BY TAYLOR BENNETT, POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB
Much of the work that goes on under the dome is the work of compromise.
Legislators, citizen lobbyists (community members who are interested in influencing the policymaking process), and other interested parties will often make concessions on their original proposals in order to get legislation passed. Here are some tips and tricks that seasoned citizen lobbyists use once the wheeling and dealing begins.
First, and most importantly, citizen lobbyists need to discuss their bill with legislators. Specifically, legislators who have a role in moving the bill forward such as committee chairs or majority leadership. Listening for the concerns (read our article on this) that they may have about a bill is the basis for finding a middle ground – one in which they agree to move a bill forward, and the bill still addresses the issue at hand.
It’s vital that citizen lobbyists participate in these types of discussions with legislators, but it’s easy to feel as if there are too many concerns to effectively address all of them. Seasoned citizen lobbyists do a few things to prepare for this:
- Know your own bottom line. When you’re preparing to advocate on a piece of legislation, you have to know what changes you would agree to make to your bill and what changes are so significant that it would prevent the bill from effectively addressing your issue.
- Know your issue. By becoming an expert on your own issue, you’ll be able to negotiate more effectively. Perhaps a legislator’s concern is based on a misunderstanding of the issue, or perhaps there is an aspect of the bill that is less important in the long run. As the citizen lobbyist, you are the expert on how this issue is impacting you or your community.
- Be flexible. Often, deal-making isn’t as much about managing opposition, as it is about finding a more viable solution. As a citizen lobbyist, it can be difficult to suggest the perfect funding source for your great idea, or to know which government agency is the correct home for what you’re suggesting. Being open to suggestions from legislators allows for new and innovative suggestions that you may not have thought of before.
- Don’t give up. Seasoned lobbyists know that it may take many conversations to come to a compromise with legislators, so they don’t give up. Maintaining a positive but persistent attitude can be extremely helpful in coming to a middle ground that everyone can live with.
It can be challenging to be open to compromise for both legislators and citizen lobbyists, but it’s essential in order to keep things moving through the legislative process. Understanding that both legislators and citizen lobbyists put in a great deal of time and effort on the issues they care about can provide a common place to start. And approaching this part of the process as an opportunity to collaborate can move everyone closer to finding policy solutions for West Virginia’s big challenges.