For effective advocacy, build relationships with elected officials

Therese Dunphy

September 27, 2017

Capitol HillAdvocacy is all about relationships. During the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association’s (NSSGA) Legislative & Policy Forum/Fall Board Meeting, held Sept. 24-28 in Washington, D.C., aggregates producers heard that they must build and maintain relationships with elected officials in order to have their message heard on Capitol Hill.

“Talking to our legislators is something I’m passionate about,” says McLanahan Corp.’s George Sidney after being named NSSGA’s Grasstops CEO of the Year. “The reality is that one person can’t do it alone. All of us, working together and pulling in the same direction, is necessary to get the job done. I challenge each and every one of you to have a voice with your elected officials. Remember, we pay their salary. They work for us. They need to know that.”


Build a relationship

When visiting a legislator in Washington, D.C., it may seem like a 15-minute meeting is a small return on the investment of time, but it is an important step in building a relationship.

“When constituents come to town, it makes a huge difference,” says Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.). These representatives know you are taking time away from your business and family because you feel strongly about the topics you discuss.

To maximize the visit, remember the three cardinal rules of advocacy: be brief, be brilliant, and be done. Whether addressing the need for additional infrastructure investment, regulatory reform, or the tax code, share what these issues mean to your business and, more importantly, their constituents.

Peter DiFazio
Rep. Peter DiFazio (D-Ore.) tells aggregates producers that 24 states have raised gas taxes or registration fees of some sort to fund infrastructure. Federal legislators need to be partners in that effort.

Peter DiFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, suggests focusing on macro issues related to the topic. “Part of the problem is you’re going to benefit so you’re a little bit suspect,” he says. On an issue such as infrastructure support, DiFazio suggests discussing broader effects of transportation spending such as the cost of congestion and how  many people would be put to work via additional investment. “The more concrete you  can be about the problems that a deteriorating infrastructure has created, the more likely you are to be persuasive with some of these folks,” he explains.


Make a clear ask

At the end of an in-person meeting, Graves says to push members: “Ask them to commit to your issues.”

He notes that producers shouldn’t be disappointed if they meet with transportation policy aides rather than legislators themselves. “They are going to be giving firsthand advice directly to that member of Congress,” he explains.

Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), a third-generation sand and gravel operator, echoes that sentiment. Legislative aides manage invitations for their representative at home. Schedule an hour-long plant visit which will help create better insights into how issues such as safety, fuel pricing, and health care that impact aggregates operations.


Follow up at home

After meeting with your representative in Washington, Huizenga suggests that operators ‘bird dog’ the visit to the Capitol by reaching out to the representative’s district director to reiterate what you shared with the representative.

In addition, follow up with an email to the legislator or staffer about a week after the visit. Thank them for their time and reiterate bullet points on topics you discuss. Remember to offer to send follow up materials if they have additional questions.


Collaborate with Congress

“Over the last several years, it seems like the policymaking apparatus was trying to zing all of you,” says Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce’s Subcommittee on Workforce Protection, who has worked with industry to address issues such as MSHA’s workplace exams and silica rules.

“For us to turn that around, we’re going to have to work together,” he says. “One of the first things we have to do is make (agencies) understand that statutes give them the authority to do certain things and that’s it. They don’t get to make up how widely they interpret their own statute. That’s Congress’ job, not there’s. Our top priority is to focus on preventive policies and not punitive actions.”

It’s easier to do that, he says, when an industry also monitors its own and reports “bad actors” who give the sector a bad name.


Be patient

Bill Shuster
Bill Shuster tells aggregates producers that infrastructure is a bipartisan issue. The challenge will be meeting $1 trillion in funding.

“When you talk about folks who are dealing with infrastructure…that’s a bipartisan issue. There aren’t Republican bridges and Democrat bridges. There are American bridges and roads,” notes Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “We believe that, in the next week or two, we will get an outline as to what the White House believes should be the infrastructure bill. I’m very much looking forward to working through that process. It’s absolutely fundamental to the economy.”

But, whether it’s changes working their way the new majority at the National Labor Relations Board or obtaining that new infrastructure bill, progress won’t be made overnight.

In addition, compromise might be the word of the day. Huizenga suggests that it’s better to achieve 80 percent of goal and win that strive for 100 percent and lose.

“It is a tough, tough environment right now,” he says. “We have gone through tougher times than this as a nation and come out the other side. We just need to create an environment of success and get it done.”

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