My day on the Hill with Obama Interior Secretary pick Sally Jewell

My day on the Hill with Obama Interior Secretary pick Sally Jewell

Sally Jewell Senate confirmation hearing-2

REI CEO and Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell just minutes before a Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

I got an unexpected introduction to President Obama’s interior secretary nominee Sally Jewell yesterday.

Coverage from Washington D.C.
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I was riding around DC, observing bike traffic and taking photos, when I got a text from a friend who works at Travel Oregon: “Want to go to Senate confirmation hearing for Sally Jewell? It’s at 10am.”

It was just after 9:30 am and I was about one-and-a-half miles from the hearing room on Capitol Hill. I have been following the Jewell nomination for a few weeks now. Jewell lives in Seattle and she seems like someone who understands how bicycling should fit into our forests and public lands. As CEO of REI with a solid record of conservation and recreation, bike advocacy and industry leaders see her potential selection as very good news.

So, despite not having time to change out of my jeans and cycling cap, I pointed my Capital Bikeshare bike east on Pennsylvania Avenue’s bike lanes and hustled up to Capitol Hill. I knew the hearing would be packed and I was worried my somewhat informal attire might attract unwanted attention. So, before finding my place in line outside hearing room 366 in the Dirksen Senate office building, I put on the longest lens in my bag and tried too look professional.

Almost immediately, a man in a suit approached me: “Are you media?”.

“Yes,” I answered.

“OK, you can go right in,” he replied.

I didn’t allow myself to smile for fear of blowing my cover as just some bike blogger from Portland with a rented camera.

Once inside the hearing room, I noticed it was already standing-room only. There were two long tables at either side full of people using laptops (journalists I assume) and rows and rows of very well-dressed people awaiting the full committee of Senators to find their seats. The room was regal by all accounts; just like I’d seen on C-SPAN and in the movies.

At first I stood, somewhat awkwardly, in the back of the room. Then I looked toward the front of room and saw a bunch of photographers on a section of the floor between the elevated seats lined up in a semi-circle (where the Senators sit) and the table with Sally Jewell’s nameplate. I was a bit nervous about this whole thing already, but I realized, given my attire and the huge camera around my neck, I belonged up front with the rest of the photographers.

With a focused, I’m-just-doing-my-job look on my face, I shuffled between the suits and skirts and found my place in the photographer’s pit. A few minutes later, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman, and a dozen or so other Senators had taken their seats. And Ms. Jewell was sitting just a few feet from the end of my lens.

I couldn’t believe it! Here I was, sitting in a Senate hearing room for an important meeting and I had the best seat in the house. What luck!

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The pit.
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L to R: Sen. Patty Murray, Sally Jewell, Sen. Maria Cantwell.
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Sen. Ron Wyden

I mostly focused on getting some good images of Jewell, but I also scribbled a few notes.

Sen. Wyden told the committe that, “Balance will be the key challenge,” of Jewell’s job if she’s selected. He also gave a shout out to his home state of Oregon, saying we have many “resource management issues” including timber, water, and renewable energy.

In her opening remarks, the senior Republican on the committee Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told Jewell she’d have to see our public lands and forests as, “Not just a playground for recreational users, but also paychecks for countless energy producers, miners, loggers and ranchers.”

Jewell was flanked on either side by her own Senators, Washington Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

Sen. Murray touted Jewell’s diverse background in both the corporate and conservation fields and called her, “A gem from the northwest.”

Sen. Cantwell had my favorite quote of the hearing. On Jewell’s policy approach, Cantwell said, “Science will be her compass, not an idealogical bent.”

For her part, Jewell presented herself well in this high-stress limelight. Here are a few quotes from her opening remarks:

“The tug of the northwest was strong for me.” (She was explaining her move back to Seattle from Denver.)

“I have a deep appreciation for the creativity, entrepreneurship, and the commitment of our nations business people — not only for econ development, but also to the support and development of their communities and the care of their environment.”

“I have a commitment to the President’s ‘all of the above’ energy policy.”

“We have a generation of children growing up with a disconnect from nature.”

“We must ensure our open spaces, trails, and parks are both successful and relevant to people from all backgrounds.”

“On climate change, the President has made it clear that climate change is an important issue for our nation. We’ve experienced, storms, wildfires, droughts and floods, and if confirmed for this position I look forward to tapping the vast scientific resources of the Department of the Interior, like the US Geological Survey, the Department of Fish & Wildlife, and other agencies of the fed government to understand and prepare for the impacts of climate change.”

Jewell seems like an excellent candidate and I’ll continue to follow her nomination.

This was a great experience! Thank you to Kristin Dahl of Travel Oregon for telling me about the hearing and special thanks to Pro Photo Supply in northwest Portland for providing me with the awesome Nikon D4 and pro-level lenses that made me feel like I belonged next to veteran and professional Capitol Hill photogs.

Read full coverage of the hearing from the New York Times.


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