A chapter and a Congressman grow together
By Breene Murphy
“I waffled on going to D.C. this year because we didn’t have a meeting set until the last minute,” said Dennis Arp, leader of the North Orange County – Southeast Los Angeles Chapter.
Dennis is the organized leader, efficient down to the shaved haircut and even-keeled tone. Janine “Nini” Fiddelke-Arp helps her husband in a supporting role by using her PR and marketing professional skills. Nini has a big laugh and always seems to be smiling. They and the team at North Orange County CCL had been working hard to get their representative, high-ranking Republican Ed Royce, to join the Climate Solutions Caucus. With the tumult of the presidential election, getting on the calendars with Rep. Royce and his team was proving difficult.
“But there’s always stuff to learn at the D.C. conference, and you get really energized,” said Dennis, and so he made it to his fourth conference in a row.
Four years to here
Dennis and Nini started the chapter four years ago with three other members of their church. Dennis and the three members from church looked into several different environmental organizations. Dennis mentioned how much he liked CCL’s approach and the laser focus on a solution. In their search for an organization to join, they met Mark Tabbert and Craig Preston, who had started an Orange County chapter. Through Mark and Craig’s work, they had already met with Rep. Royce before Dennis joined Citizens’ Climate Lobby. That connection with a member of Congress enticed Dennis and Nini to help form the North Orange County chapter of CCL.
At first they couldn’t get a meeting with Royce, who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. They saw their window when Rep. Royce hired a new, bright, and enthusiastic staffer as the Energy and Environment Aide. Thanks to the diligence and respectful approach of group member David This, the team developed a positive relationship with the aide. They had detailed working discussions on Carbon Fee and Dividend and shared many materials.
They said what really coalesced their chapter, though, was deciding to host a regional conference at the their local church.
A galvanizing moment
In January of 2015, the North Orange County chapter hosted CCL’s Southern California Regional Conference at their church, Brea Congregational.
“It wasn’t a seamless thing,” Nini said. “It was very homegrown. Everyone had a role.”
They teamed with many others in CCL groups across Southern California to organize food, ticketing, mics, speakers, plates, chairs, event programming, parking, public awareness, giveaways, overcoming tech issues. So much goes into hosting a conference, and it pressed the chapter to work harder than they had ever done before.
The theme of the conference: “All In on Making Climate Magic Happen.”
“It was a galvanizing moment,” Dennis said. “The commitment afterward was so much stronger.”
Inspiration and commitment to the methodology
“We were inspired by the work of Jay Butera and the work he did helping to start the Climate Solutions Caucus,” Dennis said. “We followed his model of outreach. Gained support from local business leaders. We got endorsements from local mayors and council members. We worked with Republican groups, too.”
“My father used to say, ‘You collect more flies with honey than you do with vinegar,’” Nini said and laughed at the memory. “Though I don’t know why you’d collect flies.”
As they continued to work hard and use the CCL way, they continued to draw inspiration from other groups and people, including Southern California Regional Coordinators Kathy Orlinsky and Todd Elvins.
A neighbor to the south, North San Diego County Citizens’ Climate Lobby, had a similar set of circumstances with Congressman Darrell Issa, who joined the Climate Solutions Caucus in December of 2016. Seeing a success up close motivated the team working with Rep. Royce even more.
“It was also inspiring to hear Mark Tabbert talk about working with Congressman Rohrabacher,” Dennis said. “Mark really considers Dana a friend.”
After all, facts don’t change people’s minds—relationships do.
The D.C. meeting & the turning point
Rep. Royce has a background in economics, so for their June lobby meeting, the North Orange County chapter built arguments that were increasingly trade specific and/or local to the district like: how sea level rise would impact the local (and major) ports in the area, and commerce, the increasing numbers of 95 degree days in the district, and the expanded fire season.
Then in July, the real turning point came. Congress was set to vote on funding the 2018 military budget, when Scott Perry of Pennsylvania added Amendment 179 to HR. 2810:
Amendment sought to strike section 336, which strikes the requirement for the Secretary of Defense to submit a report on the vulnerability to military installations and combatant commander requirements resulting from climate change over the next 20 years.
We have spoken a lot about this amendment at CCL, where 46 Republicans voted against it. Rep. Ed Royce, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, was one of those 46.
“It was a big step,” Dennis said. “Rep. Royce is high up in leadership, so it takes a lot of courage.”
Not only did he cast this important vote, but he also decided to step up even more. Dennis was having breakfast with fellow CCLer David This when he received an email from the Energy and Environment Aide informing Dennis that Rep. Royce had joined the Climate Solutions Caucus that morning.
“I almost cried,” Dennis said. “We knew how hard it was, but when he did join, it made it all that much sweeter. It really validated the work.”
CCL’s founder Marshall Saunders has mentioned how important it is “to savor as much as to save.” Dennis and Nini invited friends and local CCLers from surrounding chapters to come and celebrate that weekend. Over the next couple of weeks, they joined many other CCLers in expressing their gratitude to Rep. Royce for bringing his insights to the caucus.
Now the efforts of the North Orange County – Southeast Los Angeles County Chapter are focused on two other representatives in their area, both Democrats. The team at North Orange County is now working to build bridges externally to find a pair in Congress to join the Climate Solutions Caucus. And they’re incredibly hopeful.
Dennis said, “At some point, there will be a landslide of bipartisan support in Congress.”