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The City Café

Stay up to date on important information for local government leaders.


Over the past few weeks I have been asked to speak to a few association groups on the issue of citizen/association advocacy and the in’s and outs of the legislative process. After completing the circuit (okay, so I had dreams of the speaking circuit as a youth), I realized that I had probably internalized most of this information, but had spent little time conveying this same information to our Utah League of Cities and Towns membership. So, with that being said, here are a few critical points from the lobbyist “creed”– according to Lincoln

  • Understand that politics are in play: Often times association groups and citizens rely solely on the policy positions in which they espouse and forget that politics are definitely in play. Now that shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of the process, but more a statement of fact. As has been reported recently in the print media, our legislature is dealing with Senate/House/Executive dynamics that can often surround our issues. We also forget how individual legislators are dealing with several issues, which are often intertwined by several factors to include: Past experience with the advocacy groups, sponsorship, appropriation requests, etc. — The job of a lobbyist is often to see how the “dots” connect and determine how to use that knowledge to their benefit.
  • Respect a Legislator’s Time: It is a very busy 45 days, so the best policy is to be concise and to the point. It is often best to make series of contacts, whereby information can be left with the legislator and you can then follow-up at a later date to answer any questions or address any concerns that are expressed. “Single-Shot” lobbying rarely, if ever, works.
  • The art of compromise: By our very nature, most of us wish to avoid conflict — thus compromise is at the very core of the legislative process. Legislators are generally looking to balance interests. Be willing to compromise, but at the same time, maintain a firm understanding of what it is you are trying to accomplish. Don’t let “winning” get in the way of achieving your objective.
  • Incrementalism: You are in this for the long-haul. Remember that the theory of incrementalism is your friend and be willing to take the little “wins”. Be willing to work slowly but methodically to achieve your goals and remember that it may take several years to get there.
  • Plan for the Win-Win: Attempt to make your proposal a win-win situation for both you and the legislature. Long-term thinking is key this process. Inevitably the legislature will meet again, and you will likely be looking for assistance from this group in the future as well. Attempt to align interests and educate versus simply winning once.
  • Find Friends: It is always best to broaden your base of support. Consider whose opinion can also influence the process: Colleagues? legislators? politicians? other interest groups? and then use those resources in your lobbying efforts.
  • Never Get Defensive: Just because a legislator is asking questions does not mean they are coming after you. Utilize this opportunity to educate and reiterate your perspective. It is best to understand why those questions may exist and proactively address the issue versus becoming defensive and reacting as such.
  • Maintain Contact Throughout the Year: If you only contact a legislator when you need something then you don’t have a REAL relationship. Build legislative relationships that are deeper than simply asking for favors. People will get tired of you if they feel that you are only in this for yourself. Ask how you can help versus always asking for the favor.
  • Honesty: The one fundamental key to lobbying is to gain and maintain trust. If you expect people to rely and value your opinion they must trust you — and people have a long memory when it comes to this issue. Integrity and Honesty is one of the only commodities you have to offer.

Hopefully this information is useful, and we hope to see more of you on Capitol Hill



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