Tuesday, March 06, 2007

 

Working Both Ends

Is public policy made by elite groups making decisions behind closed doors? Or is it made by mass mobilization of the people? Are elected representatives cynically building their own careers? Or do they work tirelessly and selflessly for the best interest of their constituents?

To be honest, it's a little bit of both.

If you look back over the course of this blog, you will repeatedly see me praise the inside-outside lobby strategy that TCASK employs. In other words, we want policy-makers to hear our messages both from insiders, their colleagues, lobbyists they know, etc, and from outsiders, the every day folks who make up their constituencies. It's when policy-makers hear that 1) something is a good idea and 2) it is supported in their districts, that things start to happen. I spent this morning on capitol hill meeting with state legislators, and I just wanted to share a few quick, illustrative points.

As you all know, Representative Mike Turner has introduced a resolution calling on the Governor to free Paul House (email Representative Turner and say thank you). But to truly demonstrate to the Governor that this is something that he should do, we need bi-partisan support. So a few weeks ago, Joyce House and I went to visit Joyce's representative, Republican Eric Swafford. And Representative Swafford, justly moved by Joyce's story, agreed to co-sponsor the resolution. Today, I took it to him in it's final drafted form and he became the initial co-sponsor. Then, as an insider, he had also spoken to several other Republican Representatives who I normally could never have gotten in the door with (at least not easily). But with Representative Swafford's endorsement, I visited Chattanooga Representative Gerald McCormick who became the second co-sponsor (email Representative McCormick and say thank you), so we now have two Republicans named at the top of the resolution jacket! I also sat down with three other high placed Republican representatives who are taking the resolution under consideration and have a meeting to talk to yet another Republican whom Representative Swafford has talked about the case to next week.

So an outside voice, and a powerful one, Joyce House, was able to move an insider to act and open doors for me to follow up with a number of other insiders to truly change public policy. On a similar note, I'll be meeting, next Tuesday, with Senator Jamie Woodson, from Knoxville. Senator Woodson is the Secretary of the Judiciary Committee and could be extremely helpful to us if she supported our study legislation. I'll be joined by a representative of NAMI (a group that Senator Woodson has a good relationship with a.k.a. an insider) as well as a representative of Murder Victim's Families for Human Rights, but at the same time, I'll be calling on our members in Knoxville tonight and tomorrow to write to Senator Woodson urging her to support our study bill, so she's already heard (as she did during our write-a-thon last week) that her constituents support this legislation before I walk in the door. And having groups that she trusts with me tells her that she can trust the message that we're delivering.

When we bring such diverse voices to policy-makers, we work on policy making from the elitist and the populist perspective. We demonstrate that the right thing to do and the political thing to do can go hand in hand. And we all, working together, can make a difference!
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