Make Advocacy Great Again

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 Joshua Habursky is the Director of Advocacy at the Independent Community Bankers of America and Adjunct Instructor in the Reed College of Media teaching the strategic social media course. Habursky is also the Founder/Chairman of the Grassroots Professional Network (GPN), which is a group that hosts events and webinars for advocacy communications professionals. GPN recently put on an event on communicating and advocating before the new Presidential administration. Here is a recap of the event.

In mid-December, the Grassroots Professional Network convened a powerhouse panel of lobbyists and communicators on the politically-active George Washington University campus to offer grassroots advocacy professionals meaningful insights on the prospects for the Trump Administration and Republican Congress in the first 100 days and beyond. I’d like to share some of their views and encourage you to watch it online, if you were not able to be there.

The first 100 days of the new administration will mean big changes for those at the forefront of grassroots, grasstops and advocacy. The event featured experts in government relations from a variety of fields for the fourth installment of the CQ Roll Call lunch and learn series produced by the Grassroots Professional Network (GPN) and hosted by the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.

Tony Gnoffo, policy editor at CQ Roll Call, moderated the lively discussion among the following panelists:

Rich Gold – Partner at Holland & Knight
Gloria Story Dittus – Chairman of Story Partners

Howard Marlowe – President of Warwick Group Consultants
David Lusk – CEO/Founder of Key Advocacy
Mike Fulton – Director of Public Affairs & Advocacy at Asher Agency

The consensus was the growing list of promised or must-do legislative and regulatory objectives will be “nearly impossible” in the first year, let alone the action-packed first 100 days. Funding the federal government for the remainder of the year, a much-desired infrastructure bill, comprehensive tax reform, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, confirmation of a new Cabinet and vacancy on the Supreme Court, and raising the debt ceiling would be formidable in the first term, according to the panelists who brought more than a century of experience to the audience.

The panelists offered hope and optimism for the next two years, but encouraged the grassroots community to “go beyond the beltway” to find authentic voices with incredible storytelling capabilities to resonate with new federal leaders and policy makers. They unanimously agreed that Donald Trump’s successful tactics online and hosting rallies locally are resonating with the American people and offers opportunities to build bridges in key Congressional districts and states.

The role of coalitions was emphasized as a cost-effective tool to show breadth of support for issues backed up by local voters who can communicate to their members of Congress. The election results signify a shift from a non-profit, community-based grassroots focus to one appealing to government that will be managed and operated like business units.

The feeling of the panelists is Donald Trump has selected senior vice presidents to run each federal agency under his leadership as CEO in order to bring about change sought by his supporters. They said that business model approach with Republicans controlling the White House and both houses of Congress may not be enough if legislation cannot be drafted, compromised on and enacted with the backing of the American people. Cultivating local and state influencers will be a key, along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan being in step with President Trump.

With the hefty “to-do” list awaiting Congress and the Administration, the panel warned that there will be little room for dissension and controversy in the GOP and among conservative Democrats they need to bring about action.

It was pointed out multiple times that it will be far easier to mount opposition campaigns to Trump’s repeal, restore and replace objectives. Effective challengers to President Trump’s policies were identified as conservative Democrats and long-time safe Republicans such as: Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, Bernie Sanders,  John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Rand Paul, Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins and Dean Heller. With only a 52-48 margin of seniority in the U.S. Senate, the panel encouraged focus on those who could help or hinder reaching cloture at 60 votes.

They encouraged grassroots advocates and fellow lobbyists to not ignore freshmen Senate and House members, many who have served with distinction in the House or in state governments.

Panelists felt that non-traditional Rust Belt voters and individuals cultivated by all political parties through grassroots would remain active (if engaged properly with solid content and tactics) in the first year of the Trump Administration. It is incumbent on grassroots professionals to educate their networks on the issues, work on key messages with anecdotes that resonate, develop a rich content calendar and leverage authentic voices in their upcoming campaigns.

I am very excited about this time of massive change and opportunity, and I can assure you that GPN and its leaders and members will be leading the way.

The session is available for viewing on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEMomTUA3Uk

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Connect with Joshua at Joshua.habursky@icba.org.

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