KEYS TO EFFECTIVE LEGISLATIVE REPRESENTATION BY STEVEN E. JEFFREY

VALA President John Fike suggested that I speak of “Life under the Gold Dome”, probably with the hope that I would be able to regale you with story after story of humorous or enlightening experiences that would astound and amaze you. Unfortunately, the two months of intense therapy I’ve taken since leaving VLCT has erased all those memories, so you’ll have to do with a little “Lobbying for Dummies” speechifying instead. Maybe I’ll start experiencing flashbacks as I speak and that will trigger some funny stories.

 

I have to warn you that I am going to quote liberally from others during this talk. I will cover why a little of that is a good idea, but mostly I am doing this because I have collected these throughout my career and find myself at its end with numerous quotes that would otherwise just go to waste.

 

Here’s the first one. “Asking the legislature to fix something is like sending a bunch of kids with matches into the hayloft.”

Emery Hebard, Former State Treasurer and State Representative from Glover

 

Before you go to the legislature, make sure things are broken bad enough that mending is required and that you have exhausted all other means of improving the situation.

 

Second one — “It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.” Calvin Coolidge

 

It is also much easier.

 

The Four “P’s” of Social Influence

  • Power
  • Payment
  • Pnegotiation
  • Persuasion
  • You want to get the legislature to enact a law. What do you do to accomplish that?
  • Focus on persuasion
  • What do you need to know?
    • You are experts in the art and science of assessing the value of property that forms the base of Vermont’s largest tax by far. Speak about what you know and know of what you speak. Aristotle in his “Rhetoric” refers to this characteristic as logos, the ability to present a clear, logical, coherent and cogent argument.
      • Don’t start talking about stuff you don’t know or aren’t a known expert in. You make a mistake in a field with which you are unfamiliar with, your credibility, even with stuff you know is undermined. Stick to what you know. Third quote — “I have noticed that nothing I have never said ever did me any harm.” Calvin Coolidge
      • A good solid, fact-laded argument is key to lobbying. Without it, none of the rest of this stuff is going to do you any good.
      • Another key part of developing strong logos is knowing the opposition. What is their position and how can you refute it? What are they going to say about my proposal and how can I rebut their arguments?
      • John Stuart Miles said, “He who only knows his own position knows little of that.”
    • Build your reputation and your delivery. In the social influence arena, Aristotle refers to this as your ethos or the characteristics of the messenger as opposed to the logos of the message.
      • Can you be trusted? Are you respectful? Can you articulate your logos?
      • A corollary to this is also to stay on point. After you’ve made your points on same day voter registration, don’t throw in, “and, oh, by the way, vote against that health care bill that’s coming up on the House floor tomorrow.” What do you think the legislator is going to remember of your conversation? Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This goes for sidebar conversations as well. The more positions you are associated with, the less effective your ability to effectively advocate on behalf of any of them.
      • Make sure your message is consistent. Tell everyone the same story. If you have new issues, ideas or changes in your position (you have limited allotment of these), make sure that everyone with whom you communicated on the topic is made aware.
      • Your ethos is greatly strengthened when you are viewed as speaking for more than yourself. Who else can you enlist to be on your team?
      • Lastly, on building your ethos, use the words of others that make your point – hopefully from someone respected as much if not more than you. When I was appointed executive director, I had little experience lobbying in the Vermont legislature. The Board hired Charlie Nichols, former Vermont School Boards Association director and Mayor of Montpelier to coach me. “There’s nothing you can say that someone with more clout than you hasn’t already said better than you can.”
    • Know your audience. Aristotle refers to this as “pathos” or knowing the motives, feelings, attitudes and knowledge of your audience, in this case your legislator or a committee. You need to make it clear to your legislator why your message is important to him or her. You need to put your priority in context for him or her so that it becomes his or her priority.
    • When you lobby your legislators or the governor or your selectboard or your voters, you need to think about the setting, and this mean much more than the room in which the social influence is going to happen. Aristotle refers to this as the “agora” which again is Greek for gathering place or the marketplace. What’s the best time or place or medium to use to contact your legislators? How does he or she respond when I corner them in the grocery store or call them at home on the weekend? Does he or she even have an e-mail account?
    • Know how to get the public on your side. In your case it is the voters and taxpayers in your town and throughout the state. Don’t let a good rant go to waste. Once you’ve developed a good logos, broadcast it far and wide. Write your representative? Copy your senators. Copy the Governor. Copy the local press. Copy the clerks and treasurers. Copy VLCT.
    • Know how the legislature works – in theory, and if possible, in practice. “Government” and “politics” are two non-interchangeable processes. This is not as important and as long as retain your status as a civilian indiscretions are more tolerated. The more you do of it, the higher the expectation of you’re knowing how things work and the less the leeway given to you.
  • When do you need to know it?
    • Sun Tzu about 2600 years ago in the “Art of War” said “The victorious general expends 80 percent of his energies before the first arrow is shot. One who does not know the enemy and does not know himself will be in danger in every battle. What enables the enlightened rulers and good generals to conquer the enemy at every move and achieve extraordinary success is foreknowledge.” Practice, practice, practice.
  • So, we have logos, ethos, agora and pathos. If we put them all together in just the line up we have syzygy.
  • In lobbying, there’s never really a final victory. Even if you’ve just “won” the battle on raising the recording fees, there’s another battle going on about same day voter registration. The legislator that opposes you on one may end up being your biggest supporter on the next. Don’t burn your bridges by doing anything that a legislator can feel was not above board. Don’t make it personal or take personally.In closing, I want to thank you all for the opportunity to work with you serving the citizens and taxpayers of Vermont. There are many things I already miss about the job – not enough to make me want to go back, but the people I served and the mission we continue to try to accomplish are the top ones. Thank you.

 

Presentation at the vala annual meeting by

 

Steven E. Jeffrey, former Executive Director

Vermont League of Cities and Towns

September 18, 2015

 

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