Political Leadership Program Symposium: Lobbyists, Legislators and Policy-Makers

Political Leadership Program Symposium: Lobbyists, Legislators and Policy-Makers

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Maha Neouchy
March 27, 2013

TWC recently hosted the Lobbyists, Legislators and Policy-Makers event as part of the Political Leadership Program Symposium. Both the Political Leadership and Córdova & Fernós Program interns attended this event and were exposed to different opportunities in the policy and lobbying fields.

 

This semester, TWC welcomed back Max Gigle, a TWC alumnus who completed the program in 2008, and who now works on Capitol Hill as the Press Secretary for Rep. Bishop (D-GA). He was invited to moderate the event's panel, which included Deborah Ullmer, a TWC alumna ('91) and Deputy Director for Southern and East Africa programs at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) for International Affairs. The other panelists included:

 

Panel

 

Max asked a series of questions that helped the students understand how the panelists first became involved with lobbying, how their current role affects the passing of legislation and how they deal with issues that may not align perfectly with their ideals.

 

Max: How does your current job and current role help move legislative processes forward?

 

Christopher Boylan: At the end of the day, you're advocating for a position. For me, lobbying is more about relationship building than the sleazy stigma that people tend to connote with this field.

 

Deborah Ullmer: NDI works abroad, but our work is heavily shaped by U.S. foreign policy. There are U.S. strategic interests behind the work we do abroad. It's interesting that the foreign policy budget makes up less than 1% of the government's budget even though it always seems to be the first thing threatened to get cut. It's important to engage with other countries and look at other interests. Foreign policy goes into so many other realms. Abroad we work with advocates on how to influence their national governments. A lot of time we also work with civil society organizations, shedding light on what's happening in their own country, which in turn helps highlight what's happening in D.C.

 

Jim Kessler: Every public policy goal is a riddle. Some are very easy while you have to wrestle with others for days and days. The key to public policy is solving the riddle. Let's take immigration reform. When polled, a majority of Americans were fine with granting citizenship to illegal immigrants but some of those same Americans were also fine with sending illegal immigrants home. It's not that their answers are contradictory, it's just that the issue is so complex. A citizenship bill is not a gift to the American people, it is a request of the American people. Solving that riddle is key to getting stuff done.

 

Allen Thompson: Why do good lobbyists and advocates matter? In February 2005, I was visiting my family in Miami when terrorists attacked the metro system in London. On the Wednesday after it happened, I was traveling home when I found out that Pelosi wanted a rail system bill by that Friday. If there wasn’t recognition that we need advocates working with government, we could have a lot of bad policy being made and passed.

 

Max: Every issue has 2 sides and generally there are advocates for both. How does one manage both sides, especially when there are competing ideals?

 

Allen Thompson: We aren't the only side with interests. You need to understand that there is another side, which usually also has a positive story to tell. So I don't really look at the entity as much as I look at the issue itself. An issue is an issue. If you don't make it personal, you have a greater chance of success. Know the issue, know the other side of the issue and respect it.

 

Jim Kessler: I have what you would call a Centrist Democratic perspective. We're not the most popular at Third Way and we're always fighting an uphill battle. And when we're trying to change someone's mind, we try to think of the piece of legislation that we'd like changed.

 

Student Questions

 

In addition to the moderated panel, the speakers also took questions from the Political Leadership and Córdova & Fernós Program interns. The first came from Robert Hedden, Political Leadership intern and student at East Stroudsburg University: "You've talked a lot about when to fight battles. But how do you decide when you shouldn’t?"

 

Jim Kessler: Honestly, it's mostly about knowing when you've lost.

 

Allen Thompson: Knowing when to stop has a lot to do with knowing who you're up against and your chance of success. Washington, D.C. being referred to as a zero-sum game really does apply.

 

Another Political Leadership intern and student at the University of Northern Iowa, Dylan Keller, asked the panelists how they "convince someone to pass legislation that you're lobbying for?"

 

Jim Kessler: You need to set realistic expectations and then set a theory of impact on how you're going to achieve it. In my organization, every single piece of work we do is a part of some theory and we create plans to execute these pieces. If you create those, then you can start convincing people to pass your legislation.

 

Christopher Boylan: All politics are local. You can make your issue of local importance to the people who are passing legislation and you make value judgments based on where you're going to spend your time.

 

Allen Thompson: It's not about compromise anymore but rather about building the right coalition to get you there.

 

Personal beliefs sometimes interfere with professional goals of an organization or entity. Evaristo Pineda, Córdova & Fernós Program intern and student at the University of Sacred Heart, was interested to hear about how lobbyists stay true to themselves and if any of the panelists have "ever advocated for something you were against?"

 

Christopher Boylan: I've had to lobby for things that I thought was nutty, but fortunately, never something that I was morally against. As a professional, you learn to lobby for things you don't necessarily agree with.

 

Deborah Ullmer: It's passion that drives me. But in the world of lobbying, at the end of the day, you're working with a congressman or organization. If you start losing passion for the work you're doing, you may have to sit down and have a frank conversation with yourself.

 

Allen Thompson: It's a judgment call and you have to be weary of being judgmental with any issue.

 

It was a fantastic panel, exposing TWC students from both the Political Leadership and Córdova & Fernós Internship Programs to many topics that are relevant within the fields of public policy and lobbying!

 

[View photos of the event on our Flickr channel]

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