Monthly Archives: April 2014

On Being an Independent Citizen Lobbyist – Lessons and Advice

 

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Before retirement I was politically interested but not so much politically involved with the exception of the healthcare issue, for which I had a fascination going back to Hillarycare days of 1993-94, when I pounded out letters to members of congress and various organizations on a manual typewriter and sent them snail mail, arguing for medical savings accounts and less third party payment.

Of course, that issue died down for a long time.  By coincidence, I retired at the end of 2008, between President Obama’s election and his inauguration.  My old interest was quickly rekindled as I followed the events leading up to what we today call Obamacare in March 2010.  I began writing on the subject again, offering innovative solutions that since have evolved, so that even I don’t support many of those early ideas.

The push to citizen lobbyist came in early 2011 when I showed state Senator Folmer a piece I had written at a class on the Constitution he was teaching.  Despite trying unsuccessfully to get the ear of anyone, for which I thought were some good ideas, Senator Folmer demanded that I come to his office to meet with him!  Wow!

I made the appointment.  Then I felt the pressure.  I dug and dug more and printed what I found.  I showed up at his office with the two pages that had sparked his interest plus 50 pages of “supporting documentation”.  We met for almost two hours.  He and his staff were impressed with my preparation and I was on my way.  When I expressed that I wanted to just get some things done so I could go back to being retired, they suggested that my involvement would linger and move to other issues.  They were right.

Without any formal training I threw myself into the game.  Now three years later, I know almost every nook and cranny of the Pennsylvania state capitol.  Many legislators and even more staff know me and generally they respect that I bring issues of substance, with well reasoned arguments, for or against topics on which they may agree or not.  I shop ideas, and that’s important.

When I disagree I always try to have alternate suggestions.  Learning to disagree amicably is part of the way it works.  Getting personal, playing gotcha, or attempting to embarrass to their face or behing their back, is picked up quickly and results in less access and opportunity to persuade.  From my experience I can now offer a few tips.

First and foremost do your homework.  Know as much about all sides of an issue as possible.  This is how to establish credibility.  Know which representatives are involved with which issues, to which committees bills have been assigned, and who sits on and chairs those committees.

Consider building email lists to feed ideas on legislation simultaneously to all members of a committee  so they may talk amongst themselves.  I’ve done this locally with my school board.

Ask for personal meetings with legislators and staff, and when offered, be respectful of their time and thank them profusely.  Play to their egos.

Understand politics attracts certain types of individuals.  One occasion I’ll never forget is when visiting with a staff person I had gotten to like, the phone rang.  Since this was a mostly personal visit, I told the staffer to take the call, that I could wait.  While waiting he said twice to the person on the other end of the conversation, “No. You don’t understand.  Most of the people in here have a pathological need to be loved.”  That sunk in deep.  I realized how important it is to exploit that fundamental truth!  Always keep that one in mind.

Having self written printed material is good.  I like to hand deliver copies of articles I’ve published to my blog or Watchdog Wire.  It’s important for them to know what you’re giving them is also public and that you may write about them…that need to be loved.  Engage them on Twitter and Facebook.  Here again you are not behind closed doors.

Make phone calls to their offices.  Send them emails.  Stay in touch.  Offer links to stories that may help them better understand issues.  Just be aware that no matter the form of communication, it always carries most weight coming from a constituent.  Knowing this, it sometimes may be most beneficial motivating a legislator’s constituents to work for you.  Business groups or grassroots organizations in their district can be good targets.  Explain the importance of their effort and how they can uniquely make a difference, especially when their representative holds the keys to moving a bill along.

On the constituent issue, when contacting those who don’t directly represent you by your vote, be upfront.  Say you are not a constituent but remind them that in their capacity as chairperson or member of a committee where legislation resides they do represent you and all citizens of the state.

It can often be very difficult to get private sit-down meetings with representatives outside your own district, but there is one important trick that often works.  Attend committee meetings.  Usually in the time just before the meeting commences, and again after it adjourns, opportunity presents itself to go one on one.  Introduce yourself.  Share a handout.  At one meeting I attended the chair gave me permission to place a handout at each legislator’s seat prior to the start of the meeting.  It is sometimes these introductions that can lead to a willingness to meet more formally.  Never hesitate to ask.  The most they can say is no.

Another important step is attending town hall meetings.  If you have a good relationship with your elected representative and visit or contact often (and you should), don’t try to monopolize too much time.  Learn what’s on the mind of your neighbors, unless its something you want to make the representative address publically.  Don’t hesitate to attend town hall meetings outside your district, but admit your status and defer to constituents in the Q & A.  Showing this respect will bring you yours.

Don’t try to nail elected officials to the wall in embarrassing ways with trick or trap questions.  Rather than condemn them outright for taking tens of thousands from a union other special moneyed interest, ask them to tell you, and everyone, how they will avoid being influenced by the expectations attached to the donation, in keeping first the needs of those they represent.  That they know you’re aware who their donors are and that you’re watching is what counts.

One last thing is don’t despair.  Surprises are possible.  One idea I shopped, based on exciting legislation in the New Jersey Senate to reward physicians who volunteer time in free clinics, was introduced in the Pennsylvania House by a representative outside my district.  This truly proves the power of one.

While these tips have been centered on my experience at the state level and I have the advantage of living near the Pennsylvania Capitol, the same basics apply at the federal level on down to local counties, boroughs, townships and school districts.  Pick issues of interest, knowing no one can be on top of everything.  Throw yourself into it, and have fun too!

 

 

Final Thoughts on an Historic but Flawed PA Special Election

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Pennsylvania’s March 18th special election to fill the 28th district senate seat vacated by the resignation of Senator Mike Waugh only lacked normalcy.  Everything about it was wrapped in controversy, suspicion, confusion, arrogance, and incompetence, ultimately producing a profoundly surprising historic outcome, as Tea Party outsider and Republican unnominated, Scott Wagner, won an unprecedented write-in victory helped, in no small way, by public disgust over vicious attack ads directed at him by the GOP establishment.  Added to this was the possibility, due to improper selection of eligible precincts, the election could be contested as invalid, leaving uncertainty and chaos in its wake.

Avoiding possible chaos, hearing no challenges, Scott Wagner will be sworn in Wednesday April 2, as the first ever Pennsylvania legislator elected by write-in.  Not only that, his margin of victory was so huge that the York County GOP Committee-picked nominee, sitting House member Rep Ron Miller, subsequently dropped out of the May 20 primary, which will select candidates for a new full state Senate term beginning 2015, effectively ending his 16 year career in the legislature.

The issue of the election’s validity was raised due to its being held in a time of redistricting transition, and the revelation that another special election for a vacant state House seat had been held only seven weeks prior, on January 28th, set up using existing boundaries, whereas the March 18th Senate election was set up using the adopted, but yet to take effect, new district boundaries, each to fill vacant terms expiring November 30, 2014.

This suggested nearly 50,000 citizens were being disenfranchised, as another nearly 36.000 had been improperly enfranchised, becoming a daily topic of discussion by local talk show host Gary Sutton on WSBA radio.  Only the size of Wagner’s margin of victory, itself driven by public reaction against the vile attack ads from his own party, rendered validity moot, as his nearly doubling the vote totals of each of his two opponents left no room for argument that, even had the election been set up properly, the outcome could possibly have been different.

Questions remain as to suspicions of collusion raised by Senator Waugh’s resignation, his constitutionally questionable appointment as executive director of the Farm Show Expo, run by a Bureau of the Department of Agriculture, by Governor Corbett, and Lt Governor Cawley’s issuance of the writ for the special election, all within hours.

The smell and speculation of conspiracy was aided by Waugh’s August 9, 2013 announcement he would not seek reelection, Scott Wagner’s announcement of intent to run shortly after, and known differences between Wagner and GOP party insiders.  Was this a plot to keep Wagner out?

Setting the special election March 18th with a primary election only 9 weeks ahead added more fuel to the fire, as this would result in additional cost to the taxpayer estimated to exceed $200,000 as opposed to holding the special election in conjunction with the May 20 primary.  This brought speculation also that, because there is no primary for a special election, and the county party committees would select the nominees, outsider Scott Wagner would have to face an incumbent in the May primary, to lessen his chance of success there.

With some in the public from both parties upset over an unnecessary $200,000+ expense, the York County GOP committee unwittingly, by selecting any sitting house member at the time, did something that could have doubled the expense, had their chosen nominee won.  Had Rep Ron Miller won the election, yet another special election to fill his vacant seat would not have been an option, in spite of early indications from local GOP officials that it would.

The election code is clear in stating that, on the occurrence of a vacancy, the presiding officer shall within 10 days issue a writ for a special election at least 60 days forward, unless the vacancy occurs within 7 months before the expiration of a term, in which situation there is no special unless the presiding officer makes the case for one.  Waiting for the May 20 primary, therefore also, would have ended the ugly possibility of $400,000+ in two special elections.

It is worth noting here that some also complained about the special election candidate nomination process, being hand picked by the county committees.  Often they were the same people also upset by the $200,000 extra expense, by scheduling the election apart from a primary only 7 weeks hence.  Here, though, is where it cannot be both ways.  Either accept the committee selection process as prescribed in the code, or accept imposition of an added expense of holding a primary for the special.  Those are the choices.

As a final thought on the boundaries used for the 28th district senate special election being incorrect, as radio show host Sutton pressed the validity issue, he reported his repeated attempts to obtain answers of clarity from the Lt Governor’s office, the Department of State, and the local Board of Elections all resulted in unreturned calls, not what would be expected of those capable of and anxious to defend their actions.

Then also, there is one curious post election observation.  Sometime between the election and Saturday March 22, all the “Find My Legislator” information at the General Assembly website was changed to the new district boundaries for Senators but not members of the House. In my case, where Newberry Twp, York County will be moving from Senator Teplitz-15th to Senator Folmer-48th the website now tells me Senator Folmer is my Senator presently.  Questioning Senator Teplitz, who periodically has staff available in the Newberry Twp building, he confirmed that nothing has changed.  Until the end of November his staff will still be there the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of every month as always.  So it seems a mistake, luckily complimented by a decisive outcome aided by arrogance in political advertising, that saved a potential challenge of an election, is now being smoothed over with a lie.  Oh, my!

While the historic but flawed Senate 28th special election of 2014 suggests clarification of the code to guide in times of redistricting transition in the future, the next time it can happen is beyond current sight.  With no expectation of political gain by addressing it now, it is likely the same issues of confusion will arise again, when memory of this experience will long have been forgotten.

Note: This article shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania 4/3/14