In This Issue
Campaign Highlights: Read updates from campaign work across the country.
Alum Profile: Read about Meredith Horton and her work at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Alumni News: Babies, weddings, new jobs, awards!
In Memoriam: We remember alumni Andy Igrejas and Aaron Jackson Sanger.
Welcome Back! We welcome Lila Jimenez back to The Public Interest Network.
Save the Date: Check out the full calendar of social events and see if there's an alumni gathering coming up near you!
100% in California!
In California, committing to 100 percent clean electricity isn't just a good idea, it's now the law. On Sept 10, 2018, then-Governor Jerry Brown signed the landmark Senate Bill 100 (SB 100), setting the Golden State on a path to generate 100 percent of its electricity from renewable and zero-carbon sources such as solar and wind by 2045. Environment California State Director Dan Jacobson (or “DJ,” as most everybody calls him) led the years-long charge of organizing, coalition building, lobbying, and media work that culminated in this monumental victory. Here, Dan shares his story of the path to victory, written on the day of the bill signing:
|Environment California State Director Dan Jacobson and CALPIRG State Director Emily Rusch look on with state Sen. Kevin de Léon and other leaders as Gov. Jerry Brown signs SB 100 into law. Photo credit: California State Democrats
Gov. Jerry Brown just made it official: California is on its way to being powered by 100 percent clean electricity. SB 100 is now the law of the land!
I came to work in California in the '90s—in the middle of our state’s energy crisis, when rolling blackouts were the norm, energy sources were dirty, and most people thought climate change was something that might happen in the future. We knew there had to be a better way.
So we did what we always do: compiled the research, educated the public and decision-makers, and organized the support and action necessary to help move the state, step by step, closer to a future free of both manipulation of our utility markets and of an electric grid that depends on fossil fuels.
Our work lead to the California Clean Energy Bill, which required our state to get 20 percent of its energy from renewables by 2017. Next, state Sen. Joe Simitian took us to 33 percent by 2030, and state Sen. Kevin de León moved the needle to 50 percent by 2030. We also led the charge to pass the Million Solar Roofs Initiative and the Global Warming Solutions Act, the nation's first economy-wide cap on global warming emissions.
All of that work built the foundation for today's historic moment. SB 100, which requires 60 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and 100 percent zero-carbon electricity by 2045, is a promise to our children and grandchildren that we will do all we can to give them a healthy future. If the world’s fifth-largest economy can transition to clean electricity, so can other states and cities, reclaiming our nation’s role as a global climate leader—no matter what’s happening in Washington, D.C.
Whether you live in wildfire-ravaged California, in the path of hurricanes, or in the melting Arctic, you can see and feel that there’s no time to waste. We must stop burning virtually all fossil fuels by midcentury to preserve a recognizable world for future generations. This bold action by Gov. Brown and the state legislature sets the stage not only for the Global Climate Action Summit, but for a better future.
As I said when the Legislature passed SB 100, the work to solve climate change and create a more livable future is still far from finished. But progress is always possible for people who never quit, and I'm proud to have so many of those people around me today.
Alum Profile: Meredith Horton
When we spoke with Meredith Horton this past November, she had just wrapped up a stint volunteering with voter protection during the gubernatorial race in Georgia. She sounded upbeat and hopeful that, regardless of whether her favored candidate Stacey Abrams were elected, the election would mark an important outpouring of voter excitement and civic engagement in the state. Meredith’s expertise was welcomed there this year, as she had worked with the Democratic Party of Georgia during the 2016 and 2017 cycles to build out the voter protection program that she was returning to help execute.
When not volunteering out of state on voter protection, Meredith enjoys an exciting new role as the associate legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). As such, she helps oversee a 150-person legal department and enjoys working to launch and build new strategic initiatives, including an effort to start a new practice group on voting rights. When SPLC recently started a 501c4 arm in order to expand its lobbying and deeper targeted advocacy, Meredith was pegged as the person responsible for getting the initiative off the ground. On top of this, she has a hand in launching an organization-wide leadership development program. With each of these projects, she relishes the opportunity to build, create, and initiate strategic efforts.
Meredith grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, in a home where the family discussed current events and where her parents were firm believers in their children having a voice and using it. Of course, growing up Black and female made her acutely aware of issues of race, power, and access, and Meredith was reading Cornel West by the time she was in middle school.
At Barnard College, Meredith studied Political Science and Urban Studies. After graduation, she was hired into the PIRG fellowship program and worked as a CALPIRG state organizer and federal field organizer with U.S. PIRG, based in Sacramento and Los Angeles. The role gave Meredith the chance to travel to Hawaii to organize on the ground there in an attempt to swing a U.S. Senator’s vote on drilling in the Arctic. While the SWAT campaign in Hawaii was challenging, she was pleasantly surprised to learn that local students were regularly conducting tabling and petition gathering efforts on the beach. In addition to the work fighting to protect the Arctic from oil drilling, Meredith worked on consumer issues such as ATM fee ripoffs and toy safety during her time with PIRG, and helped run a canvass office in Berkeley with Ben Prochazka, Sujatha (Jahagirdar) Bergen and others. Other great friends she made along the way include Kat Barr, Dan Jacobson, Elena Nuñez, Mary McClelland, Nathan Willcox, Derek Cressman, Eli Richlin, Jennette Gayer, Wendy Wendlandt, Merriah Fairchild, and Dave Rosenfeld.
Meredith transitioned from her role at PIRG in order to move to New York City and focus on K-12 education reform work. During law school, she interned with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and a legal aid organization, then worked at a firm after graduation to gain experience and pay off some debt. She stuck to her plan and got into public interest law, first as a voting rights litigator with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, where she worked with the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition and on cases and outreach in Georgia and Louisiana, and then at the Legal Services Corporation—the largest funder of civil legal aid programs in the US. At the Legal Services Corporation, she worked as a funder for grantees in the South, and was able to be very hands-on, helping executive directors with the soup to nuts of nonprofit operations.
Meredith lives in Montgomery, Alabama, but is moving to Atlanta in March to continue her work with SPLC. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Public Interest Network staff outside McDonald's headquarters in Chicago.
McDonald’s commits to hold the antibiotics
McDonald's has taken a major step to protect antibiotics. The burger chain announced on Dec. 11 that it would monitor the use of medically important antibiotics in its beef supply chain and set reduction targets by 2020. As the largest beef purchaser in the United States, McDonald’s new commitment could spark an industry-wide change to help keep antibiotics effective. More here.
In historic midterm election, students voted in impressive numbers
Voting is a habit best-developed early: When young people register and vote, they're more likely to keep voting as they grow older. If the 2018 mid-terms are any indication, our democracy can depend on the participation of the next
generation of Americans.
Student voter turnout spiked compared to 2014—a nearly 300 percent upsurge in some places. The Student PIRGs were a significant part of that. Students working with the Students PIRGs’ New Voters Project helped 30,000 young voters register and made more than 1 million contacts in 11 states, urging students to get out and vote. Turnout was so high that a number of campuses had to open additional polling stations. Student PIRGs Political Director Dan Xie explained, “Democracy works best when everyone participates, and in midterm elections young people are often the first to get left behind. When our communities provide young people with civic education and the tools and resources they need to vote, they do.” Read more here.
New Voters Project organizer Marion Kinosian with volunteers at University of South Florida. Photo credit: Zack Wittman.
Coloradans overwhelmingly vote to limit payday loan interest rates
|CoPIRG Director Danny Katz (left) in front of 78 boxes of signatures in support of a ballot measure to cap payday loan interest rates in Colorado. Photo Credit: Staff
The vast majority of Colorado voters agree: Sky-high payday loan interest rates are unacceptable. On Nov. 6, Proposition 111 to limit payday loan interest rates passed with 75 percent support. Payday lenders can no longer charge an annual percentage rate (APR) of more than 36 percent. "We signed on over 100 groups in support of stopping predatory payday loans in Colorado," said CoPIRG State Director Danny Katz. "200 percent loans are ridiculous and create a cycle of debt. This is a huge win for Colorado consumers." Read more here.
Victory for public lands: Yellowstone mining ban gets 20-year extension
There will be no new mining on lands near Yellowstone National Park for a long time. On Oct. 8, then-U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke approved a 20-year ban on new mining claims in the mountains north of the national park. The order extends a temporary ban that Environment America and affiliated state groups called for and the Obama administration enacted in 2016, which protects 30,000 acres near the park's north entrance from destructive mining. "Even as a little kid visiting the park, I knew that Yellowstone was special—spectacular, even," said Steve Blackledge, senior director of Environment America’s Conservation campaign. Read more here.
Alumni Updates: Weddings & Babies
Zach Corrigan and family are very happy to announce the birth of their second son, Nate, this past October.
Megan Fitzpatrick married Mark Domaracki on Sept. 29, 2018, in Princeton, New Jersey. Alumni Dan Budris & MacKenzie Clark, Stephanie Droste-Packham, Sarah Mitnick, and Liza Weingarten celebrated with the couple.
Dave Severy and his wife, Brenda, welcomed Camila Antonia Illescas Severy into the world on July 5, 2017.
Marisa Morton and her husband, Paul, celebrated the birth of baby Escher on March 29 of last year in New Orleans.
And last but not least, Daniel Goldberg-Gradess and Ilanit Goldberg-Gradess are happy to announce the arrival of their new son Dov Aaron last summer! (no photo)
Alumni Updates: Movers & Shakers
Laura Barrett is the new campaign coordinator at SEIU Healthcare in Missouri.
Mandela Barnes was sworn in as the new lieutenant governor of Wisconsin last month. His top aide, Maxwell Love, is also an alum.
Crystal Bergemann started a new job as the affordable housing preservation market lead at Fannie Mae last August.
Katie (Kleese) Bloome is the new executive director of Belwin Conservancy in Afton, Minn. More here.
Tonya (Sabo) Bourassa and her colleague Cathy Cheng-Anderson received the Ugene H. Rooney, Jr. Public Service Award for their work to launch CHIA’s Data Science Institute.
Dan Cannon is the new Tongass Forest program manager at Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.
Moira Chapin is the new director of major gifts at The Wilderness Society.
Gavin Clark is the new executive director at Park County Community Foundation in Montana.
In September, Jennifer Coken published her newest book, Embrace the Ridiculousness: A Pocket Guide to Being A Better You, available on Amazon.
Caitlin Cotter Coillberg was called to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Charleston, West Virginia, in May of 2018 and began as their minister last August.
Jenny Shanley Farrell is the new executive director at Mental Health Advocacy Services in L.A.
Dannielle Glaros was reelected to the Prince George (Maryland) County Council in November.
Check out the latest segment of Steve Goodman’s Higher Education Today, featuring Ralph Nader here.
Kristy Graf, executive director of Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE), was recently featured in the Sierra Club’s magazine.
Of the ten people named to Governing Magazine's 2018 Public Officials of the Year, three were Public Interest Network alumni: Colorado State Senator Faith Winter, former Denver Elections Director Amber McReynolds, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. More here.
Emily Greenfield and Aaron Viles have moved from New Orleans to Lexington, Kentucky, where Emily is an Assistant U.S. Attorney with the Eastern District of Kentucky and Aaron is launching a new voter registration and turnout effort called the New Voter Army.
Matt Guerin started a new job as field manager at Clean Water Action last May.
Meghan Hassett is the new Midwest outreach coordinator at Union of Concerned Scientists.
Barbara Helmick was honored as the first recipient of Clean Water Action’s David Zwick Award last October for her work establishing the canvass as a foundation of the group’s grassroots organizing strategies.
Amy Hojnowski is the new development director at Family Forward Oregon, an organization focused on making the work of caring for a family work better for Oregonians.
Tom Hucker was reelected to the Montgomery County (Maryland) Council in November.
Phil Huffeldt and his firm Wool Hat Creative had their latest film project featured in the Backcountry Film Festival last fall.
You can read a nice little profile on Trieste Lockwood’s current work as senior policy advisor to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality here.
Sean Koskofsky is the new director of the Climate Advocacy Lab.
Alex Maws just wrapped up a stint back on this side of the pond before returning to the U.K. He reports that when he is not busy globe-trotting for his work in the field of Holocaust remembrance, he’s also the singer/songwriter in an obscure indie-rock band called The President Lincoln.
Mary McClelland is the new director of communications at Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago.
Christiana Mercer Rigby was elected to the Howard County (Maryland) Council in November.
Aaron Myran is based in Toronto and recently founded Future Majority, a Canadian nonpartisan organization working to make young people’s voices heard.
Suda Nandagopal is the new CEO of Social Venture Partners. More here.
Kate Ogden is the new advocacy and movement building manager at Seventh Generation.
Check out this profile on Elizabeth Ouzts in Environmental News Network.
Quentin Palfrey won the September 2018 primary election to become the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts before losing in the general election.
Kerry Schumann was selected to serve on new Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes’ Agriculture, Energy, and Natural Resources Policy Advisory Council as they prepared to take office.
David Shorr reports he is a part-time local politician in Central Wisconsin and part-time consultant for nonprofits, using the organizing and advocacy skills he learned at NYPIRG. Transportation is a top priority for him on the city council, which connects directly to his previous work on NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign. More here.
Susan Stamler was named to New York state’s nonprofit "Power 50".
Ellen Stiefvater is the new director of Member & Candidate Engagement at the Leadership Now Project.
Mary Sweeters has a new job as the outreach manager of the Insure Our Future Campaign at The Sunrise Project.
Scott Thompson had a media hit in Sports Illustrated last summer for a legal case he was working on – perhaps a first for a PIRG alum! More here.
Kristin Urquiza was recently promoted to vice president at Waxman Strategies.
Rich Williams is the new program officer for the Project on Student Borrower Success at The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Mary Grace (Stewart) Wolf is the new director of individual giving at the YMCA of Metro Chicago.
Jason Zauder is the new chief financial officer at Florida Advocacy Alliance.
Welcome back, Lila!
The Public Interest Network was excited to welcome alumna Lila Jimenez back onto staff last year as the new Planned Giving coordinator.
After growing up in Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Venezuela, and Houston and graduating from Vanderbilt University, Lila originally worked for the Fund for the Public Interest (formerly FFPIR) starting in 1996. Interviewed by Kelley Whitmore and hired as a canvass director, Lila learned how to canvass from Wes Jones in Nashville before attending canvass director training, and then ran the St. Louis canvass office. The following summer sent Lila to Tampa, the following winter she was an assistant director in Chicago alongside Vivien Watts, and then she was part of the huge 1998 Boston summer canvass team that worked on the Dirty Power Plants campaign. Fellow directors that summer in Boston included Iris Vicencio-Garagay, Dan Stafford, and Jay Rasku. Wrapping up her work on the canvass, Lila went on to work with Hyam Kramer as the TOP administrator before heading out to Colorado to work on the major donor pilot project run by Tom Subak and then Nancie Koenigsberg. In Denver, she met and made more lifelong friends, including Rob Gavrell, Robin Hubbard, James Parrot, and Amy Winter.
In 2001, Lila moved on and started working with fellow alum Matt Guerin at Telefund, where she stayed until 2004. After a brief stint helping Hyam and others get Grassroots Campaigns, Inc., off the ground, Lila did development work for the Hermann Park Conservancy in Houston and then worked for many years coordinating blood drives with the Bonfils Blood Center back in Denver. She found the work with Bonfils rewarding and in line with her desire to help others—a desire fueled by growing up with a special needs brother. After more than 8 years in the role, Lila left to explore new challenges. She worked with several nonprofits, including Western Conservation Foundation, Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, and most recently Denver Classroom Teachers Association, but she was still searching for a more fulfilling role.
She stayed in touch with close friends from the Fund—she even met her husband through a Fund connection—and with The Public Interest Network via alumni gatherings and attending the Alumni Aspen vacation. At Alumni Aspen 2017, Lila struck up a conversation with Kristine Oblock, who had herself recently returned to Public Interest Network staff. Intrigued, Lila then spoke with Wendy Wendlandt and Amy Floyd about her desire to return to the Network. Soon after, Amy Floyd emailed about an opening in the Public Interest Network’s Grants Department for Planned Giving coordinator, and it was perfect timing. Lila began the position in March 2018, based in the ever-growing Denver office.
In her new position, Lila is loving being back with The Public Interest Network—she cares about the work and the people doing it, and loves that the Network trains future leaders. She strongly believes that people should be giving to nonprofits in their wills and loves promoting the idea of leaving a lasting legacy of charitable giving to the Network’s membership base. Much of her job entails marketing—making sure members who have given for many years know we accept legacy gifts. Whether it’s bequests, gifts of stock, or vehicle donation, she enjoys sharing with members these additional options for supporting the causes they care about deeply.
Lila is happily married and lives in Denver with her husband and “fur babies” Wrigley, a Bernadoodle, and Jose, a 39-year-old Yellow Shouldered Amazon parrot her family got in Venezuela in 1980. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook.
Public Interest Network Staffing Update
Some familiar names around here have started new roles recently, including Adam Garber. Previously Deputy Director at PennEnvironment, Adam is the new Consumer Watchdog director at U.S. PIRG. Adam originally started with the network as a summer canvasser with the Fund and then Free the Planet volunteer in 2002.
He became a fellow at NJPIRG in 2005 and joined the staff of PennEnvironment in 2007. During his time with PennEnvironment, Adam helped establish a fracking moratorium in the Delaware River Basin, win clean air standards for major polluters in Pittsburgh, defend cornerstone environmental protections, launch a campaign for 100% renewable energy in Pennsylvania, and raise $4 million along the way.
In his new role at U.S. PIRG, Adam is most excited about developing new ways to protect consumers from contaminated food, dangerous cars, and all the ways corporations take advantage of consumers in the marketplace. He’s also eager to help shift the conversation in our country away from “all production is good” to focusing on what truly makes our lives better. Adam is based in Philadelphia, where he and wife Sara Landis, a Public Interest GRFX alum, recently welcomed baby Elon to the world.
- Former U.S. PIRG Public Health Program Director Steve Blackledge is now senior director of Environment America’s Conservation America Campaign.
- Former Impact Campaign Organizing Director Laura Deehan is now an advocate with CALPIRG.
- Former U.S. PIRG Director Andre Delattre is now chief operating officer for program of The Public Interest Network.
- Former CALPIRG Students Organizing Director Jenn Engstrom is now assistant national campus organizing director with The Student PIRGs…
- …which means former CALPIRG Students Assistant Organizing Director Kat Lockwood is the new CALPIRG organizing director.
- Former Public Interest Network Digital Team staffer Heather Kunst is now the deputy manager of the Publications team & GRFX.
- Former Impact Campaign Organizing Director Megan Severson is the new state director of Wisconsin Environment.
- Former Environment America Go Solar Digital Campaigner Ross Sherman is now a communications associate with The Public Interest Network.
Fernando “Andy” Igrejas
Alumnus Fernando “Andy” Igrejas died on June 16, 2018, in Washington, D.C., of brain cancer. He was 47 years old.
A New Jersey native, Andy launched his social change career as a field manager on the Fund summer canvass in 1989 and then as a student activist and board chair with NJPIRG at Rutgers University. After graduation, Andy joined PIRG staff full time, working on recycling, clean water, and public transit with NJPIRG before moving to California to work on the Prop 212 campaign finance reform campaign. After that he became CALPIRG’s Legislative Director, where he wrote and led a successful three-year campaign to pass the California Clean Water Enforcement and Pollution Prevention Act, which created mandatory minimum penalties for violations of a water pollution discharge permit, modeled after his work in NJ. From there, he continued on to national roles with Clear the Air and National Environmental Trust.
In 2009, he founded the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, which grew into a network of approximately 450 organizations and businesses and helped bring about the first major overhaul of the nation's toxic chemicals laws in 40 years—the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was signed into law in June 2016. His life’s work was lauded by members of Congress, funders, and activists, alike.
U.S. Representative Frank Pallone entered the following (and more) into the Congressional Record on March 5, 2018:
...I want to thank Andy for his bold thinking, tireless efforts, and strategic counsel to me and my staff, without which many of the public health and environmental improvements in the Lautenberg TSCA reform law would not have been possible.
The John Merck Fund’s tribute on March 16, 2018 included the following:
Because of Andy's superb skills and devotion to mission, people will live healthier lives, as will the abundant species that populate Planet Earth. Your work has truly made the world a better place.
Toxics activist and fellow PIRG alum Lindsay Dahl wrote of his professional career: "The professional wins that Andy enjoyed were not battles that came easy. He leveraged his New Jersey grit with a first class PIRG training and then he added something special on top: the Andy effect."
And he even got the last word on Nov. 1, 2018, with the The Netflix release of Stink! The documentary film on toxic chemicals in everyday products was dedicated to him as an Environmental Health Hero.
Those who had pleasure to spend time with him loved his hysterical impersonations of elected officials, coalition partners, allies, and friends. No one remained unscathed. He is dearly missed by his wife, alumna Susan Moran Igrejas; mother and stepfather; father and partner; many relatives; and countless beloved friends and colleagues.
You can read Andy’s full obituary here. And if you want to raise a toast to Andy, visit Dino’s Grotto in Washington, D.C. and order a memorial drink, Andy’s Pimm Cup.
Aaron Jackson Sanger
Aaron Jackson Sanger died on Jan. 9, 2018, from a progressive debilitating muscular disorder.
Aaron fought to protect old growth forests as the director of U.S. Campaigns with ForestEthics (now known as Stand), and advanced the causes of clean, wild waterways and safe food with International Rivers and with the Non-GMO Project.
Before 1999, Aaron practiced law for 20 years in the Austin, Texas, area. He represented individuals and small businesses harmed by large corporations, including low-income residents whose groundwater and air was contaminated by a large oil company. In 1999, he decided he wanted to work on environmental campaigns full-time, and joined Green Corps in order to learn the craft of organizing. Former Green Corps Executive Director and current Green Century Funds President Leslie Samuelrich explains, “Aaron decided to be an organizer midway through his career and, consequently, had one of the clearest visions and strongest commitments to the movement of any Green Corps trainee. He was as committed to saving the forests as he was to his family and organizer circle.” Former Green Corps Executive Director Josh Buswell-Charkow adds, “Aaron was a truly remarkable individual. He left a successful law practice in Texas in his mid-forties to do Green Corps because he was so serious about learning the craft of political organizing. When I worked with him at what is now called Stand (then ForestEthics), he took up the cause of the destruction of Chilean forests, even moving his family there for a year to be closer to the action. It is not hyperbole to say there are probably tens of thousands of acres of ancient Chilean forests now standing and protected thanks in part to his passion and determination. But besides his tenacity and vision, he was a stand-up guy and a compassionate soul.” CALPIRG State Director Emily Rusch sums it up: “Aaron was committed, ambitious, and green to his core.”
Aaron is survived by his wife, Michele; their four children; two grandchildren; his two sisters; and a large extended family. Contributions may be made in Aaron’s memory to: Congregation Beth Israel in Bellingham, Washington, Stand, and the Non-GMO Project.
Save the Date!
Alumni and staff gather regularly in cities across the country to catch up with old friends and meet some new faces from the Public Interest Network family. Stay tuned to the alumni website for more details on upcoming events and for photos from past events. If you’d like to help organize an alumni get-together near you, contact Kirsten Schatz by email or at 303-573-5995 x331.
Some of the alumni and staff at last fall's alumni
gathering in Amherst, Mass.
Sacramento, CA Monday, March 4, 2019
Boston, MA Wednesday, March 27, 2019
Los Angeles, CA Saturday, March 30, 2019
Denver, CO Tuesday, April 2, 2019
Portland, ME Tuesday, April 2, 2019
Madison, WI Wednesday, April 3, 2019
Raleigh, NC Wednesday, April 3, 2019
New York City, NY Tuesday, June 4, 2019
We send all but one alumni newsletter each year in electronic format only to save paper and other resources. If you haven't recently received anything from us via snail mail, please email us to make sure we have your correct mailing address on file. Thank you!