When I leave Washington to visit friends and family, I’m often asked, “How do you do it?” In this case “it” refers to one of two things, depending on how cynical the person. Some are asking how I deal with the bureaucratic, political, divisive, argumentative nature of government willingly and enthusiastically.
The others would ask how I get anything done working with such dysfunction.
Answering the first question is easy. I do it because politics are a passion of mine, because I find it interesting, challenging and always evolving. Answering the second question is more complex, but I think more beneficial for you — the contractors, workers and business owners — to understand.
There is truth to the commonly held notion that Washington, D.C., is a bubble. The general public outside of the District of Columbia generally view those who live and work in Washington as disconnected from what the people want.
Certainly some insulation exists, but I would challenge the argument that lawmakers don’t know what people want. On the contrary, many Americans simply don’t understand how things get done in Washington. And many people are frustrated because they believe they cannot make a difference.
Getting things done, from the public’s standpoint, is actually quite intuitive and similar to what most people would think, though maybe not quite in the way they think. Getting things done in Washington takes yielding what gets these representatives and senators elected: votes and money.
When representatives and senators look at constituents seeking their influence, the first thing they consider is how many votes the constituents can bring in on Election Day. There are many different ways elected officials measure this, but the simplest is the volume of mail they get on any specific topic.
Congressional offices have complex mail processes to track the most popular topics and the individuals who are reaching out to them. For instance, a congressional office that gets 50 similar issue letters from 50 different addresses is likely to warrant more attention from lawmakers than 50 letters coming from the same address.
This grassroots lobbying, mobilization of a group of people for a particular issue, can be extremely effective at persuading representatives
to support or oppose a particular issue. Grassroots activities are not limited to mail. E-mail, phone calls, faxes and even in-person meetings on any particular topic can make an impression on lawmakers.
It is a common misconception among citizens that in order to have influence over an elected official, you have to fly to Washington, D.C., and sit in a meeting with him or her. That is an option to exert a constituent’s point of view, but there are many others.
Constituents that volunteer with a candidate’s campaign also gain significant access to influence these representatives once elected. Also, members of Congress almost always hold district office hours when they’re in their districts that provide an opportunity to have face-to-face meetings with members without the expense of traveling.
To facilitate grassroots activity, NUCA has developed an Advocacy Center on www.nuca.com. This page will allow members to find their representatives, learn about upcoming elections and contact their representative by mail or e-mail. When NUCA priorities arise, we will highlight them in an “Action Alert” section for easy access and action. As the site grows, the Advocacy Center will provide a library of letters on specific issues that NUCA members can use to send to their lawmakers.
Users will always have the option and are encouraged to add personal messages that further elaborate on the issue. This site makes it easier than ever for NUCA contractors to reach their representatives and ask for their support.
Money is also important to candidates, as anyone could guess. All candidates have set fundraising goals, sometimes as often as monthly or quarterly, that they need to achieve in order to continue operations, discourage challengers and conduct events. If NUCA helps lawmakers meet these fundraising goals, contractors will likely gain access to lawmakers.
When resources allow, NUCA/PAC can be instrumental in affording NUCA members an opportunity to meet and discuss policy with candidates, even in their home states and towns. Attending fundraisers, hosting fundraisers and supporting candidates initiatives monetarily, unsurprisingly, does work to gain influence with candidates, but they, by no means, tie a candidate to a particular action or duty as his or her priorities are decided internally. If you are interested in learning more about NUCA/PAC’s activities and contributing, please contact me at NUCA.
Once we gain the access, the merit and persuasiveness of our argument must be strong enough to convince a congressional lawmaker, at the very least, not to oppose our initiatives. It is not enough to convince our representatives to support our cause, and we must also mitigate those who would oppose our interests. There is no better person to deliver that argument than the contractor, business owner or crew member,
and that is why it is so important to stay involved and engaged.
Anyone can have influence on their elected official. In tough economic times, monetary gifts aren’t always an option, though the effects of contributions cannot be understated. For those who prefer to get involved, finding ways to gain influence is often easier than one might think. Simply using NUCA’s new advocacy website to send correspondence to your representatives can make a difference. If you convince just five people to send a similar message, your message just grew in strength and will likely get on your Congressman or Congresswoman’s radar. The more people who reach out with a collective voice on a particular issue, the more influence is realized. We witnessed this first hand with the rise of the Tea Party movement and the support they’ve wielded with the Republican Party.
In conclusion, politics is a contact sport. The more contact you make, the better. Contact can come as meetings, correspondence or political contributions, and if you want to make a difference contact is the best and most powerful tool.
Will Brown is NUCA’s Government Relations Manager.