If you don’t know your state and federal representatives or senators, chances are someone will be making a decision that will have a negative impact on you or your business. It’s not because they don’t like you or the green industry, it’s because they didn’t understand the impact of their decision on what we do.
As business owners and industry leaders, your job description should include being active and engaged in our political system. As frustrated as we all get with the political system in this country, it is the fairest and best political system in the world. All you need to do is be engaged in the process and be willing to suit up to play the game when your number is called.
How Do I Get Involved?
Step One: Vote
First off, you need to vote. This is your constitutional right and your civic duty; however, many people take this for granted and then complain about the results. In the 2016 presidential election, only 55% of eligible voters showed up on Nov. 8.
Step Two: Relationships
Develop relationships with your elected officials and their staff. Just like any business relationship, you need to continually work at it. You need to establish credibility and build trust one step at a time. One visit and a quick handshake will not get the job done. Position yourself as an industry expert and offer yourself up as a resource on industry-related issues, such as ag labor, water usage, runoff, or the positive impact of flowers, trees, and shrubs.
It is impossible for an elected official and their staff to know everything there is to know about every business in their district or state, and you can fill that void. Don’t disregard the people in their office, either. Staffers have a huge influence on the outcome of legislation. They are the ones dealing with the details of the issue and are very capable of relaying your point of view.
Step Three: Communications
Write or call your legislator. Hearing from constituents has a significant impact on how serious the impact of the legislation is. As few as five letters, phone calls, or emails on a particular issue can put it on the radar screen and allocate staff time to dig into the matter deeper so they have a better understanding of the potential impact. In your correspondence, communicate your message with passion, tell your story, and explain how it impacts you and the people who work for you.
Step Four: Visits
Visit the district or capitol offices. A good way to get started and move past the intimidation of an office visit is to be part of an industry- or business-related advocacy day. In September 2017, AmericanHort sponsored Impact Washington. We had more than 100 industry representatives visiting more than 250 congressional offices. These visits were about the continued development of relationships and gave us the opportunity to voice our concern on subjects such as immigration, tax reform, and the need to continue funding research. We also discussed the positives of the green industry and our economic impact on our home state.
Step Five: On-site Tours
Invite your legislators to your place of business. They like to get out in the district to see what is going on and have a better understanding of what happens behind the scenes. Every legislator who has visited our nursery has replied with, “I had no idea it took this much time and effort to grow a plant.” Most visits are an hour or less, but worth every minute.
Step Six: Support the Team
Sometimes part of the relationship building is contributing to an elected official’s campaign fund. Some people look at this negatively, thinking that you are buying votes. However, if you are not there, is someone else building their relationship? Refer to step two.
Step Seven: Reaching Across the Aisle
Politics makes strange bedfellows. It doesn’t matter if you are politically aligned with your elected officials, they are still your voice and are casting a vote on your behalf. As much as it may hurt sometimes, all of the steps above apply — you just have to work harder to have your message heard.
The majority of our elected officials is concerned about your economic impact, how many people you employ, and the positive impact the green industry has on the state or district. They need to hear your message.
The analogy “laws are like sausages, it’s better not to see them being made” holds true in the entire political process. Your legislator is interested in doing the right thing, but sometimes he or she goes about it in a strange way. Without your input, you may not like the outcome. I encourage you to get involved. You can make a difference.