Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lessons from a Lobbyist

Recently, I went to Business day at the State Capital. It is a great education in government! The highlight for me was a breakout session hosted by Bill Blazar, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs & Business Development for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Lobbying Ground Rules of Advocacy

What to do:

  • Know who you represent – Go back to that when you get confused.
  • Lead on "Their" issues.
  • Manage expectations – How much progress can (we) make on a given issue in a given time?
  • Know the rules, written and unwritten – a discussion with the same person in the hallway is different than a discussion with that person in a committee hearing.
  • Make progress every year – Big issue home runs are rare. Find a crack in the granite and work it.
  • Say "Thank you" – there are many opportunities.
  • Be omnipresent – Be at the Capital, it's a lot harder for them to vote against you when they see your face. When they are in session, be in the hallways, when they are not in session, have someone form the team roam the hallways. Be there when they have a question.

What not to do:

  • Lie – "I don't know" is better than to make something up or guess.
  • Break a deal – Do it once, you're done. You should also be able to make a deal (with support from your constituents to make a decision).
  • Leave Early – "Thems that show up, make the law"
  • Say – "They elected the wrong people"
  • Surprise an author (of a bill) – If someone is going to author a bill that you are going to kill, go to them first and tell them.
  • Lobby only in your comfort zone – Figure out how to talk with people you don't agree with.

Debatable Ground Rules:

  • Know "Their" issues – They may become yours someday.
  • Be "Their" friend – Choices; Friend, Expert, Expert who understands politics.
  • Lobby other Lobbyists - Lobbyists don't vote!
  • Public fights with your team.

Your Strategy depends on…

  • $$$ - required? Or policy change only
  • Partisan vs. nonpartisan issue. 95% of votes are not partisan. If it is a partisan issue, lobby the speaker and the minority leader (they decide what hits the floor).
  • Issue in the next campaign? Will it show up in the political ads in the next election?
  • Grassroots support – can you get it?
  • Has it been debated before? How much? – the best way to kill a bill is to say "We need to study it"
  • Is an organized opposition expected? – Are they going to pack the committee hearing?
  • Who's your champion? – How powerful are they?
  • Is the issue discreet? – will it get sucked into other issues? Is it linked to other issues? Is it a $$ deal that will get scrutiny?

What's the toughest issue?

  • If it's… $$, partisan, campaign issue, no grass roots support, an old issue, there's organized opposition, a weak or overworked champion, linked to other issues.

Strategy P.S.:

  • Expect the unexpected, who would have thought the issue regarding nuclear energy discussions in Minnesota would be affected by a Tsunami in Japan?
  • Find ways to end "Dug-in" positions, you need a curb jumping way to approach the issue that's good for the legislator.
  • We always start on plan A and never end there; sometimes we end on plan Z.
  • Look for a break on issues

I think it is a fact of life, sometimes you will need to advocate for what you want, or for what those (who you serve) want. I really liked these principals because of their simplicity. If you are planning to advocate for something in the future, pull these out and brush up on the ground rules and strategy. Emotion is the enemy of good negotiation; this seems like a good way to get centered around a healthy outcome. Enjoy!



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