By Ken Stone
Freshman Rep. Mike Levin, an early backer of the Green New Deal, hosted a forum Monday featuring perhaps the biggest Democratic Party hurdle to passage of the ambitious but nonbinding climate change resolution.
But the 49th District congressman showed no ill will when he introduced that critic — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In fact, Levin labeled her “a historic figure for historic times,” calling the San Franciscan the most effective House speaker in U.S. history.
Pelosi appeared at the QLN Conference Center in Oceanside to promote public understanding of House Resolution 1, which Levin said would “fight corruption, protect our elections, get the dark money out of politics and restore the political system in this country back to you — the people.”
Hours before attending a La Jolla fundraiser, Pelosi called H.R. 1 — the “For the People Act of 2019” — key to achieving progress on all major Democratic initiatives, including climate change.
The former environmental attorney said 90% of Americans want something done about “this crisis.”
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“Why is it we can’t move the needle?” Levin asked an invitation-only audience of 250. “Well, everyone remembers the Citizens United decision, right? … Unfortunately, since that decision, there has been $397 million of political spending by the fossil fuel industry.”
And that, he said, explains why the Senate majority leader’s desk has become a graveyard for House-passed legislation. (He noted a website actually called McConnell’s Graveyard.)
The same for gun-violence prevention bills, said the San Juan Capistrano resident.
“So you wonder why we can’t get anything done when the overwhelming number of Americans want us to,” Levin said. “The NRA spent something like $183 million in recent years,” including more than $1 million aiding McConnell.
Pelosi has a long history of advocating for the environment, including pushing for higher fuel-economy standards. And despite the Senate roadblock, her House passed the Climate Action Now Act to preserve America’s role in the Paris climate accords and reduce carbon emissions.
(She noted ruefully that President Trump on Monday signed an order beginning formal withdrawal from the Paris deal.)
But Pelosi has essentially stalled action on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal — banishing it to nearly a dozen committees, where it is further buried in 10 subcommittees.
Pelosi gave Levin a boost, however, by naming him (and not AOC) to the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
After her half-hour appearance — answering questions from UC San Diego political science professor Thad Kousser — Pelosi parried media queries for another 10 minutes.
Times of San Diego asked her: Even if Democrats win the House, Senate and presidency in 2020, is it possible to avoid climate catastrophe given Republican filibusters?
She replied: “As Congressman Levin mentioned, public sentiment is everything. And the public sentiment around this is very strong, especially among our young voters.”
Pelosi said the young understand what’s at stake.
“The future belongs to them,” she said. “This planet, handing it over responsibly, is our responsibility. So I think that we will have more support for addressing the climate crisis in a bipartisan way.”
She called herself optimistic — “I see it as an opportunity” — if Democrats take control of all levers of power.
“I would hope that there is an intelligence … based on the facts, evidence-based decision-making,” said the 79-year-old lawmaker. “And we have to have that discussion with the American people, so that they can weigh in.”
Levin made a similar point about H.R. 1.
“In the 24-hour news cycle, a lot of residents in our community don’t know that the very first thing that we did was to pass that legislation,” he said.
(It was passed 234-193 in March 2019, but the measure hasn’t been debated in the U.S. Senate, where McConnell has yet to schedule hearings.)
He urged the audience — which included two dozen local electeds from 49th District city councils and school and college boards — to let friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members know that “we are trying to do something about it. … A handful of special interests are dominating the political system and …. we’re fighting to make things better.”
Organizers said Pelosi’s staff asked Levin’s office for a diverse audience.
“That was our mandate, and that’s what we did,” said a Levin staffer. “We reached out to the colleges (and) lots of nonprofit groups that were interested in good government.”
Among attendees were representatives of the ACLU, Common Cause, League of Women Voters, the National Latino Research Center at Cal State San Marcos (“working on the census issue”), 16 students and staff from nearby MiraCosta College and members of the California Teachers Association.
Maybe the biggest contingent was 25 students from the North County chapter of NAACP Youth. Most wore T-shirts labeling themselves “The Courageous Generation.”
Debbie Matthews, the adult who chairs the NAACP Youth Works Committee, proudly offered students for interviews, including 17-year-old Youth Council Vice President Destini Perkins, recent El Camino High School graduate Treviyonna Patterson and 15-year-old Aleadra Amor of Sage Creek High School in Carlsbad.
Said Destini, who wants to be a businesswoman: “We’re trying to get more youth to vote, especially the freshmen in college. The percentages are very low, so we are trying to increase that.”
Said Treviyonna, who aims to be a journalist: “There needs to be more educational opportunities for black youth … and we need more black students in college and graduating college because statistics for black students graduating … are very low.”
Said Aleadra, who’d like to be an Air Force surgeon — or a lawyer if that doesn’t work out: “I want to make it easier for people to be able to live in a nice neighborhood and be able to afford things…. It’s harder for us … to live in a place like Oceanside or Carlsbad, even though we work 10 times harder than the average American.”
Watching from the sidelines was someone who encourages such high goal-setting: Stedman Graham.
Better known as Oprah Winfrey’s longtime boyfriend, the 68-year-old educator, author and businessman is connected with Bobbi DePorter, co-founder and president of Quantum Learning Network (the QLN in the conference center name).
“(DePorter) just brought him (to the Pelosi event) because they’re having a board meeting, and their meeting is tonight,” said an event organizer.
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