Friday, February 20, 2009

Your Own Day On the Hill

The blogger Jonathan at Grand Divisions seemed more than a little upset that participants in "Equality Day On the Hill" didn't get to meet with Representative G.A. Hardaway or Stacey Campfield:

Rep. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) "stood up" his constituents twice after
missing scheduled and rescheduled appointments on Tuesday. Campfield is
notorious for filing bills that border on the absurd that have never made it to
the floor for a vote. His proposed legislation includes bills that would
prohibit discussion of homosexuality or bisexuality in public schools, call for
issuing death certificates for aborted fetuses, and deny birth certificates to
immigrant children.
[As mentioned the other day, the majority of informed conservative voters in the 18th District support these proposals.-DMO]

Shelby County constituents also had difficulty meeting with a few of their
lawmakers. I phoned several times to schedule an appointment with Rep. G.A.
Hardaway (D-92) during the weeks before Advancing Equality Day. I finally
reached him last Friday. He apologized that his office had not responded with an
appointment for Tuesday and apologized for not calling to cancel a scheduled
appearance at TEP's Lobbying 101 training in Memphis on Jan. 24. Hardaway asked
that I call his office early Tuesday morning. He was certain he would have time
to meet.I called Rep. Hardaway's office at 8:15 a.m. last Tuesday and was
offered a meeting with Hardaway at 12 Noon. When my fellow constituents and I
arrived at Hardaway's office at Noon, we were told that he would not be
available for the rest of the day. I found this curious since many in our Shelby
County group had seen Rep. Hardaway several times in the halls of Legislative
Plaza earlier in the day.


Some Tennessee bloggers will remember that in 2007, we organized a "Bloggers' Day On the Hill," wherein a reluctant (at the time, not so much now) new Leader Jason Mumpower consented to have bloggers visit Capitol Hill under the auspices of the House Republican Caucus. Those who chose to join us were treated to a level of access for two days which most groups are rarely privy to, including many in the press. I remain personally greatful to Mumpower and the Caucus for the way we all were treated, especially since I know how skeptical Jason was of bloggers and the blogosphere at the time. Liberals were even invited, and I should point out that the open format was not what Mumpower had originally planned, but was insisted upon by the same Stacey Campfield that Jonathan and others now deride.

After the first Bloggers' Day, I became consumed with my own political campaign and never asked Jason for a repeat performance. Now that I am finished running for office-for the time being-I'd love to do another such Day On the Hill and include some folks who couldn't make it the first time. However, Bloggers' Day was a chance for bloggers to get to know the Hill and for folks on Capitol Hill to get to know some of us, and to see us at work. We weren't there to lobby for a particular interest group or issue, and I am glad we were not.

Rarely do I give advice to the opposition for fear that they may follow it and benefit by it, but I will make an exception because groups on all sides of the political spectrum who care about our political process should remember how the best political impacts are made. Since Bloggers' Day On the Hill, I have returned to Nashville a couple of times as just plain Citizen Oatney. Everyone knows that while at the Plaza, this website will be abuzz with things that I might learn, but I also manage to get face time (and sometimes dinner and drinks) with legislators from both parties, who will stop me in the hall or gladly take five minutes to talk to me about an issue I might care about. Some will share that they have received phone calls from constituents about an issue I brought up, or do as Frank Niceley sometimes does and say "I've written this bill, will you give me your opinion?"

It seems as though every interest group has a "Day On the Hill" of some sort. Agriculture Day On the Hill, "New American (illegal immigration)"Day On the Hill, Second Amendment Day On the Hill, Catholic Day On the Hill, Pro-Life Day On the Hill, Chamber of Commerce Day On the Hill, Realtors' Day On the Hill, and I would guess that there is probably a One-Armed-Multi-Gendered Mermaid Day On the Hill-everyone else has a day, too. These days do serve a useful purpose for the citizens involved because they familiarize them somewhat with how the General Assembly works, but I would venture to say that they aren't as effective a tool for citizen lobbying as some group leaders might have constituents believe.

What is the most effective way for a citizen to lobby the State House and Senate? A personal visit during the work week with a request to see one's Representative or Senator can be very effective. "But Oatney," you say, "I have to work, I have commitments, I have a family, and a life, and so many responsibilities that I do not have time to just drop what I am doing and go to Nashville." No you don't, but that is precisely the point. If an issue or related issues is so important that you felt the need to take the day off and go up to Nashville to discuss it with the powerful, it must be awfully important to you. Your legislators are not stupid, they know that if you come on a personal visit during the week to talk to them, you have done so with no small sacrifice. They know this because nearly all of them have another job or career and have literally put their lives and families on hold to go to the Legislature for 4-6 months out of the year. Show up on a personal call, and it carries a lot more weight than a "Day On the Hill" might. My elected officials know that for me to get to Nashville is a huge undertaking for me personally, so when I show up, it is a big deal.

Trust me, this kind of lobbying is far more impactful than trying to meet with your Representative during your group's Day On the Hill. Sure, you should try, but it just doesn't carry as much personal weight than if you and a couple of buddies just go to Nashville one day because you are really concerned about some issues that might impact your life.

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4 Comments:

At Friday, February 20, 2009 3:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why don't you post about Stacey's lawsuit? Libel v. License to Lie.

 
At Friday, February 20, 2009 11:57:00 PM, Blogger Chris Sanders said...

David, I think the advice is sound and I appreciate the way you've put it.

These constituents had set up their appointments before our day on the Hill. Our senators and representatives are busy folks, but it is a little disturbing when constituents who have an appointment and then drive three hours from Knoxville and Memphis are stood up without an explanation.

There is always the possibility of meetings in the district, though.

Regardless of what side anyone is on, we all need to taking your advice and meeting with them periodically. It's frustrating to me that Congress gets all the attention, and so few people know what's going on in the Legislature despite how accessible most of the legislators actually are. There are huge opportunities to engage in the process.

 
At Saturday, February 21, 2009 11:50:00 PM, Anonymous M.T. said...

David when you come back to nashville come by and see me.

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 9:29:00 AM, Blogger Sharon Cobb said...

Good heavens. If you stay away from the speakers office where so many clamor, you can find a lot of legislators in the halls or their offices ready and willing to talk to people.

It's best to make an appointment, But I've gone down there plenty of times and just bumped into legislators while they were waiting or looking for people to talk to.

And if they don't meet with you in a reasonable amount of time, fire them. They are your employees.

 

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