By Constance Campanella, President and CEO
In a recent interview, I was asked about dealing with all the “non traditional” lawmakers who are likely to be elected next Tuesday. The journalist’s question concerned the “tea partiers” and “throw the bums out” iconoclasts who will go to Washington, DC and state capitols with a less-than-positive impression of government. How does a lobbyist prepare to deal with those folks?
Hmmm, I thought. What’s so different about this year?
In state government relations, we deal with massive amounts of turnover – an average of 21% every two years. That compares to just about 10% for Members of Congress. So, our plates are always overflowing with new legislators who come to work with just a few priorities and very little knowledge about the broad array of issues and interests they will be asked to address.
As lobbyists, consultants and issue managers we are constantly educating, providing perspective and introducing ourselves to government. Whether the newly elected are ideologically adverse or attuned to business interests, the job must be done. I understand that and so does every experienced state government relations professional.
What I do not understand, is government affairs business people who chose to not get intimate enough with government to influence it. You cannot influence what you do not understand and you cannot understand if you maintain an intellectual distance from government and from public officials.
Certainly, some program designs make exerting influence much more difficult. For example, the federation-type associations play a role in state government relations but are restricted with respect to direct interaction with state officials. Regardless, I have seen those state government relations directors succeed for their industries by providing leadership and resources to their in-state colleagues. They endure the distance and find ways to add value regardless.
In contrast, I have come across government affairs executives who approach government as does a child when encountering something “icky.” To be sure, my limited patience is exhausted by those who have titles but no interest in learning enough to be relevant. There just is no room for that approach because it cannot get the job done.
So, back to all the newbies coming our way. By current count, we will have at least 24 new Governors, perhaps 20 new Attorneys General, hundreds of new state legislators and thousands of new staff. Please do not see that as an obstacle. Please see it all as an opportunity to achieve even more for your organization. Success in managing turnover is a core element of state government relations. It is who we are. Enjoy!