By Flannery Winchester
Recently, the Climate Solutions Caucus welcomed its 49th and 50th members. Those most recent representatives to come aboard were Democrat Marcy Kaptur from Ohio’s 9th district and Republican Steve Knight from California’s 25th district.
I spoke with Cher Gilmore, a CCL volunteer in Rep. Knight’s district, about how he came to join the caucus. Her account is a study in the optimistic persistence that characterizes CCL’s efforts all across the country and the world.
Starting from square one
“When I spoke personally with Steve Knight before he was elected for his first term, he was very dismissive of climate science and believed climate change was only ‘natural cycles,’” Gilmore said. It would have been easy to write him off as a denier, but of course, CCLers pride themselves on finding common ground with anyone.
Gilmore and the Santa Clarita chapter got to work writing letters and postcards to Knight’s office. “We have a card-writing gathering every month,” Gilmore said. Over the past three years, they asked him again and again to sign on to the original Gibson resolution, now reintroduced as the Republican Climate Resolution, and to join the Climate Solutions Caucus.
Their outreach to Knight’s office wasn’t just directed at Rep. Knight himself. “We also worked to develop a good relationship with his energy/environment aide, Adam Brooks,” Gilmore said. “We had an envoy personally deliver large numbers of constituent comments we collected at our Earth Day and River Rally booths—twice,” she said.
During those drop-offs, the envoy met with Adam and pitched the climate resolution and the caucus again. The chapter also had meetings with Adam on two separate lobby days. “The aides have been very open to us all along. They listened politely and asked good questions.”
Slowly, then all at once
In mid-July, Rep. Knight was one of 46 Republicans who cast a pro-climate vote on an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. Rep. Knight is on the Armed Services Committee and is very supportive of the military, which probably played into his vote. This was a great opportunity to celebrate common ground and show gratitude for his climate-friendly action in Congress, and Gilmore and her chapter seized it. Over the next few days, things moved very quickly.
That Friday, “I wrote a thank you to him through Adam, and sent out a message to our whole mailing list (400 people) asking them to thank him also, or write a letter to the editor thanking him,” Gilmore said. She also helped amplify non-CCL voices who shared the same sentiments. “I saw that someone else from Santa Clarita had a letter published in the local paper thanking him for his vote, and I sent that link to Adam, noting that someone else was also thankful for his vote.”
And of course, Gilmore wrote her own letter. The final line prompted, “Showing this kind of leadership on the issue, why isn’t Rep. Knight on the Climate Solutions Caucus?” She followed up with a call to the paper’s opinion editor, who she’d known since 2013, when she began writing op-eds for the paper. The opinion editor said she planned to run the letter that Saturday, the issue that gets the largest readership.
The following Monday, Gilmore sent the link to her letter over to Rep. Knight’s office. “Adam responded with a thank you to me and said he planned to discuss the caucus with Knight and the team that week. That afternoon, I got an email from Adam telling me Knight was going to join the caucus!” Gilmore said. “You could have knocked me over with a feather!”
Tried and true methods
“CCL’s methodology really works,” Gilmore said, specifically calling out: “Writing regular letters to our members of Congress, regular letters to the editors and op-eds, having meetings with aides, and always being respectful.” Those efforts will continue when they meet with Rep. Knight in his home district during the August recess, thanking him for joining the caucus and offering more information about Carbon Fee and Dividend. They’re working to schedule that meeting now.
And in true CCL fashion, Gilmore’s chapter has no plans to slow down. “We can’t stop, you know? This is a nice hill in the mountain that we’re on, and it’s wonderful to reach the top of this hill, but we’ve got to keep climbing.” Their next efforts will be focused on getting endorsements, with a specific focus on nearby city councils, local businesses, and chambers of commerce. “We have big plans,” Gilmore laughs.
At the end of the day, Gilmore’s biggest takeaway is this: “Any member of Congress can grow and learn and change. We shouldn’t give up on anybody.”