Archive for August, 2011

HO, HO, HOLD THE PRESSES!

August 30, 2011

By Constance Campanella, President and CEO

Labor Day, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Veterans Day, Halloween and Valentine’s Day are holidays to most, but for elected officials they are something more–an opportunity to issue press releases, website posts, tweets and other announcements.

With headlines such as “Attorney General Settles with Florist (February 14),” “Avoid Halloween Tricks by Credit Card Companies,” and “Governor Challenges Superintendents at Back to School Gathering.” Attorneys General, Governors, Mayors and state legislators take advantage of the natural news hook of a holiday, season or special event to promote public policy messages.

Last year, a national industry association used the Christmas/Hanukkah gift giving season as the hook and encouraged state Attorneys General to promote safety tips for particular online purchases. The association produced a top ten list of consumer tips and offered the information to AG’s offices.

In all, 11 state AG’s issued press releases or published the information on their websites. The cost was minimal, but the benefit was great. The AG’s offices appreciated help in producing a quality consumer notification. And, while the association did not get public credit for their idea, recognition by the AG’s was more than enough reward.

The flip side is equally noteworthy. Some AG’s use the New Year (or thereabouts) to publish annual Top Ten “Anti-Consumer” lists. Not limited to fraudsters, these lists sometimes include legitimate businesses that are in disfavor or which represent higher cost alternatives to consumers. These lists are published online and lapped up by the print media, especially the content-desperate weeklies. Discovering your legitimate business on these lists can be very troubling, especially given the permanency of information on the web.

So, recognizing that holidays and special seasons are PR and press bait–let’s roll with it and outline both positive and defensive measures you can undertake.

Step 1.   Open your calendar and note the seven (7) day period just prior to a holiday or special season. For Back to School season, note late July to mid-late August. Tax Day is not a holiday, but please mark it as well as St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day and any other “Hallmark” days.

Step 2.   Take a look at your public policy agenda and brainstorm with your colleagues to find any connections to the various special dates you have selected.

Step 3.   Imagine how each of the policy issue items you matched to holidays and seasons could be treated in either a positive or a negative way with respect to your business. This is important. You need to consider both options.

A positive treatment would be like the example above with the national industry association. They wanted to promote safe and legal shopping online and shared that view with the AG’s in a form that was most appealing, usable and respectful.

A negative treatment would be your business or industry earning a spot on a Top Ten Fraud list.

Step 4.   Select the strongest candidates among your “positives” and assemble the supportive information necessary to motivate a public official to adopt it.

When assembling your materials, think in terms of both print and web treatments, so digital versions of maps, charts, graphics and the like may be valuable. Of course, all material must be free of copyright restrictions. And, you have to be modest. You are not likely to get a “by-line” on the work. You are providing valuable information and if it gets adopted, that is your reward.

All information must be impeccably timely and accurate.

Step 5.   If you are trying to avoid being part of a Top Ten bad guys list, then you need to assemble a campaign to displace bad or erroneous impressions of your business.

Start by identifying the officials who typically publish such lists. Then, perform an unvarnished self-analysis to zero in on the aspects of your business that are either misunderstood or disfavored by consumer advocates. Your campaign needs to be built on changing, neutralizing or containing these negatives. (For additional information about designing a custom campaign contact us).

Step 6.   Sell it.

Your outreach to the elected officials you target can include a mass mailing or email, but will always involve direct contact with the officeholders. Positive campaigns—in which you offer ideas for holiday-related messages–can be an excellent vehicle for building relationships with these electeds, even if your offer is not accepted.

With Labor Day a week away, please send us examples that you find of electeds using the holiday to promote their messages.

Family Ties and Term Limits

August 25, 2011

By Stateside Associates

The Kennedys, the Bushes, the Daleys–all families that come to mind when I think of political dynasties. Lesser known families include the Goodmans of Las Vegas, the Runners of California or the Chu/Engs also of California. In each of these examples, a spouse chose to run for the other’s seat once term-limits forced the spouse out of office. Are term limits creating more of these political family dynasties?

In July 2011, Carolyn Goodman was sworn in as the new Mayor of Las Vegas, replacing her husband, Oscar B. Goodman, who was term-limited from running again. Mr. Goodman was a vocal critic of term limits in the media, and stated that he wanted to run for mayor again. Instead, his wife ran for the seat. While campaigning, Mrs. Goodman frequently introduced herself as “Oscar’s wife” and campaigned on continuing her husband’s policies.

Family member successions are becoming more common in California, since the state has strict term limits. One example is George and Sharon Runner. When Mr. Runner was term limited out of the California Assembly in 2002, Mrs. Runner ran and won his former seat. In 2010, after Mr. Runner was elected to the state Board of Equalization, Mrs. Runner again ran and won election to his newly vacated seat. In the other California example, Judy Chu was termed out of the Assembly in 2006 and her husband, Mike Eng, ran and won the seat he still holds today.

However, this is not necessarily a new phenomenon. In 1966, Alabama Governor George Wallace was facing term limits, and attempted to change the law. Unable to get the law changed in time, he had his wife run on his platform and promise voters that he would serve as her “number one assistant.” Mrs. Wallace was successful—she beat 10 primary opponents and won the general election by an overwhelming margin.

If the purpose of term limits is to prevent career politicians and encourage citizen legislators, is familial succession usurping the process? When family members run for a termed-out relative’s seat, they essentially run as an incumbent. If voters know what is in their best interests and decide to keep an incumbent (or his or her familial replacement) in office, then aren’t they, in essence, rejecting term limits?

Of course, elections impose term limits every 2-4 years. If voters decide an elected official is no longer fit for the office, they elect someone new. This was a widespread occurrence in 2006, 2008 and 2010, and is likely to happen again in 2012.

In looking specifically at the Goodman example, many expect Mr. Goodman to act as Las Vegas’ “shadow mayor.” In an interview, when Mrs. Goodman was asked to discuss what budget cuts she would make, she deferred to her husband, “you might speak to that.” If Mr. Goodman truly acts as the “shadow mayor,” would Las Vegas voters have been better off with Mr. Goodman continuing as Mayor?

Critics of term limits argue that they reduce institutional memory and knowledge of those in the elected office, causing more reliance on lobbyists. A recent study conducted by the Center for Governmental Studies, “Citizen Legislators or Political Musical Chairs: Term Limits in California,” concludes that term limits are undermining the relative power of the legislative branch. The report discusses how legislative leadership and experience has weakened, leading to less effective oversight of the executive branch and lower levels of legislative expertise. This leaves us, as government relations professionals, dealing with a less effective counterpart in elected officials, and in many cases, forcing us to act as an educator of the issues at play. While familial succession does not fully solve this problem, when family members assume the reigns of elective office, the voting public usually retains a level of institutional knowledge and governing expertise.

As a state government affairs professional, how do you feel about term limits? Have term limits proven to be a well intentioned failure? Do you see familial succession happening more frequently in states with term limits? How do term limits affect institutional knowledge and relationships built up over time and how does the electoral transfer of office from one family member to another help or hinder our efforts to represent clients?

Observations from the 2011 NCSL Legislative Summit

August 16, 2011

By Michael Behm, Senior Vice President

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Annual Legislative Summit in San Antonio, Texas ended last Thursday on a high note for the organization. The Summit was NCSL’s largest meeting since 2007, in terms of attendance and featured over 150 policy and working sessions. And the organization announced at its Executive Committee Meeting that it ended the 2011 fiscal year with a positive balance, despite earlier gloomy forecasts and a volatile national economy. NCSL’s Foundation for State Legislatures announced similar good news – it had exceeded its annual fundraising goals by nearly $200,000 this year and was aiming for an even higher, record fundraising goal for FY 2012.

Attendance at the meeting far exceeded those projections made earlier in the year, with well over 5,000 people registering. Among those registering – and perhaps a more important to the private sector – were a larger number of legislators and staff than had participated in the 2010 Legislative Summit. November’s elections brought a trove of new faces to the annual event, including many of the newly-elected Republican leaders – a number of whom had never attended an NCSL meeting.

The new attendees brought a level of energy that I haven’t sensed at an NCSL meeting in several years, the dialogue was spirited and I have to tell you that the meeting and sessions rooms were packed. Convention staff wheeled extra chairs into dozens of conference rooms throughout the week. One education session I attended, scheduled on the last day of the Summit, at the early hour of 8:00 AM – and after the famous, and sometimes raucous, late-night party that accompanies the Summit – was nearly full.

The new faces also brought a different political tone to the meeting. You could not avoid a distinctly conservative and business-focused vibe in the policy discussions and reception and hallway conversation. Chalk that up to the Summit being hosted in the big red (and unseasonably hot) state of Texas, or perhaps to the majority of state legislatures now controlled by Republicans, but a conservative-leaning theme defined much of the meeting dialogue.

Texas Governor and newly-announced Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry (R) helped to frame that tone on the second day of the Summit with a red meat speech to the nearly 1,500 attendees who crammed the convention center theater see him. The governor demanded more power for the states, less interference from the federal government and more focus on job creation, announcing that Texas’ low-tax, low-regulation and cost-cutting approach to governing created “40 percent of the net new jobs in this country” over the last two years. By contrast, Governor Perry argued, “government doesn’t create jobs, otherwise the last two years of stimulus spending would have worked.” Hinting at his weekend announcement speech, Governor Perry told the NCSL crowd that he stood ready to “work with [my] fellow governors to return power to the states – where it belongs.”

Many of the more popular sessions at the Summit continued with similar business-focused, conservative themes. Session titles such as the “Long Term Impact of Environmental Regulation on Industry and Consumers” and another called “Creating Jobs by Reducing Regulation” were standing room only. Conservative themes, but also very reflective of the policy debates occurring in the states during the latest legislative session.

Another policy session, “Renewable Energy Facility Siting: Examining the Roadblocks and Opportunities”, explored the many, mostly state and federal regulatory, challenges the states and their industry stakeholders face while exploring renewable energy generation opportunities. The serious budget challenges states are now facing from government employee pension liabilities were featured in another, animated session during the Summit, following on the debates in the states this spring. And yet another session, “Bringing Legislators to the Table: Examining Hunger in America”, perhaps more accurately examined private-public partnerships and the wide variety of corporate directed efforts – which more and more states now rely on – to address food insecure communities around the country.

If you attended the Legislative Summit, did you notice a more conservative political tone? What were your observations about the policy sessions and discussions? What would you like to see featured at next year’s NCSL Legislative Summit?


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