GT Dems and interested citizens gathered Friday evening, Nov. 3rd, 2017, at Ruby Tuesdays in Traverse City, Michigan, to hear Rep. Jon Hoadley (D) from 60th Michigan District representing Kalamazoo, Michigan. Jon explained that after ten months of enduring the current Republican administration, he felt a need to begin educating Michiganders in the art of advocacy and effective engagement of our Michigan legislators.
To begin he advised everyone to read the “Indivisible Guide,” that we are not living in “typical times” and need to start thinking about ways we can do things “outside the box.” He reminded the audience that legislators, once they get to Lansing, live inside a bubble with a fast-paced daily schedule, but with frequent breaks. For example, he pointed to the up-coming hunting season, and breaks for the holidays. A typical day looks something like this:
7:30 – 9:30 am - Attend Events
9:30 – Noon - Committee Meetings
Noon to 1:00 pm – Lunch
1:00 – 1:30 pm – Caucus/Sessions
4:30 – 7:00 pm – Attend Community Events
The Senate schedule is very similar. Amazingly, Jon explained that legislators typically do not know what is on the floor agenda until Tuesday! The caucus is a closed session not open to the public. Jon reviewed the process of:
How a Bill Becomes Law:
Bill Ideas Stage
Legislative Services Bureau (LSB) which is charged with maintaining bill drafting, research, and other services in the Bureau for utilization by all members of the Michigan Legislature, may be consulted at this time.
Develop working groups of people who may be affected by the legislation. For this reason, it is important for legislators to develop relationships with a broad spectrum of groups.
Revisions to the bill takes place
Bill Introduced on Floor
Bill goes to committee
Jon commented that it is very hard for the minority party to get a hearing in committee. The committee chair has total discretion as to who gets heard. The Speaker of the House appoints the committee chairs. Jon underlined that your best chance to have input into bills is when they are in the committee stage, Once through the committee process, legislators have already committed how they will vote, and can’t easily back out of their commitment and continue to be taken seriously.
Bill goes to floor for a vote
4. Bill Goes to the Senate
5. Reconciliation Between Houses
6. Goes to Governor for Signature
People think all power is negative, but it is not. Jon reminded us to think about “people power.” For example, grass roots influence is a powerful motivator for legislators. You can and do make a difference. Organized money is power which can be positive as well as negative, an example being the DeVos Family of Donors. There are eleven of them and their associations who make contributions to legislator’s campaign funds hoping to influence their votes. However, in Jon’s opinion, a legislator’s world view cannot be influenced by money alone. That having been said, Jon pointed out that sixty-seven of the winning candidates in the 2016 primary were those who raised the most money. So, money is definitely power, but gerrymandering can and does skew that equation.
Retention of power is what is most important in Lansing. Getting re-elected. While personal stories from people affected by legislation, or supporting legislation can make a difference, such as testimony by those affected by Medicaid expansion in Michigan. Ultimately however, on decisions that affect political power, i.e. getting re-elected, nothing else matters.
Ten Steps for Effective Advocacy:
Be direct. Ask for what you want.
Have a to-do list ready for the legislator.
Prepare a timeline for the legislator to accomplish the task.
Ask for specific thing – no best way to do
Timeline when needed done
Silence – let the other party have time to think. This works for fundraising too.
Build Relationships and Show Up
Know the answers
Communicate regularly, but not everyday
Attend coffee hours and town halls
Maintain online and offline communications
Legislators do not always keep a tally of calls
Legislator’s offices are less staffed than you think
Carrots and Sticks
Praise legislators when they do well
Legislators in your party too
Criticize when they do not do the right thing
Break the Mold/Echo Chamber
Disrupt the expected outcome
Change the power equation
Engage with your challenger
Do Power Mapping
Find the other influencers legislators are affected by, i.e. campaign donors
Converse with legislator’s partners, co-sponsors
Look at where legislators get their news, what media outlets they look at. You get to know this by building relationships.
The most direct way is not always the most effective way. May need to find out where their fishing holes are
Engage the Entire Power Equation
Tips for Events
Are you holding or attending?
Introduce elected officials
Events are great times for one-on-one
Tell legislators when you want us there, what we get to say, who else is coming, and what is on the agenda.
Tips for a Legislative Day
Determine a communications strate
Have a clear system to track the conversation
Know the schedule
Partner with the legislator’s office
Don’t forget the “walk.” Be where legislators are in-between meetings and appointments. Jon related the experience of a person who set up a porta-potty on the Capital steps holding a sign that read, “Show me your pee papers.” It made the point perfectly that so-called bathroom laws are ridiculous and impossible to enforce.
Tips for Sustainability
Take time for yourself!
Advocacy is a relay race. Hand over the baton, but get back in when you are ready.
Give yourself permission to fail
Calling someone out is OK, but give it some thought. Be careful.
Share the victories and celebrate them
By way of concluding Jon said of Town Halls: write the headline you want before you go in. Know at least three questions you want to ask. If you get an unsatisfactory answer, have someone follow it up with another question to get clarification on the same topic. The session ended with applause and congenial mingling among the audience.