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The People’s House

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The recent images of the Trump insurrection – while not surprising – are deeply disturbing, so I thought I’d share a more positive frame and memory.

The photo above was taken during a spring 2009 tour of the Capitol for “NJ Environmental Leaders” sponsored by my friend NJ Congressman Rush Holt.

As I recall, we toured the Capitol and attended a luncheon with Holt and recently installed Obama administration officials involved with environmental and climate policy. Expectations for the Obama administration were very high, but soon to be dashed.

The event was coordinated by Obama White House Climate and Energy staffer Heather Zichal. For Zichal’s full bio, see:

I met Zichal when, as a Rutgers student, she worked as a volunteer with the Political Committee of Sierra Club’ NJ Chapter, and then for NJ Congressmen Holt and Pallone, Senator Kerry’s presidential campaign and then the Obama 2008 campaign.

The NJ Chapter endorsed Holt in the 1998 race for NJ’s 12th Congressional District. Zichal played a role in that decision, which was unusual because it departed from Sierra Club’s national policy, which strongly favored endorsement of incumbents, especially pro-environment moderate Republicans. Holt was running against one term moderate pro-environment Republican Frank Pappas.

I was Acting Director of NJ Sierra Chapter at that time and led the Trenton press conference (in Senate annex) when Sierra announced the Holt endorsement. Holt thanked the Club and made brief remarks.

I first met Holt – who lived in Hopewell Valley and was involved with the local watershed group – during the mid 1990’s controversial land use debates in Hopewell Valley involving the 3.5 million square foot Merrill Lynch Scotch Road project,  the Trenton-ELSA-Hopewell sewer line, and the expansion of the Bristol Myers Squibb facility, which was located just south of Holt’s house. I also lived in Hopewell at the time.

Sierra volunteers convinced Holt – our Holt convinced them – that the politics of fighting sprawl development and advocating the protection of water resources were very politically popular.

Holt’s leadership on those issues played a huge role in his Sierra endorsement and later may have been the deciding factor in his upset win in a Republican leaning suburban swing district.

I think the 2009 luncheon address was by a US Navy official, who spoke about climate as a national security threat.

The one thing I distinctly recall from that luncheon was a question I asked during Q&A.

At the time, the Obama campaign was widely praised for its savvy use of Digital organizing and social media as an organizing tool. They had assembled large lists, including environmental activists.

Probing that success, I specifically asked Ms. Zichal if the Obama White House would continue to use those lists to cultivate grassroots support for their climate policies, which were expected to face strong opposition in Congress.

Zichal’s reply was stunning: she flat out told me and the crowd that there were no plans to conduct that kind of political operation and that as far as she knew, the entire social media campaign infrastructure had been abandoned.

I was – to put it mildly – shocked.

That was when I first knew for sure – long before it became obvious with the selection of Lisa Jackson as EPA Administrator, the “all of the above” energy policy, and the half assed effort to pass a cap and trade bill – that Obama was not serious and his rhetoric was nowhere near his actual policy.

At the time, my negative assessment was very poorly received in virtually all quarters.

Sadly, even now, some of my fellow “NJ environmental leaders” never came to share that assessment.

[End notes:

1. As a Sierra professional, I was not involved in Sierra endorsement decisions (they are made by the volunteers). In hindsight, it would have been much better for Sierra to support Holt’s prior 1996 Democratic Primary challenger Carl Meyer of nearby Princeton, who was far more progressive.

I also knew Carl Meyer, who I met before I came to Sierra during the victorious debates over the proposed Mercer County garbage incinerator. I think Carl later was part of the legal team with Chris Hedges in challenging the NDA.

2. Of course, with respect toThe People’s House and speaking of Princeton, there is this political fact:

When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.

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