Great Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund Meeting
Update: Welcome Kossacks! Please help us get rid of Richard Pombo by getting involved today.
Oh happy day! Yesterday I attended a wonderful meeting in San Ramon put on by Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund and I came away uplifted by my experience there. Although readers might remember that I had initial misgivings, some months ago, about Defenders running the Pombo in Their Pocket campaign, I have now become convinced that they have a tremendous, and very central, role to play in the fight to oust Pombo from office. The meeting itself was great, and even better was the rap session a number of us had after the meeting at a coffee shop. To me it epitomized the confluence of energy and resources it will take to dislodge Pombo from Congress.
To begin with, let me describe the meeting itself.
I actually arrived late, and so came in the building to see a packed room with a small number of people spilling out into the hall. I had gone to the meeting knowing that Defenders had not formally decided to target Pombo in 2006 (the Pombo in Their Pocket Campaign is formally an “accountability campaign” that may end before the election), but I also knew that a good turnout would speak volumes to the DWAF people about the local excitement generated by the anti-Pombo campaigns. Seeing people spilling out into the hallway immediately confirmed what I had known: people are thirsting to fight against Pombo. Indeed, the Defenders people explicitly said that there were surprised by the turnout and had only expected about half the number of people to show up on a Sunday afternoon (I think about 80 people attended). Furthermore, they said that the high turnout will increase the likelihood that they will target the race. In other words, the Defenders of Wildlife crew explicitly acknowledged that they understood the message we were sending by our very attendance.
When I arrived, the Political Director, Mark Longabaugh, and the CEO, Rodger Schlickeisen, of Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund were discussing the Pombo in Their Pocket Campaign. I did not take many notes on their presentation, but you can learn more about their campaign by visiting their website.
One very interesting point that came up was that they said they were committed to grassroots politics, and so they would probably open up a campaign office in the district if they actually target Pombo (which is pretty likely in my estimation). I had assumed that the Defenders targeting Pombo would consist in their spending money on radio and television ads. The fact that they are even discussing running canvassing operations and phone banks, even if nothing has been decided, is greatly encouraging to me.
After the presentation, there was a question and answer session. I will pass over a detailed description of this part of the meeting except to note that it is clear that there were Republicans as well as Democrats and Independents attending the meeting. I think anti-Pombo Republicans will be hugely important in the effort to oust Pombo, and so I was pleased to see that some of them showed up at this meeting and made their presence known.
The meeting ended with the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund people giving Pete McCloskey and Jerry McNerney (both of whom showed up on their own initiative) an opportunity to address the crowd.
McCloskey spoke first, and let me say this: I have Republican friends, there are people close to me who vote for Republican politicians, but I had never seen or met a Republican politician whose hand I wanted to shake until I saw Pete McCloskey speak yesterday. The guy exudes integrity. And he clearly has tons of charisma.
McCloskey spent a good part of his time speaking about the need for a Republican to run against Pombo in the primary. Although McCloskey is ready to run against Pombo if nobody else steps up to the plate, he does not really want to run and is still holding out hope for a “young Republican” (meaning someone under 60) to take on Pombo. (Either that, or he is being very self-effacing). That said, after seeing McCloskey in person, I’d be very, very content to see him running against Pombo in the Republican primary. Put simply, you couldn’t ask for a better foil to Pombo’s sleaze than Pete McCloskey.
McCloskey also spoke a bit about the dynamics of the race and touched on the Democratic side of things. He argued that in such a red district it would be hard for a Democrat to unseat Pombo, but allowed that “Jerry [McNerney] will be a fine congressman if he is elected.” Although McCloskey did not say anything else about the Democrats during his speech, I did overhear him say afterwards that state Senator Mike Machado is adamant about not running against Pombo in 2006. I have heard this from a number of players in the district, and I think it’s gone beyond the usual politician’s coyness about entering a race. I think we cannot expect Machado to run unless something radical happens, like Pombo is indicted. Even then, I’m not sure it’s a given.
After McCloskey spoke, it was Jerry McNerney’s turn. I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised to see McNerney give a really good speech. Every time I see McNerney speaks he gets appreciably better. I’m not sure what he is doing or who he is working with, but whatever it is, it’s working.
On a substantive level, I was pleased to see McNerney mention the following issues that were reasons to oppose Pombo besides the environment: “corruption, ineptitude, assault weapons, downer cows, choice.” I was especially intrigued by his mention of downer cows, which I hope demonstrates an increased willingness on McNerney’s part to discuss the agricultural issues that will be important in the part of the San Joaquin County part of the district. We’ll have to see where he goes with these issues, but the fact they were on his mind probably portends more to come.
After the official meeting ended, a number of us went to a nearby coffee shop to compare notes. I will not say much about that meeting except two things.
First, our rump caucus made me tremendously hopeful that the robust anti-Pombo coalition we need to win is already forming. The participants included the people from Defenders (their CEO, their political director, their CA program director, and a program associate from their Sacramento office); members of the online anti-Pombo community including me and VPO; the state director of Clean Water Action (a grassroots environmental organization that, importantly, can do electoral politics); someone close to McCloskey; someone from the McNerney campaign; a pro-environment Republican; one of the founders of Progressive Democrats of the East Bay (who also worked in CA-11 as part of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club’s efforts focused on Social Security); and a representative from Project Bluebridge, which came out of the old East Bay for Kerry campaign and is dedicated to getting blue area Democrats to volunteer in red areas (in this they are similar to, connected with, but separate from Take Back Red California, which will also be working on ousting Pombo).
Second I will just mention that I had a chance to discuss how we can leverage the blogosphere in this race. The other people at the meeting seemed receptive, and I had already spoken to one of the Defenders of Wildlife press people about working with them to do something like a Defenders of Wildlife live-blogging session about the NEPA Task Force on Say No to Pombo. Nothing is concrete yet, but I am very optimistic that we will find ways of working together. If any of you have contacts with organizations that want to take on Pombo and need advice about how to utilize the blogosphere, I would be very happy to answer questions. Just have them send me an e-mail.