s happening in Maine with climate change – “because she’s heard from many of you.”
State legislators list their cell phone numbers publicly and are happy to meet with you in your town or when you come to Augusta. Federal legislators can be slower to respond, “but I’ve been in their offices when they are counting phone calls. Keeping the pressure on helps our legislators do the right thing.”
Q. Is it worth calling senators outside one’s state?
Ahearn said yes.
Bellows said that she was getting a lot of pressure from the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine on the opposite side of a bill from her sentiment. When constituents from her district contacted her supporting her viewpoint, “That was extraordinarily helpful. It gives your representatives the courage to be even fiercer fighters.” With that in mind, we need Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Edward Markey from Massachusetts to be bold, she said. “Reaching out to people with whom you agree is as important as reaching out to people with whom you disagree,” said Bellows.
Theberge said that federal legislators want to hear from their constituents. “As we’re trying to influence decision makers, we want to have quality comments. That might be somebody who’s close to that decision maker or somebody who’s an expert on the issue that’s happening.” We also want volume, she added – rallies, petitions, phone calls. “So there are opportunities for you to find a way to participate, even when you’re trying to influence decision makers who aren’t your own. Less so with petitions, because [legislators] want to see that they’re actually [signed by] their constituents, but you can show up for a rally.”
Ahearn said that you don’t have to know a lot about a subject; you just have to let legislators know how you feel about it. She offered these lobbying tips: Introduce yourself and let [the legislator] know that you are a constituent; share a personal connection if you have it; be respectful and polite; plan to listen as much as you talk; stay on good terms because they might be with you on another issue – relationships matter, particularly in a small state; make a specific ask and stay focused on your goal. Say, “Will you support LD …” and then wait for an answer. “It makes legislators very uncomfortable, but that’s what you’re there for and what they’re there for.” She said to explain why an issue matters to you and to always tell the truth. “If you don’t know the answer, let the legislator know you’ll get back to them.” Don’t send form letters to legislators; they want to hear from constituents in their own words. Always thank them for talking with you.
Q. How do we make sure ranked choice voting happens?
Bellows, an advocate for this campaign, said that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that ranked choice voting could be unconstitutional, so there was an effort to amend the constitution of Maine, which happens routinely, but the two-thirds vote of the Legislature needed to pass it did not happen. A counter effort, seeking a full repeal of what voters wanted, also failed “because those of us who care about ranked choice voting were able to defeat that.”
If nothing happens in the Legislature, we will have ranked choice voting in the next election, said Bellows. If that happens and then a losing candidate were to sue and to say that the outcome was unconstitutional, that could throw the state into a little chaos. One option, she continued, is to have it for primaries and for federal elections in Maine – which is constitutional. Suspension and repeal efforts are still on the table. “If you care about ranked choice voting,” said Bellows, “that is definitely an issue where there is a lot of doubt in the Legislature right now. This is where your voice absolutely will determine the outcome.”
Q. What do you do about appointed officials who have huge influence over federal legislation and policy?
A. Ahearn said “the answer to that is, how can we stop the Trump administration? It’s not going to happen in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Senate and the courts are our backstop. This is why Susan Collins has a target on her back all across the country because it’s the Susan Collinses in the Senate who can stop what Pruitt’s doing; because the EPA has to have a budget, which goes through both chambers of Congress. The Senate can stop a bad budget.”
Bellows said that neighbor-to-neighbor conversations and letters to the editor have to happen, since the general public in Maine may not understand what is happening. Also, post real news on social media. “I think people trust friends and family more than other objective sources. Help educate your own sphere.”
Ahearn noted that representatives pay a lot of attention to letters to the editor. On the federal level, they still have a clipping service, she said.
Q. Which is better: email or calling and leaving a message for staff?
Ahearn said to do both, if possible.
Q. It was disheartening to see the solar bill go so successfully through the Maine Legislature and then, after LePage’s veto, to see people change their vote during the veto override. Are they beholden to LePage for some reason?
Bellows said that party, unfortunately, is a hugely powerful motivator and that some toxic partisanship exists in Augusta. “We saw this on the budget when Republicans shut down the Maine government when we’re not having financial difficulties – the tax revenues are the highest they’ve ever been. What makes people not change their minds is when they see the consequences of that vote would be worse than adherence to the governor. We need to make our voices heard. Mainers are very polite. We tend to contact our legislator once and think, OK, I’ve done it. I don’t want to bother that person. Bother that person! Follow up after their vote and say, ‘I’m disappointed in you’ or ‘Thank you.’
“When you go to Augusta,” Bellows continued, “and you think you’re changing hearts and minds, and then they just do what the governor wants them to do, it’s tempting to want to go hide in the woods. I did not enjoy my first year in the Legislature, but I’m doing it because I feel called to do it; because I’m very concerned about the course that we’re on as a state and a nation.” She urged fairgoers to keep contacting their legislators.
Q. When legislators change their votes during the veto override, are their constituents puzzled?
Bellows cited the case of a Cumberland representative who voted against Land for Maine’s Future two years ago on a crucial override vote, and later on solar. People in Cumberland were upset, let all their friends and neighbors know, worked for someone to run against him, and that person won. “If you’re upset, create some flyers, pass them out, let everyone in your town know that that person didn’t have the guts to stick to their principles. Find someone to run against them. Maybe it’s you. Run and win. That’s how we make change.”
Theberge said that accountability is really important. “As important as making calls before a vote is following up, especially in a public way such as a letter to the editor.”
Ahearn agreed. Several people who flipped on solar last year did not flip this time because they got beaten up so badly in their district. She also noted that MCV publishes an accountability document that tells how legislators voted – and who flipped – on every environmental issue.
Emmie Theberge, federal project director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), will explain key environmental issues at the state and federal levels. Theberge has advocated through NRCM for nine years for climate and clean energy solutions in Maine and has mobilized Maine people’s involvement. Since Trump’s inauguration, she has led NRCM work addressing the critical environmental issues at play in Washington, D.C. The Trump administration and its allies in Congress are pursuing the most aggressive environmental rollbacks in U.S. history. Theberge works with NRCM members and partners to defend America’s environmental safeguards and to ensure that Maine’s elected officials in D.C. stand up for Maine’s environment.
Senator Shenna Bellows (D-Manchester) will speak about how to run for office at the state and federal levels. “We need more good people of conscience to run for office!” she says, adding, “Let’s put the people and principles back into politics.”
Bellows represents 11 towns in southern Kennebec County. She serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee and owns Bellows & Company, a nonprofit consulting firm.
Bellows was the 2014 Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Maine. Before that she was executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. She was a key leader of the successful 2012 ballot campaign to pass same sex marriage in Maine, and she co-chaired a successful 2011 statewide ballot campaign to expand voting rights.
A former volunteer with the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps VISTA, Bellows lives with her husband, Brandon, in Manchester.
Beth Ahearn will coach about how to make your voice heard – i.e., how to best contact state and federal legislators and how to present testimony and lobby in person.
Ahearn joined the staff of Maine Conservation Voters in 2012 after working as the MCV contract lobbyist for the 2010 and 2011 legislative sessions. She has a lifelong commitment to protecting Maine’s air, land and water. She has been a whitewater rafting guide in The Forks and a sailing instructor on Penobscot Bay. She received her J.D. from the University of Maine in 1988, was an assistant district attorney in Cumberland and Androscoggin counties, and was staff attorney for Maine Audubon from 1991 to 1996. From 2000 to 2005 she represented the best interests of children as a guardian ad litem in custody cases. Most recently Ahearn was a lobbyist with Moose Ridge Associates, where her clients included conservation, social justice and domestic violence organizations. She lives with her family in Freeport.
Moderator Nancy Ross, formerly executive director of MOFGA, is professor emerita of environmental policy at Unity College and adjunct faculty in political science at Southern Maine Community College. She is a member of MOFGA’s Public Policy Committee.