Rep. Jack Bergman: A Congressman for climate-conscious youth

SEA Club students with Rep. Bergman 8.30.17

This group of students from Michigan’s first congressional district pitched Carbon Fee and Dividend to Representative Bergman last month. (Back L-R) Martin Chown, Kaysen Chown, David Meyer, Elliott Smith, William Chown (Front L-R) Lena Gerstle, Adrian Beyer, Amelia Burke, Rep. Bergman, Nora Blanchard, Ally Brown, Delaney Jorgensen (Not pictured: Aili Simpson, Annie Froese, Taylor Hammond)

By Flannery Winchester

This week, freshman representative Rep. Jack Bergman became the 29th Republican to join the Climate Solutions Caucus. His journey to the caucus has been a thoughtful one, spurred along by the youth of his Michigan district and culminating in an in-person presentation about Carbon Fee and Dividend just last month.

Lisa DelBuono is a liaison in CCL’s Grand Traverse Area chapter and her son David Meyer is now a 19-year-old college student. They have lobbied together many times, both in Washington D.C. and their district, since their chapter started in 2013. Last fall, David’s friends Kaysen Chown and Elliott Smith took an interest in CCL. After such positive experiences lobbying with her own son over the years, Lisa said, “I didn’t hesitate to take them with me last November to lobby.”

Elliott and Kaysen Comment Forms Bergman

Elliott and Kaysen (right) present Constituent Comment forms to congressional office staffers.

“The night before lobbying, Kaysen, Elliott and David reviewed notes and strategized about their meetings, while Elliott and David followed an online video about how to tie a Windsor knot tie,” Lisa remembered. They were nervous, of course. “But their confidence grew as they delivered a stack of Constituent Comment forms as thick as a telephone book,” Lisa said. Their lobbying experience had a profound impact on them. “That evening in the hotel room, I heard them whispering, ‘How will we ever go back to school after this? It will all seem so mundane.’”

But they managed to turn school into a springboard. Upon returning, Elliot, Kaysen, and a third friend Martin Chown formed the Students for Environmental Advocacy (SEA) Club, which attracted lots of students who were interested in climate issues—and it didn’t stop with the students. “Soon parents were excited and coming to CCL meetings,” Lisa said.

Building the relationship

While all of this momentum was building back home, Rep. Bergman took office in January. That February, Lisa, Elliott and several other CCL volunteers had a very meaningful “welcome” meeting with Rep. Bergman, face-to-face in the district office. They presented lots of Constituent Comment forms and offered an appreciation to Rep. Bergman for signing the “Commitment to Civility.” Lisa said he “glowed” in response and cited his background as a U.S. Marine, saying, “Civility is our code!”

Then in April, many of the SEA club members were in Washington, D.C. for the People’s Climate March. Lisa and David used that opportunity to set up another meeting with Bergman’s office. This time, Lisa said, they brought more Constituent Comment forms, plus a business owner, a professor from Michigan Tech University, and a retired career military officer from his district.

By the time June rolled around, they were primed for a great meeting. In addition to the chapter’s adult CCL volunteers, there were 14 students from the SEA club and three of their college-aged siblings at CCL’s June conference. There were so many, they actually had to set up two meeting times!

SEA Club with Rep. Bergman in DC in office

SEA Club members meeting with Rep. Bergman in his D.C. office

Going into the meeting, the group knew that Rep. Bergman appreciates Northern Michigan’s natural beauty—and of course, he loves his eight grandchildren. Elliott said, “The group and I were hopeful that as young people who care passionately about the environment and are around his grandchildren’s age, we would be able to find common ground on the issue of climate change and inspire him to action.” Sure enough, Rep. Bergman met with them for a full 30 minutes and was very receptive.

It was at this meeting that Rep. Bergman first expressed interest in joining the Climate Solutions Caucus. In fact, he committed to the students that day that he would join. “To hear him say those words was incredible,” Elliot remembered, and he was really moved. “As soon as we were in the hallway outside the Representative’s office, I started to cry in pure joy.”

There was one more step Rep. Bergman wanted to take, though. He suggested that the students prepare a formal presentation on Carbon Fee and Dividend and pitch it to him back at home like a business proposal. He wanted them to be ready to discuss the pros and cons of this particular climate solution and be ready to defend it. “This was his spontaneous idea and commitment,” Lisa said. “Needless to say, we were both shocked and thrilled.”

Presenting Carbon Fee and Dividend

The students went home and got to work preparing the presentation, which was set for August 30. A group of 11 really drilled down to make it happen—in addition to David, Elliott and Kaysen, the group included Martin and William Chown, Delenay Jorgensen, Aiden Beyer, Nora Blanchard, Lena Gerstle, Ally Brown, and Aili Simpson.

Over the course of the next two months, and with their CCL chapter’s guidance and support, they conducted thorough research, honed their message, and practice their public speaking skills. “We met several times a week, and we set up dress rehearsals,” David said. Those dress rehearsals were in front of prominent local business leaders, who gave helpful feedback, which helped the students strike the appropriate tone and focus in their presentation. It also helped the CCL chapter make connections for potential endorsements.

During this practice period, Martin even ran into Rep. Bergman at the town’s annual Cherry Royale Parade. The Congressman recognized him from their June meeting and said, “I’m looking forward to hearing your pitch next month.”

The day of the pitch, about 40 people gathered in a meeting room at Cherry Capital Foods, a local business. That included the 10 students presenting, their family members, and the Congressman and his aide. “Rep. Bergman was very attentive during the presentation,” Lisa said, and they had great discussion afterward. With a thoughtful eye toward the economy of his district, he was particularly interested in the potential job growth Carbon Fee and Dividend would likely bring to the health sector.

SEA Club with Rep Bergman at presentation during CFD pitch

Students pitching Carbon Fee and Dividend to Rep. Bergman

Joining the caucus

Then this week, Rep. Bergman publicly joined the Climate Solutions Caucus. Caucus co-chair Rep. Carlos Curbelo issued a press release acknowledging the new members. “Michigan’s First District is home to some of our nation’s most cherished natural resources and I’m proud to join my colleagues to examine ways to promote and protect these resources,” Rep. Bergman said in the statement. “Michiganders understand that our Great Lakes and natural resources are worth protecting—for our environment, for our economy, for our kids and grandkids, and for the future of the Great Lakes region.”

Rep. Bergman’s leadership in this area won’t just benefit Michigan—his engagement and presence has already benefited these kids personally. Nora said, “The opportunities I have been given this summer have been irreplaceable ones. From the conference in D.C. to the final presentation for Representative Bergman, it has been wonderful to work with this amazing group of students.”

Reflecting on this year, Lisa said, “Clearly, engaging youth brings a special kind of magic to relationship building. It has been a huge team effort that has solidified our chapter while broadening our outreach farther than we could have imagined.”

Flannery Winchester has put her words to work for magazines, for marketing agencies, and now for our earth as CCL's Communications Director. She is grateful to spend every day working to preserve this beautiful planet.