Where you’ll find the lobbyists in Annapolis

By Kristen Harbeson, resident Lobbyist and Political Director

I love tracking my steps during session – wondering how many miles I logged in a day.  Although there are days when my feet ache from all the walking, there is at least as much sitting as there is walking: sitting in committee rooms (and occasionally on the floor outside of committee rooms); sitting around tables during coalition meetings and while talking to legislators; sitting in the public lounges for emergency conversations with colleagues.

One of the most likely places you’ll find me during much of the Session is in a wingback chair in the hallway on the second floor of the House Office Building.  From there, I can talk to Delegates and their staff pass by on their way to and from the Environment and Transportation and Economic Matters Committees.  I’m not the only one who tends to find herself there – it’s a spot where lobbyists from every kind of advocacy group will find a place to take a call, charge their phones, or catch a few minutes on their laptops between meetings.

These kinds of relaxed locations are where conversations happen that build community, and sometimes provide news in bits and pieces that, when taken together, can help provide context to help shape a legislative strategy.

Ramon Palencia-Calvo, our Deputy Director testifies for one of our priority pieces of legislation.

Ramon Palencia-Calvo, our Deputy Director testifies for one of our priority pieces of legislation.

This week there was a hearing on our first priority bill.  Ramon testified on the importance of fully funding the Maryland Transit Authority, which has a $2 billion shortfall over the next ten years according to a study released last summer. The MTA serves every jurisdiction in the state, but low-income and already disadvantaged communities suffer the most from failures due to inadequate maintenance. Additionally, a strong, affordable, and accessible public transportation system is essential to reducing Maryland’s greenhouse gas pollution. (Did you know that the transportation sector – especially highway traffic – represents more than 40% of our greenhouse gasses?!) This is always an important moment in a campaign.  It’s the first time that arguments for and against are presented side by side, and examined by the committees who make the decision of what happens next. It’s a little bit like a play, and a little bit like a polite boxing match.

In this case, the hearing was in front of the House Appropriations Committee which works with the State Budget.  Ramon, and all of our partners provided strong testimony after the bill was presented by Delegate Lierman.  The Department of Transportation spoke against the bill, which isn’t uncommon, especially for bills that require the Governor to spend money in a specific way. Next week, the same bill will be heard in the Senate, and then we work on the next step: A vote from subcommittee.

Sitting or standing, or running through the halls, you can count on your Maryland LCV staff working hard next week to pass strong environmental laws.  Next week we’ll have some marathon bill hearings, too, so stay tuned!

Talk about changing the body politic!

By Kristen Harbeson, Political Director

Folk singer Pete Seeger, one of my great heroes, once said that “when you bring people together, even if just for a beer, you’re changing the body politic.” He knew what he was talking about. Pete’s music was an important part of the soundtrack for social change in the 20th century, especially for both labor rights and the environment.

Kristen Harbeson speaks at the 2020 MDEnviroSummit

Bringing people together, and changing the body politic, is a pivotal part of the work of your Maryland LCV staff and our partners. On any given week, Maryland LCV staff participate in as many as 15-20 different conference calls or coalition meetings relating to our priorities and how we all can work together to advance our agenda.  These are in addition to the dozens of other conversations, in groups of two and three and four, which propel us forward in the session dance.  Periodically there are public meetings like the one that Dannielle and I went to on off-shore wind in Ocean City (and that Dannielle wrote about).

By far the best demonstration of bringing people together to change the body politic, though, happened this week during the annual Environmental Summit when 30 organizations that make up the Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment (CCE) gather together with hundreds of advocates to unveil and showcase the bills we selected as our priorities. For the last two years, I’ve had the joy of being able to – as the chairman of CCE – welcome everyone to the event and kick off the program.  There is simply nothing like standing in front of a room of five hundred advocates ready to charge forward and make a difference.  It’s a tremendous honor to be able to help coordinate the extraordinary table of environmental leaders that do so much amazing work during the ninety-day session and beyond.

But that’s not what I will remember most as we move through the next 68 days of Session.  What I will remember are the words of the 18-year old keynote speaker, Athena Verghis, who left the packed room with the following words:

“We stand here convinced of a bright future for Maryland, because when we change the root, we can change the crop. Let us replace the root of ignorance with much needed understanding and unwavering commitment to the future.  Let us replace frustration with hope. As global citizens for tomorrow I want to leave with one message: There is not enough time for us to point fingers and promise short-term gain that will only benefit a few citizens. However there is just enough time to recognize the urgency of this climate emergency. For every single individual in this room to fulfill his or her role as legislative leaders or social influencers and to commit and create systemic change that benefits all living things that call Maryland their home. Because this is your backyard as well as our future.”

I, and every person walking out of that room, left with a renewed sense of hope and urgency, committed to doing everything we could to move our state forward. Talk about changing the body politic! Pete Seeger would have been proud.