Every year during the General Assembly session, I participate in former Delegate Kris Amundson’s institute named for the program she developed while a member of the Virginia House. The program for high school students about public service and politics has continued following her retirement from the House in 2010 under the direction of her successors State Senator Scott Surovell and newly elected Delegate Paul Krizek.
It’s called…the Amundson Institute.
Since Delegate Amundson and I were and are good friends who both have a passion for education she invites me to talk about how Democrats and Republicans really do work together and personally get along – at least in Richmond. We tell some old war stories from back in the day but try hard to leave the students better educated on the reality of governing – it’s not easy, but it is worth it.
After our talk, we open it up for questions. Usually, the questions range from why did you run, what issues do you care about etc…but this year an adult, presumably a teacher, was sitting behind the group and raised his hand “What about the lobbyists?”
I replied, “I’m glad you asked because all y’all have at least one looking out for your interests.” They all seemed surprised as I explained further, “Look, you’re all in public schools, right? Well the VEA has a lot of lobbyists working for their members who are your teachers. So do the superintendents and the school boards. They have lobbyists. If your parents own a home, they bought it from someone who had laws written with the help of lobbyists for the realtors, insurance companies, and the banks. If you are renting, there are lobbyists for apartments and condo associations. So if a bill is put in that impacts the sale of a house in your neighborhood in Fairfax, it’s impact is the entire state, but the government of Fairfax might have a special concern or interest. Just about every aspect of your life has someone hired to look out for that. Are you on Facebook? Use Google? They have lobbyists.”
I continued with “And you know what? They are really good at what they do. They are good people in an honorable profession. They get a bad rap but they are very hardworking people who are looking out for you just like your legislators are. Sometimes they are in conflict with their colleagues, but there is a reason why things seem to move slowly – it’s complex and there are a lot of competing interests. That’s our democracy.”
As so many areas of our life are reduced to simply pushing a button on our phones, we look past the governing complexities behind them all. There is no Easy Button when it comes to making laws in our democratic experiment of self governance. The task of explaining that is becoming more and more complicated as technology speeds the spread of information.
This is where lobbyists play an absolutely critical role – they are experts in their field of public policy. Good lobbyists know and explain both sides of contested issues leaving the decision up to the policy makers.
**NOTE – It is illegal to fundraise during session! That’s one of those Virginia Way things – make sure that remains!**
Interestingly when I followed up with Delegate Krizek’s office, his legislative aide said some of the students wanted to become lobbyists when they grew up. Which is good because there are currently 866 registered lobbyists and they could use some eager young talent that would like to serve others.
866. That’s over six per legislator. Seem like a lot? Maybe…
Click HERE to find the lobbyists for the Pamunkey Regional Jail, PETA, Parkinson’s Education, Perdue Farms, Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, and Park N’Go.
One of the ways we can more effectively govern ourselves is to share some simple, honest truths about the realities of politics.
Lobbying is an honorable profession.
In fact, one of the most effective lobbyists is retiring this year. I’d like to share a quick story that will illustrate how effective she was during my time in the House. I had put a bill in at the request of the Warner Administration. Her trade organization did not care for it – at all. I liked the legislative/policy fight more than the bill itself and we agreed to meet after session to discuss it further with a small business that would have been adversely impacted had the bill become law. It passed the House and died in a Senate committee. Yes, she won.
So, we all met out my family’s farm in Highland County and had lunch – which I made – Italian Wedding Soup and homemade focaccia. It was a delightful lunch and we shared our concerns about the potential impacts of my bill. In the end, I agreed not to carry the bill the next session and they liked my soup.
Her client? The Virginia Press Association. The small business? The Highland Recorder – circulation 5,000 once a week.
Yes, Virginia. Lobbying is an honorable profession.
Just ask the press.
Not only did they beat me and the governor – I made them lunch!
I had no idea that lobbyists are the experts of public policy! Thank you so much for explaining that, and for helping me understand what they do. One of my friends wants to become better acquainted with our local government, so she can feel more a part of their policies, so we are trying to find a way to do this.
Chris Saxman says
Well, they are not THE experts but many are subject matter experts. Best of luck in figuring out what it is you are trying to do. Cheers!