State Government Relationships

By Steve Arthur, Vice President

state government relations and relationshipsAs my colleague Michael Behm pointed out in a recent blog post, there are a large number of elected and appointed official Groups meetings being held over the summer. Michael’s blog clearly outlined a variety of reasons for attending these meetings and ensuring that we as state government relations professionals derive value from them. One of the reasons he cited was relationship building.

Governor Rick Perry’s recent announcement that he will not seek a 4th full term in 2014 was a recent reminder that relationships are important in our business. The sharp reminder is that no one stays in office forever. That plain and simple truth means that the relationships we build with elected officials and their staffs are not permanent—we constantly need to maintain and update those relationships if we are going to be effective state government relations professionals.

While many things can happen between now and November 2014, Attorney General Greg Abbott is the current frontrunner to replace Perry. Two other Attorneys General, Maryland’s Doug Gansler and New Mexico’s Gary King have stated they are also running for Governor of their states in 2014. For those who need to maintain relationships with Governors’ offices, the relationship building process begins with Generals Abbott, Gansler, King and the numerous other potential candidates. Currently, there are eight Governors that had previously served as Attorney General. The process needs to begin with making sure they understand our clients’ interests and concerns.

That is, of course, unless you or your colleagues have also been attending meetings of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), Conference of Western Attorneys General (CWAG) or the Republican and Democratic Attorneys General Associations (RAGA / DAGA). In that case, strong relationships with the Attorneys General have already been established and your company or trade association is ahead of many others.

This year’s Virginia gubernatorial race is another example. Current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is the GOP candidate for Governor and is locked in a tight race. Those who have attended the Attorneys General groups meetings already know General Cuccinelli, and some might have had a relationship with him even before he took that position. Not only is he the current Attorney General, he is also a former state legislator. It should be no surprise that he is not the only one. In the only other gubernatorial race this year New Jersey Senator Barbara Buono is challenging Chris Christie for the state’s highest office.

General Cuccinelli and Senator Buono are far from the only state legislators who aspire to be Governor. Twenty current Governors previously served in their state’s House or Senate, six served on a city or county council and three served as a mayor. With the NCSL Legislative Summit beginning August 12, this is a timely reminder that there will be several future Governors walking the hallways of the Georgia World Congress Center.

And when we talk about relationships, we should not overlook staff, especially in the world of Attorneys General. Utah’s and Indiana’s current Attorney Generals, John Swallow and Greg Zoeller, respectively, each served as Chief Deputy Attorney General before being elected in his own right. In the 2014 election cycle, Cynthia Coffman, the current Chief Deputy Attorney General in Colorado is running to replace her boss, John Suthers.

And we should not forget local elected officials. As my colleague Heather Williams has pointed out in a recent blog, there are many opportunities to do business, and build relationships at the local level. If you have worked with a mayor or county official in that capacity, they are very likely to remember you when they are in higher office.

As anyone who has attended a National Governors Association meeting or the Republican or Democratic association meetings can attest, there are a wide variety of companies, trade associations, unions and others vying for Governors’ time and attention. If you have an established relationship from when they were in a previous office, it makes it much easier to catch their attention at these higher profile meetings and events.

So as you evaluate which Groups you should join or support, ask yourself what the value would be to have developed a relationship with Governors well before they were elected to their current office. Would it be valuable to your state government relations program to get to know a future Governor and his or her spouse at dinners or other social events where they have time to talk about issues beyond that one issue you just have to discuss at the next meeting?

Of course, one never knows who will actually be elected to higher office, but relationships you can build with elected officials in their early days can be replicated when those officials start traveling with a large entourage and a calendar scheduled down to every five minutes of his or her time. Keep that in mind if you are trying to decide whether to participate in any particular Group and balance the short term needs versus your long term goals for government relations in the states.

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Steve Arthur is Vice President and brings more than 20 years of public policy experience in both the public and private sector to his work at Stateside Associates. Mr. Arthur provides clients with hands on state government relations support from strategic planning and issue management to lobbyist management and direct lobbying. He is one of the leaders of Stateside’s Attorneys General practice, guiding clients through the process of working with, and lobbying, state Attorneys General.

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