Government Affairs Update: Fall 2022
The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.
Fall is a time of birth and renewal. It’s the time to renew old bonds, forage new ones, and begin to sing that old carol: getting to know you, getting to know all about you. For, of course, fall – or at least the time of fall when you’ll have the opportunity to read this article – will be when we all know which of our neighbors have been selected to form the new year’s legislature.
It’s a ritual that happens every two years, and one that introduces new people and new ideas into the 434-person strong legislature. That means that these two months (November and December) are critical to the advocacy effort. These are the two months when local officials (and those of us in the Government Affairs Department at NHMA) can start building relationships with new state representatives and senators.
A critical part of that effort is giving them the opportunity to learn what local officials and municipalities do and how they can help address issues that can’t be resolved at the local level. We often get calls from local officials around this time of year wondering what they can do to get more engaged with the process in Concord. Like all politics, it starts locally. Here are a few things that we think are good ideas:
Invite legislators to an experience in your town.
Does your town operate a wastewater treatment facility, a police station, a fire department, a public works garage, or something unique? All of these are great places to host legislators for tours. It may sound a little silly, but most people last had an opportunity to see these facilities while in school – and for many of us, that was quite a while ago. Getting the opportunity to see how a wastewater treatment facility works, experience a day-in-the-life of a patrol officer, hear about first aid responses, or get a good look at the town equipment and learn what it does, is a great learning opportunity for anyone.
Tours give legislators hands-on experiences that encourage them to ask questions and learn how things work. Most importantly, they remove politics from the equation by replacing whatever assumptions someone has about how something works with actual experience about the process. This can pay big dividends when an issue comes up involving that department and the legislator is looking for advice or advocating for or against a position.
Don’t be the pitcher that goes to the well once too often.
Aim to build real relationships with your legislators. If every conversation with a legislator is the same kind of conversation that you could have when ordering from a pizza shop (“whadda want?”), it’s easy for them to ignore you. The conversation has gone out of their head by the time they’ve finished inputting the order. And you’ve gone of their head as well.
Take the time to develop a stronger connection with your legislators by asking them questions that create positive, shared emotions and using those answers to facilitate further experiences and interactions. When engaging in that dialog don’t make it just small talk – listen with your full attention when they talk and take a moment to reflect what they are feeling back to them and be willing to share personal stories – which research shows is one of the best ways of demonstrating trust in someone else. Building that real relationship can ensure that when you do call your legislators with an issue, they’re willing to try to resolve the issue rather than simply forget what you asked as soon as you hang up.
Don’t be discouraged by what may feel like a Promethean effort.
We often get calls from experienced local officials saying, “Every fall you guys remind us that it’s a great time to build relationships with our legislators, and we make the effort, but we often feel like Prometheus pushing the boulder up the mountain. No matter how hard we try we never seem to make progress.” Patiently, we remind them that dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.
Some of the strangest successes that we’ve had at the legislature has been after Promethean efforts. Legislators who almost never agree with our positions sometimes find themselves in the topsy-turvy world of agreeing with us. And your continually efforts (and our own), at keeping open the channels of dialogue and building relationships have led to those successes.
For many, the fall is a time to prepare for winter dormancy, but for us in Concord, it’s time for the birth of new relationships and the renewal of old ties. We’ve spent the fall touching base with legislators and leadership and worked hard to prepare for the onslaught of hearings in January. We’re hopeful that we’ll be rolling out some changes that will allow you to get more information about the bills you care about faster, and we hope that you’re keeping an eye on our webinar schedule. We have some great content coming that will help local officials perform their duties and, hopefully, help explain those duties to new legislators as well.
Natch Greyes is the Government Affairs Counsel with the New Hampshire Municipal Association. He may be contacted at 603.224.7447 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.