Climate advocate challenges Kennedy for House seat

Gary Rucinski

Congressional candidate Gary Rucinski greets a potential voter on the campaign trail.

Climate advocate challenges Kennedy for House seat

By Steve Valk

Visit the issues section on the website of congressional candidate Gary Rucinski, and you’ll see positions on healthcare and Black Lives Matter. But make no mistake—Rucinski’s campaign is about one issue: Climate change.

A Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer since 2010—he’s been the Boston group leader and the New England Regional Coordinator—Rucinski grew impatient with the progress being made in Congress on climate solutions and decided to throw his hat in the ring for Massachusetts’ 4th District House seat.

His opponent? Incumbent Democrat Joe Kennedy. The same Joe Kennedy who gave the Democrats’ response to the State of the Union address earlier this year, which drew criticism from environmentalists for not mentioning climate change.

“Institutions need catalysts to effect change,” Rucinski said. ”I like Representative Kennedy. I have leafleted and made phone calls for Representative Kennedy early on. But there is an opportunity for the 4th Congressional District in Massachusetts to send somebody to the U.S. House who is able to make climate change his headline issue, and I think that we ought to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Admittedly, Rucinski faces the steepest of challenges in terms of name recognition and funding. Thanks to a few generous donors, however, he’s been able to hire a campaign manager and keep his day job as a software project manager at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. He’s also overcome his first major hurdle—acquiring the 2,000 signatures needed to be on the ballot for the Sept. 4 primary.

While gathering those signatures, Rucinski learned that climate change is an issue that truly resonates with voters in his district.

“As soon as I got to, ‘And I’m running because we need more members of Congress who are going to make climate change their headline issue,’ they said, ‘Give me the clipboard. Oh, thank God for that! I’ll sign. Give me a pen.’ There were two women I approached, and they said, ‘Well we don’t even know who you are,’ and I told them who I was. One of them said, ‘I’ll sign,’ and she took the clipboard and she signed. She turned to her friend and said, ‘I’m assuming you’re gonna sign, too, because if you don’t, you’re not getting a ride home.’”

Rucinski wasn’t always obsessed with climate change. He hadn’t given it much consideration when, in 2000, a neighbor asked him what he thought about global warming. The question sent him scrambling to Google to do a little research, which led to the first book he read on the topic, “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet” by Mark Lynus.

“This is a book that has six chapters and each chapter talks about what the world is going to be like for each additional degree centigrade of warming. Yeah, that made me very concerned.”

Sea level rise is one of those big concerns. “The last time the globe was at the temperature that it is now, sea level was 20 to 30 feet higher.”

Like many climate advocates, Rucinski worries how the world will look for future generations. He and his wife Lisa have three grown children—no grandkids yet—and they’ve vacationed on Cape Cod every year.

“It’s not just the fact that Cape Cod is going to be overcome by high tide well within my children’s lifetime. Thinking about 20 to 30 feet [of sea level rise] in the city of Boston is pretty devastating.”

It was another book, James Hansen’s “Storms of My Grandchildren,” that led Rucinski to Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Around that time, cap-and-trade legislation had recently failed in Congress. “When that happened, I read a blog post about this bill going down, and I wrote a response that if we’re serious about this, we really need, the next time a bill like this comes up, to have a 50-state strategy to pass it.”

Rucinski turned to Hansen’s website, which had information about CCL. Two things clicked for him.

“One was that Citizens’ Climate Lobby was pursuing a 50-state strategy. But the other was that in looking for a job in the clean industry the year before, I was told by a lot of people that the clean energy sector wouldn’t take off until there was a price on carbon.”

CCL’s focus on Carbon Fee and Dividend sealed the deal for Rucinski, and as a congressman, that’s the policy he’ll fight for.

Rucinski says what he brings to the table that Kennedy doesn’t “is a deep knowledge and experience in grappling with climate science, the facts of climate change, as well as the policy options that we have available.”

Responding to a request about Kennedy’s record on climate change, his office touted a list of instances where he’s stood up on the issue. Those include:

  • Leading the New England delegation in efforts to reform energy markets to include greater emphasis on renewable technologies.
  • Asking the Trump Administration to hold public meetings on the local impact of repealing the Clean Power Plan.
  • Opposing Scott Pruitt’s nomination to head the EPA and calling for his resignation.
  • Helping with a petition to keep the Clean Power Plan in tact.
  • Opposing efforts to weaken fuel efficiency standards.
  • Cosponsoring the Climate Change National Security Strategy Act, the BREATHE Act, the CLEANER Act and the CLIMATE Act.

The response in its entirety can be read here.

If Rucinski can win the primary—a pretty big if—the seat is his. There are no Republicans running in the 4th District.

As Buckminster Fuller once said, “The things to do are: the things that need doing, that you see need to be done, and that no one else seems to see need to be done.”

With Congress failing thus far to enact an effective price on carbon, Rucinski is hoping he’ll get the chance to do the thing that needs to be done.

Steve Valk
Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter at @valklimate.
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