Recently I was invited to speak to a group whose purpose is to make the relationship between business and government in Virginia as good as it can be. I share that goal.
At the same time, as I told that group, in our times it would not be right for me to do what most politicians would do with such an opportunity: i.e. tell the audience just what they wanted to hear. I felt it important to say what most needs saying.
Being a strong believer in free markets, I said, I appreciate the role that business has played in making America great. So government policies should not unduly burden free markets.
But I went on to say that, "My concern for Virginia today, and indeed for America, has less to do with how government is interfering with free markets than with how the power of corporate money is interfering with the proper functioning of our democracy."
I then gave an example of what the optimal relationship between business and government would not include:
"It would not include having a giant corporation - a monopoly not held in check by market competition -- buying so much control over Virginia's government that, in the past two years, it has been able to get our General Assembly to pass laws that take literally hundreds of millions of dollars that rightly belong to average Virginians and to put into its corporate coffers."
I was talking, of course, about Dominion Power -- the largest corporate donor to our legislators -- buying what is obviously undue influence over members of both parties.
In this press conference, I focused on the issue that is closest to my heart: climate change, and the obligation we have to protect the earth and the generations to come by acting responsibly now to meet that challenge.
As you'll see, I present this issue in terms of the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I do so not only because that captures so aptly the profound moral dimension of our situation, and the profound moral abdication of politicians like Obenshain, but also because it seems a suitable rhetorical strategy in my (Virginia's 26th senatorial) District.
This district is 70-30 Republican, and many of that 70 percent strongly self-identify as Christian. No one who wants to follow the teachings of Jesus, and how understands the situation we now face, could countenance for a moment supporting the climate-change politics of Mark Obenshain and his Koch Brothers backers.
To dramatize those we are "doing unto" either by our actions or our inactions, I brought in a poster -- in its public debut -- containing the faces of my own two little granddaughters, both born just last year. These two, who have brought my own passion on the issue to a higher heat, stand in for all those innocents to come who depend upon us to protect them. (See below)
Here are the text and the video of my statement, delivered yesterday in Harrisonburg to the press and a roomful of enthusiastic citizens.
"I have said that Mark Obenshain has been serving Big Money - like Dominion Power, and the other big corporations behind the lobbying organization called ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) - rather than the citizens he's been elected to represent. Mr. Obenshain has called my charges 'baseless,' without ever responding to the substance.
"I challenge Mr. Obenshain to demonstrate that he's not the lackey of ALEC that his performance in the legislature suggests that he is, and to defend the values of our democracy that the evidence thus far suggests he's prepared to trample.
"I challenge him to denounce ALEC for the un-American suit that ALEC is threatening against the League of Conservation Voters-a group of American citizens that has been calling out ALEC for its efforts to block responsible government action against climate change.
"Such a threat is a scandal. Since when, in America, do our corporate giants use their money and power to attempt to silence criticism by citizens of our country who are telling the truth on a vital issue? Since when is it OK for Big Money to bully Americans into not exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech?
"So I challenge Mark Obenshain to condemn ALEC for this democracy-degrading act of intimidation. I challenge him to put some distance between himself and this Big Money organization whose bills he has previously helped get enacted by Virginia's General Assembly."
This past week -- now as the official Democratic nominee-- I made my second major statement, focusing on that latter issue. This statement -- with the title "The First Duty of a Patriot" -- represents my effort to reach out to the conservatives in this district, which generally votes about 70 percent Republican.
Here are the video and the text of that speech.
I have a lot I want to share, from my heart as a patriot.
Our founders made it very clear what they wanted American patriots to protect, above all. What they required is a solemn pledge to defend the system of government they bequeathed to us. Not the homeland, not the flag, but this government of, for, and by the people.
That system is threatened now in a way we've never seen. And that's why the choice between Mark Obenshain and me is important. That's why even conservatives should consider me - the Democrat in this race - as the choice of real patriots.
When I announced my campaign, I spoke of how Big Money is getting too many of our legislators - including Mr. Obenshain - to serve its interests at the expense of ordinary Virginians.
Not at all long ago, I'd have been astonished to think I'd be here announcing my candidacy for public office. But here I am.
The story behind this surprising development begins last year, when I became a grandmother for the first time. And then again for the second time.
I was already concerned about what the scientists have been telling us about climate change-that it is real and that it is urgent that we act now to address it.
But now I've got these two adorable little ones in my life, and it feels especially urgent. Because the scientists tell us that -- if we don't act responsibly -- the consequences for them, and for all our children and grandchildren, could be terrible.
I can't bear the thought of these innocents suffering because we were too blind, or too busy, or too corrupt to care.
I decided to look more closely at how our state of Virginia is dealing with this challenge. I was appalled by what I found. And what I found goes a lot deeper than our state's failure to respond to the challenge of climate change. That failure is part of a larger picture: too many of our elected representatives are sacrificing the people to serve big powerful interests.
Did you know that the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity ranks Virginia 47th among the 50 states when it comes to government integrity! And in its corruption risk report card, issued to each state, Virginia earned a grade of F!
And our present state senator, Mark Obenshain, is right at the heart of that problem. And that's why I'm running to replace him in the Virginia state Senate.
A few days ago I received a shocking email from Mike Tidwell, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). Subject line: "Mike diagnosed with Lyme Disease."
Oh no! As a CCAN board member, I knew that Mike had been dealing with miserable, flu-like symptoms, joint pain, and muscle stiffness for sometime. I felt terrible to learn this news. Lyme Disease is a frightening illness that is hard to cure and sometimes leaves lasting damage.
I felt sad to think of this prospect for Mike. In addition to being a great guy, Mike is an inspiration to climate activists in the mid-Atlantic region, where CCAN operates, and beyond. One of the most dedicated climate warriors I know, Mike is also an effective organizer, writer, speaker, and fundraiser. He is a mentor to a great many of us, and we need him to be healthy!
Mike noted in his email that he knows many people in the mid-Atlantic region who have had Lyme Disease. I have to admit that I can say the same. Just in the last year or so, the number of people I know with Lyme Disease has increased dramatically.
Yes, I know that a warming world means many diseases are on the move. For example, tropical diseases, never before seen in the United States, are expected to move northward from the tropics into the American south. When I first heard about Lyme Disease 25 years ago, it was in places north of us, places like New England and northern Minnesota.
If climate change is pushing diseases toward the poles, then it would seem that the explanation for the increased incidence in our region must lie elsewhere. So I wondered, what might the answer be? Clearly, something is going on that is making the mid-Atlantic region hospitable to the tick that transmits the disease.
I am still mulling an experience I had last week.
I was invited to address the student body at a private high school here in Virginia.
I accepted the invitation eagerly, since I am on a mission to speak with audiences wherever I can, about climate disruption and the urgent need to act.
While most of my talks have been to adult groups like Rotarians and Lions Clubs, I have recently begun seeking opportunities to talk with younger people. Despite my motherly hesitation to burden young people with such a heavy message, I decided that since young people are the ones who will be spending most of their lives on a dangerously warming planet, it is not doing them any favors to refrain from helping them understand and deal with the difficult situation they are facing.
I looked forward to addressing the group of 120 freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. It would be my second time addressing high school students. My previous talk, with a group of bright seniors, had been well-received.
First, a little background. I hate it when there are mice in our house. The sound of scrabbling little feet during the night or a surprise encounter when I open the pantry door gives me the creeps. My husband and I work at keeping the little critters away, and when our efforts fail, I get angry.
Given my feelings about sharing our home with these uninvited guests, the following experience made such an impression on me that I will never forget it.
It happened back in 2008. My husband and I were preparing to move from Albuquerque back to our home here in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. The house was in an uproar of half-packed boxes and piles of stuff.
The garage too, was in its own state of upheaval. Dark, dusty crannies that for years had held unused or forgotten items, were now in tumult, thanks to our rummaging to clear things out.
But what is happening around us on our planet these days is far from normal. And it's far from okay.
For example, amphibians, mammals, birds, and other animals are disappearing rapidly, at a rate far higher than normal. Scientists tell us that a major cause of these current extinctions is the changing climate. Habitat loss and habitat degradation are also playing a role.
Despite these alarming losses of fauna, I find that many people do not grasp the enormity of it. When I talk with others about the great number of species that have gone-or are going-extinct as a result of climate disruption, I am often met with a shrug, and "well, there have always been extinctions."
Even knowing that today's extinctions are abnormally numerous, I was shocked recently to learn that the current rate of extinctions is SO high that scientists are calling our time "the Sixth Extinction." In other words, current extinction rates are comparable to the five major waves of extinctions the planet has experienced in its entire 4.5 billion year history!
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by science writer Elizabeth Kolbert, introduced me to the term 'background extinction rate.' This is the term biologists use to describe the rate of extinctions that would occur naturally, if human impact were not a factor.
The background extinction rate for amphibians, reports Kolbert, would be about one species lost every 1,000 years. Yet I know of at least three frog species that have gone extinct in just the last few years.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin is taking heat for his government's human rights abuses, its opposition to gay rights, its treatment of Olympic construction workers and local Sochi residents, and its current efforts to silence a variety of protestors who are speaking out against the government's actions.
All the issues I have heard the protestors raise are important. But there is another issue, at least as important, that has been getting far less attention. And that is the destruction of massive swaths of pristine, globally important natural environments to make way for this year's Winter Games.
While, unfortunately, every Olympic Games involves destruction of land in the building of sporting venues, housing, etc., the Russians' preparations for the Sochi Olympics are off the charts in destructiveness.