As we get into 2004, 44 of the 50 states are planning to or have convened their legislative sessions. Those states not in regular session will be having a wide variety of study committee meetings, and, in some cases, special sessions. With nearly half the governors and a quarter of the state legislators just finishing their first year in office, the 2004 legislative year promises to be extremely unpredictable. Addition-ally, in many states, this will be a shorter-than-last-year, budget-oriented session. Combined with the fact that it is an election year, it will be important to keep a sharp eye on legislative activity.
If your chapter already hasn’t done so, it’s time to consider hiring a professional lobbyist to follow the bills and facilitate your legislative plans. Here are some tips on how to hire the right one, excerpted from the ASHI Legislative Guidebook, by Janet Swandby, ASHI’s government affairs consultant. The Guidebook is a treasure trove of expert advice on the legislative process, and it can be downloaded from the ASHI Doc-uments page of the Members Only area of www.ashi.org. Questions? Contact me at 847-759-2836.
HOW TO CHOOSE LOBBYISTS
Your ASHI chapter may, at some point, feel it requires the profession
al experience of a lobbyist. Here is a checklist of items to consider as you interview lobbyists to represent your interests in your state capitol.
The best lobbyists have experience as insiders—people who have held elected office or served as staff mem-bers to lawmakers. An insider knows what makes a politician/legislator tick. He or she knows the legislative process firsthand and bases his or her advice on that specialized experience.
Be wary, though, of a former legislator or staffer who is aligned too closely with one political party. While it is true that one party maintains the majority in each legislative house and, therefore, has more power, the minority party should not be ignored. All state legislators have a vote, and too many times partisanship has meant defeat for a particular proposal.
Be wary, too, of someone whose experience has been only within the political/legislative arena. You will be served better by a person who can balance his or her political insight with an understanding of the world outside the capitol based on some nonpolitical work experience.
And be sure to ask who actually will do the work. Is it the lobbyist you are interviewing or a less experienced associate?
What is the lobbyist’s reputation inside and outside the capitol? Most essential is a reputation for honesty and integrity. After all, a lobbyist’s most treasured commodity is his or her trustworthiness. Lobbyists must be trusted in order to be effective. For example, how does the lobbyist handle conflicts of interest? Ask for a list of his or her current clients and carefully consider whether there is any possibility that your legislative goal will be in conflict with the agenda of another of the lobbyist’s clients.
Contrary to the popular image of the lobbying profession, it is the trustworthy who are the most effective, and you want to retain a lobbyist who has a reputation as someone who gets the job done. Carefully review each person’s accomplishments. You should feel confident that the lobbyist has achieved success with a variety of clients and in more than one area of expertise.
In the final analysis, lobbying is communicating. As a profession, it is an odd marriage of teaching and sales. A good lobbyist has to be an excellent communicator. And in today’s world, that means both the written and the spoken word. It is no longer enough to be a good schmoozer. Check into the lobbyist’s experience in the communications field and ask for work samples.
More important than any other criterion, you need to feel comfortable with the lobbyist.
While you may feel most comfortable with someone who knows your profession or industry well, that person may not be the best choice to represent you. An important role that a lobbyist fills is that of translator. A good lobbyist has to play the role of the “naive legislator” to assist you in developing an effective strategy. That strategy must include crafting arguments that will be most persuasive with lawmakers who, in all likelihood, know absolutely nothing about home inspection.
And the lobbyist must be able to translate the nuances of the legislative process into terms that you understand.
More important than experience with or an in-depth understanding of home inspection is a breadth of experience and demonstrated quick- study abilities. How quickly does the lobbyist grasp the real problems you are trying to solve?
Related to comfort level, keep in mind the lobbyist you retain truly will be representing your chapter in the capitol. Does this lobbyist project the image you want for your chapter? Would this lobbyist fit into your chapter’s culture? Does this person present himself as a professional in person and in the documents that will be prepared on your behalf?
Contracting with a lobbyist is like retaining any other professional. You want to be represented by the best—the most experienced professional, whose reputation of accomplishment and integrity is impeccable. And, you want to work with someone who reflects your values, who projects the stellar image your chapter has worked hard to establish.
How to find lobbyists
Talk to people you know who are politically savvy. Which lobbyists do they know? With whom have they or their associates worked? Contact and request a list from a professional association if there is one in your state. If lobbyists are required to be registered in your state, contact the state agency and request a list. And ask legislators for recommendations.
Don’t wait for a crisis to interview lobbyists. Set up interviews with several. The interview puts them on notice that your organization is a potential client. From then on, they will be your friends and will help you monitor the legislative process for bills that may affect home inspections.