Friday, February 20, 2009

No matter how much we resist, politics' impact unavoidable

Adapted from a guest column by Farrell Quinlan provided to the Arizonan quarterly published by the Arizona Capitol Times for the Arizona Contractors Association.

One fact of life that the Panic of 2008 or the Great Financial Meltdown (or whatever historians end up calling it) has reminded us is that no matter how hard we might try to ignore it, sooner or later, the consequences of government policy impacts everyone.

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you,” commented Athenian statesman Pericles 2,500 years ago in the cradle of democracy.

Today, with trillions of dollars flowing from Washington in various bailout schemes and billions of dollars in red ink here in Arizona – for good of for ill – politics has decided to take an obsessive and maybe even oppressive interest in you.

Here’s were a lobbyist might come in handy.

Sure, we all have a general sense of what a lobbyist does. Lobbyists serve special interests and get things from government that the rest of “us” can’t – if it were only as easy as that.

First off, everyone is a member of a “special interest.” Often, we are special interests many times over. Small business owners, teachers, construction workers, taxpayers, Social Security recipients, youth sports coaches, gun owners, nurses, doctors, lawyers, firemen, dog catchers, morticians, circus performers and a thousand other designations are all special interests who have lobbyists dedicated to looking out for their concerns.

We tend to see our own lobbyists as virtuous knights fighting the good fight against the despicable forces of the special interests when, in all candor, we’re all equally virtuous and despicable when it comes to influencing public policy.

We call them “special interests” for a reason. Human nature dictates when it comes to our own circumstance, there really is a special case to be made for our interests.

Some of the most important but difficult to quantify benefits a trade association membership provides its members are public policy representation and advocacy – otherwise called special interest lobbying.

During the first four to six months of every year, the Arizona Legislature meets in regular session to consider hundreds of pieces of legislation as well as produce a state budget that conforms to the constitutional mandate of being balanced. A typical session sees more than 300 bills pass out of about 1,200 introduced.

Part of the job for a trade association’s public policy team is to know the issues confronting their industry and making sure that the Legislature takes appropriate action on them. That can take the form of drafting legislation to address an issue, recruiting a legislative sponsor and supporting the legislation through committee hearings, amendments, passage by both chambers and signing into law by the governor. It can also mean opposing bad measures and/or offering amendments to improve legislation sponsored by other interests, special or not.

Trade associations also promote their industries by providing opportunities for direct contact between their members and the policymakers that have considerable power over their member companies and jobs. Either through face-to-face interaction with politicians by the association’s membership or through political action committee efforts to support pro-industry lawmakers, the trade association’s public policy team’s advocacy continues long after the conclusion of any legislative session.

“Having knowledge but lacking the power to express it clearly is no better than never having any ideas at all,” to again quote the ancient Pericles. In this spirit, a trade association works to give its members the power to express the interests of their industry, especially the special ones.

1 comment:

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