Report on 2020 Garden Club of America
National Affairs and Legislative Conference
February 23-26/ Washington D.C.
By Kaija Gibbs
On February 22nd I hopped on a plane and headed to Washington, D.C. I can’t lie. I was feeling a bit nervous and very unqualified to be attending this conference. I had read the GCA 10 position papers dealing with Oceans, National Lands, etc. (click here)
I had attended a lunch in Woodside where I met some of the other local delegates and our Zone Chair. I had researched the websites of my senators and representative in preparation for meeting with them at the end of the conference to advocate for conservation issues. (This was the part which was causing me some consternation. Was I prepared to advocate? Did I know enough about the issues?) I was going to give it my best effort.
After a morning trip to Hillwood Estate and Gardens (a home of Marjorie Merriweather Post) and the National Portrait Gallery with one of the lovely ladies from Piedmont, I settled in for an Advocacy Training Workshop led by the GCA’s lead lobbyist and two women who lobby frequently through their jobs with conservation associations. We also received a primer on how a bill becomes a law. Remember “Schoolhouse Rock” on television? Honestly, this did not relieve my tension at all. It all seemed even more intimidating. Well, it was time to head off to the welcome reception and a national monument bus tour. The monuments were beautiful at night, the box dinner was great and everyone received their own half bottle of wine. First day down.
On the second day, over 300 delegates from around the country were scheduled to listen to 12 speakers on a variety of conservation topics. We would have a new speaker, an expert in their area, every 30-45 minutes all day with one break for lunch.
These are some of the highlights:
Our next day was spent on Capitol Hill in the Ways & Means Committee Room. Senators and Congressmen from all over the country spoke to us about bills they were involved with and passionate about getting us ready to advocate for them with our representatives.
The bills of particular interest this year are:
My takeaway: There are a lot of good people in Washington, D.C. who really care about what they are doing.
After attending the Closing Celebration at the Mayflower Hotel, it’s off to bed. After all this preparation, I wake up to the Day of Advocacy. I am still unsure but I get dressed and head out with all my compatriots for a day on Capitol Hill. Our first stop is Senator Kamala Harris’ office where all the delegates from California meet with a staff aide who is very knowledgeable on environmental issues. Everything goes well. We present her with our list of priorities and supporting information (as found on the GCA Website). Senator Harris has already co-sponsored most of the legislation we are supporting. We then head to Senator Feinstein’s office where we meet with two of her aides. Senator Feinstein also supports most of the legislation we’re advocating. One of their strategies is to take portions of environmental bills that everyone agrees on and insert that language into non-conservation bills which are going to pass. This way aspects of conservation bills can pass without having to wait for the more divisive sections. These meeting were quite educational.
My visit to Washington, D.C. is coming to an end but my work is not yet done. I have an afternoon appointment with Rep. Mark DeSaulnier to present the GCA positions. I will be attending on my own and, while I was nervous about my ability to handle this, after all the preparation of the last three days, I am feeling confident. I grab a coffee and get my thoughts and handouts organized and head to his office. I first meet with his assistant, Allison, and point out the bills we would like Rep. DeSaulnier’s help with. I also inform her that two new bills have just been introduced in the House dealing with pollinators and native species and ask for her support. Allison actually thanked me because Rep. DeSaulnier would like to be a co-sponsor on these bills and she hadn’t heard about them yet! Rep. DeSaulnier then showed up and we had a nice chat about some people we knew in common who had both mentored us along the way. It turned into a very nice visit. What was I worried about?
My takeaways from the NAL Conference:
Since the conference there has been a huge step taken forward towards our goals. President Trump and Majority Leader McConnell have introduced the Great American Outdoors Act which will combine the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act (mandatory $900 million/year) and the Restore our Parks Act ($1.5 billion annually for deferred maintenance in national parks) and an extra $3 billion over 5 years for public land projects.
The GCA Conservation Page includes videos of the speakers, copies of the 10 Position Papers and numerous other interesting information relating to the NAL conference and conservation and environmental issues.
Thank you for letting me represent you at this conference. I learned a lot about conservation and got to see American Government in action.