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The Planet

The Planet
December 1998 Volume 5, Number 10

Being There: Notes from the Campaign Trail

By Jen Hensley

In late October and early November, 38 Sierra Club staff members went to work on the congressional campaigns of Club-endorsed candidates. Their goal was to get pro-environment candidates elected and to promote the environment as an issue voters care about. Here is a report from one of those campaigns.

Bzzzzzzzz! Ugh, the alarm is already going off. Do I need to look decent today, or will jeans be okay? I decide I need to look decent so I can only push the beloved snooze button once. I'll be working with the advance team for Vice President Gore today; my jeans stay in the suitcase.

A Sierra Club staff member in western Illinois, I've been assigned to work on the re-election campaign for Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.), whose 95 percent League of Conservation Voters rating earned him a Club endorsement. I was impressed that Evans could be such a friend to the environment; many of his constituents think a vote for the environment is a vote against the farmer. Others, however, recognize that a strong pro-environment congressman can help family farmers in their struggle against huge hog-and-chicken facilities.

The snooze grace period ends, and I get dressed and report to headquarters where, as a part of Evans' campaign team, I'm assigned to coordinate visits from dignitaries who support him. Like Gore, whose team is now enumerating the millions of details we'll need to work out before he arrives the next day. A new stage and press riser must be built, music selected and the light and sound systems tested. Caterers, photographers and guests for the fundraiser must all be cleared with the Secret Service. Luckily, the event will be held at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 145. I used to work with another local union and 145 supports Evans, so they graciously allow us to invade their classrooms and main meeting hall.

We work until 11 p.m. on the final preparations. The highlight of the evening is a visit from a friend who brings flowers and a cooler of beer. Over the course of the evening I am reunited with my union pals from a previous campaign, and the jokes, fun and excitement of Gore's pending visit begin to replace the tiredness. Soon the work is finished. All too soon the alarm clock heralds the beginning of the new day. I quickly shower, dress and head for another local union hall to pick up their American flag. Once I arrive at the Electrical Workers Hall, I am bombarded with last-minute details. The Secret Service tells us we must remove the tables from the room we've set up. Then a member of the advance staff arrives to give a final okay on the site - and says we have to take out all the chairs as well. Why? It's still a mystery.

Finally, Gore arrives. Evans has been called back to Washington to vote on the budget bill, so Ladonna Bachmeyer, a district constituent, speaks in his place. Bachmeyer tells of her battle with cancer and her HMO. She moves the crowd to tears as she explains her desire to see her son graduate from college. Gore follows by pointing out problems with HMOs and explains to the crowd why Evans is needed in Congress.

Exhale! It seems I've held my breath all day, afraid to breathe, waiting for something to go wrong. Gore leaves the building and the crowd dissipates. The shoes and suit coats come off as we begin the task of restoring the union hall to its normal condition. Next, we convene at my home to map out plans for the other big- name visitors soon to arrive. Working on this campaign was exhausting; it was also one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I had the opportunity to work for a man who is still humbled by the fact that people gather on his behalf, someone who prefers to be known by his constituents not as Congressman Lane Evans or Mr. Evans or Sir. He is simply Lane.

And he's simply a winner: Evans earned his ninth term in office by beating opponent Mark Baker by a vote of 52 percent to 48 percent.

Go on to the next article, "New Logo Debuts"

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