Lyon: Constituent persistence is key to D.C. influence
Cody – Members of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation (WyFB) met in Cody for their 91st annual meeting Nov. 11-13, and, along with developing policy and electing officers, they also heard from American Farm Bureau Federation leadership on how to influence lawmakers.
“Influence is very simple. It’s persistence,” said AFBF Grassroots/Political Advocacy Director Cody Lyon of Washington, D.C. “It’s being active and persistent in the message, and contacting and talking to your lawmakers, and never shutting the door. It’s staying focused on what you want to see done, because you probably won’t get it in one fell swoop.”
Of the approaching lame duck session of Congress, Lyon said, “Congress will be in session for at least a week, if not two, and when Congress is in session, it should scare us. They have their hands in a lot of pockets.”
“Even though the 112th Congress has essentially flipped from Democratic control of 255 seats to Republican control of 245 seats, there will be a lot of challenges and issues and opportunities for us to get involved, and stay involved,” he continued, noting that the ag industry should be involved in a way that’s influential.
Lyon pointed out that the recent election was somewhat unusual, in that most political changes happen incrementally, over time.
“This was one election, and one election day, with the flip for change,” he said. “A lot of the new lawmakers will have conflicts between their campaign promises and reality.”
“We don’t know what the new Congress will do, or what it will look like, or what agenda they’ll have. Many of the promises they’ve made they they won’t be able to keep, because circumstances in government are beyond campaign promises,” he continued. “The fiscal situation will determine everything that happens in Congress over the next two years.”
Because of that uncertainty, Lyon said WyFB cannot tack a latency attitude. “We have to go out there and be proactive and being influential and meeting with lawmakers every chance we get, every step along the way,” he said.
Lyon listed seven steps that members of WyFB and the ag community as a whole should take to influence what legislation ultimately passes at the national, state or county level.
“The first, and most obvious, is that you, as a state, are in an excellent position when it comes to your delegation. You have access to your Senators and Representatives, and they know you. That is unlike most other states, and you need to take advantage of and use that to your benefit,” he said.
Related to that first point, he said one of the best things a constituent can do is say thank you. “That’s often not done by other constituents, and the most powerful way you can stand out is to say thank you,” he said.
Second, Lyon said to share the ag story with lawmakers. “They can take that to their colleagues, and that’s how you have influence beyond Wyoming,” he noted.
Third, he said, is personal visits, to town hall meetings, district offices and in Washington, D.C., and fourth is contact from the leaders of organizations, and not just the presidents, but also board members, and committees. “You’re a part of a group – you represent something bigger than yourself,” he said.
Fifth, Lyon suggests building relationships not only with elected officials, but also with their staff. “The average age of a D.C. staffer is 26. They’re ambitious, dedicated and they love public service and policy and being involved,” he said. “You get to reach out, educate and inform them about agriculture, because, more than likely, they don’t know, but they have the ear of the senator or representative. They’re the ones with whom to build the relationships, so if they have a question they know to call you.”
“Be the normal, helpful expert,” said Lyon as his sixth point. While he worked for a Colorado senator, Lyon says they had a few “nut jobs.”
“The FBI confiscated our fax machine twice. I read one of those faxes one morning, and it was 23 pages, written diagonally and was incoherent. Those constituents stand out, but you want to be the normal, helpful expert – the one who provides solutions and has good answers,” he said.
Lyon said that, most important, from the agriculture standpoint, is to be the researchers for Congressmen.
“Elected officials don’t have time to research and look at everything. On things like ag policy, livestock and GIPSA rules, you’re the expert and the one most directly impacted,” he noted. “You can relate to them why they’re important in Wyoming or in your county. They’ll meet with lobbyists, who are great at providing information, but constituents provide muscle and story to that information.”
“Influence is simply being active,” he summarized. “At the American Farm Bureau Federation we have great staff, but the best way to influence members of Congress is you, as constituents, sending messages, talking to them and meeting with them. That’s the easiest way to make sure Farm Bureau policy is implemented, and done in the right way.”