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Thursday, October 20, 2016

 10:29 AM 

Wendy Riemann column: Advantageous Advocacy: Just hold your nose and vote!

As a child, I loved going to the voting booth with my dad – back when there were levers to pull for candidates.  When I reached voting age, I practically skipped to the polls to cast my ballot and wore my “I Voted” sticker with pride all day.  This cycle, I am genuinely worried I may be sick on my way to or from my polling place, but I will still vote. 

America spoke.  These are our nominated party candidates.  To not vote is squandering a privilege others long to hold.  To not vote is a vote: a vote in support of everything a person opposes because he did nothing to change the outcome. 

Although many people, myself included, are disheartened by the top of the ticket selections, we must still show up on November 8. 

Votes matter.  We cannot assume anything and should not take anything for granted.  Nothing is certain until the ballots are counted. 

But how to decide when the two front-runners hold the lowest favorability ratings ever in a presidential cycle?  The Washington Post recently researched what voters do when they consider every option bad and found that people tend to vote by rejecting the choices they do not like, instead of affirmatively choosing the one they dislike the least.  Whatever works for the voter mindset …

We are fortunate to live in the United States. Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” 

Our nation is the envy of people across the globe who do not have the right to vote.  Voting is a privilege.  It demonstrates a small attitude of gratitude that says, “I’m grateful to live in such a great country and I am doing my part.”  Reports of low voter turnout are a sad representation of our nation, regardless of how frustrated we feel this cycle.  Yes, government can be slow, and yes, elected officials are human and make mistakes, but voting can bring about change – look at the Tea Party movement or the UK’s Brexit vote for recent examples (for better or worse). 

Sometimes advocating a position means compromise, not extremes, but it does not mean giving up.  Sometimes it means waiting a turn instead of instant gratification, but we still must try to move the ball forward.  And, sometimes voting is not all about us, but the overall greater good. 

Our votes should be cast based on more than who sounds like us, or who we would like to drink a beer with, or our level of anger.  We are electing the leader of the free world.  This is a huge responsibility to our family, friends, and fellow citizens here at home, and to people across the entire globe – especially those who do not hold the right to vote.  Of the candidates, who is best to lead the nation for the next four years?  Represent us on the global stage? 

If we do not like our choices, then let this be a lesson for us.  And let us hope that Washington officials also learn a lesson and become more action-orientated. 

Perhaps in future elections we all could pay more attention to substance over soundbites.  We may live in a 24-hour news cycle world, but maybe instead of saying he or she holds my attention, or speaks the best, maybe it is time to start examining plans, policies, and records of achievement.  Maybe we should be listening more to what a candidate is truly saying – regardless of the candidate’s level of energy when saying it, appearance, or how well the candidate works the media.

With all that said, let us not lose hope.  Our great nation has had good and not-so-good presidents in the past, and we have endured and prospered because of, and sometimes even in spite of, that president.  Our nation is bigger and stronger than any one individual. 

Additionally, the Founding Fathers were wise in establishing a system that leaves much of the critical decision making to states and local governments.  Leaders for positions at the state, county, and local governments are on ballots across the country, and are worth our consideration, as well as a trip to the polling place.  These elected officials are far more likely to impact our daily lives than the president, so please research them and cast the ballot accordingly. 

Yes, I dread voting for a presidential candidate this election.  However, at the end of the day, I am grateful to live in an amazing country where I have the right to vote, and I am appreciative of all the candidates who are willing to run for office and serve in a (often) thankless job.  

-- Riemann is president of 1492 Communications, a consulting firm. Like 1492 Communications on Facebook to learn more.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

 8:23 AM 

Wendy Riemann column: Advantageous Advocacy: Congressional ABC’s and 123’s

As Congress is in recess until the November election, now is a great time to catch-up on some homework. By homework, I mean the Congressional version of ABC’s and 123’s, such as knowing bill sponsors and numbers, and preparing one-pagers.

Before any meeting or contacting an elected official, it is critical to do the necessary homework to ensure advocates position themselves in the best light and are viewed as a trustworthy source. Some items seem really simple, but they are often overlooked by groups. As a result, the group loses some credibility. For instance, I cannot even count the number of times a group lobbied my office on a piece of legislation without knowing the actual bill number. In my informal survey of Hill staff, this occurrence was common throughout their meetings as well. In corporate America, this would be like not having cost estimates for a project, or in the classroom, the teacher not knowing what chapter the class was on.

It is important to remember that while a group may eat, sleep and breathe that one specific bill, Members of Congress and staff deal with more than 10,000 pieces of legislation that are introduced into Congress each session. To ensure the member and staff are aware of the correct legislation, make sure they have the bill specifics: a group advocating in support or opposition of a bill should always provide the bill name, number, and sponsor.

For some homework extra credit, be aware that these numbers often change with a new session. Come January, Congress hits the reset button, which means bills need to be reintroduced and will then receive a new number.

Another good homework project is preparing a one-page document with all the pertinent information of the legislation in an easy-to-read format. Yes, this should include the bill name, number, and sponsor, and if it has a companion bill in the other chamber, but a one-page document should also include useful facts, such as a brief bill summary, cost estimates, historical framework, district impacts, timelines and so forth. This document is what members and staff will read first, so it should be full of details and accurate. Many groups like to provide the one-pager during the meetings, however, a majority of staff, would prefer receiving the one-pager ahead of time to be better informed on the issue. This can be done by sending it with the meeting confirmation email and also bringing copies to the meeting. After all, does a group prefer the member or staff read it A) while the group is presenting, or B) ahead of time to provide for a better meeting conversation?

Those answering B receive the “A” for the day!

-- Riemann is president of 1492 Communications, a consulting firm. Like 1492 Communications on Facebook to learn more.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

 11:44 AM 

Wendy Riemann column: Advantageous Advocacy: Getting your goat: Meeting pet peeves

Nails on the chalkboard. Cracking knuckles. Constant pen clicking. Each of these noises can highly annoy someone – even on a good day.

Advocates can also give their meeting hosts that same highly annoyed feeling – not through noises – but by making some common meeting mistakes – mistakes advocates often don’t know they are making. Staff may not directly indicate their pet peeves, however, they may be rolling their eyes on the inside, subtly looking at their watch, or making a mental note to not take an advocate’s next meeting request – or certainly not schedule it with the boss.

Based on my own experiences, and an informal survey of staff, some common meeting pet peeves include:

Calling the official by his first name. It is great that an advocate donated money, campaigned for the official, went to grade school with him, attends the same church, or has known his buddy for a decade, however, if an advocate is meeting in the official’s office where the official holds a title that he worked hard to earn – an advocate should be respectful and use that title, whether the official is present or not.

Speaking of names, incessant name dropping. Staff get it, advocates want them to think they are important and know everyone, etc., however if name dropping is the method of choice to make that known, no staff person is being wowed. Focus on being prepared, organized and having a worthwhile ask. 

Being on the phone. A staff person or official cannot tell if a person is taking notes, reading the meeting agenda, or watching a video stream of his dog at home. Worse, sometimes they can directly see someone scrolling through Facebook. Avoid this by going old school and using pen and paper to demonstrate the meeting is important, time is valued, and the advocate is actively engaged and listening.

Not leading the meeting. Organize an agenda and have a plan of who speaks on what, and when. Additionally, resolve any conflicting issues or group disagreements before the meeting, not during it. There are few things worse for a staff person than needing to “lead” a meeting on a random topic someone else requested. It does not better help an advocate try to see where the staff person takes the issue, or what he knows, it just annoys staff, uses up valuable time an advocate could be addressing the crux of the matter, and limits the staff in actually asking relevant questions.

Saying “It’s always been done that way.” Treat these words like the plaque. Government is often viewed as slow, archaic, and filled with red tape. Leaders want to be innovative, fresh, and impactful where they can be. As a result, think about how programs can be enhanced and how the ask of a leader could improve something, not just check a standard box.

There are certainly more pet peeves out there. Feel free to email me at Wendy@1492communications.com with other examples for a future column. The good news is that if an advocate is guilty of any of these, it is never too late to become more aware and make positive changes. Staff and officials will be grateful, and it may even help improve an advocate’s meeting outcomes. 

-- Riemann is president of 1492 Communications, a consulting firm. She can be reached at: wendy@1492communications.com.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

 4:44 PM 

White House picks Johnson for United Nations General Assembly spot

The White House announced today U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has been nominated to represent the U.S. at the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Johnson, who also served as a representative to the 69th General Assembly in 2014, said he appreciated the nomination.

“As chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, I look forward to the opportunity to discuss global issues with our partners overseas,” the Oshkosh Republican said. “The threats to our national security are real and growing. That is why I will continue to focus my efforts on finding areas of agreement -- for a safer, more secure and prosperous America.”

Monday, September 12, 2016

 10:33 AM 

Pollsters: Feingold has edge in U.S. Senate bid, but presidential race unclear

Wisconsin may not be a top presidential swing state this year, but the race between Ron Johnson and Russ Feingold likely will boost Dems' effort to regain control of the U.S. Senate, two top pollsters told a WisPolitics.com D.C. breakfast. 

Dem pollster Paul Maslin and Republican pollster Gene Ulm agreed while the presidential race is far from decided at a national level, Wisconsin's importance is diminished from past years. 

The Senate race, however, has a favorite. 

"If you were going to Vegas and bet, you would bet on Russ Feingold because of past results" in Wisconsin Senate races during presidential years, Ulm told the audience at the Monocle on Capitol Hill, adding: "He's also the only guy Johnson could beat.''

"Last time, Johnson controlled that race; this time, it's the reverse,'' said Maslin, noting most poll results have been in a consistent range, leading him to expect a final margin similar to Tammy Baldwin's 5 percentage-point victory over Tommy Thompson in 2012. 

But a Feingold victory in Wisconsin wouldn't necessarily hand the Senate to Dems because of a tighter presidential race, the two pollsters said. 

Ulm, who is with Public Opinion Strategies, and Maslin, who is with FM3 Research, rated the chance of Democrats controlling the Senate at 50-50. 

They also expressed a lot of caution about the outcome of the presidential race. 

Maslin called the race "very volatile,'' speculating Donald Trump was attempting to drag down Hillary Clinton so it becomes a race where the winner's share of the popular vote may be in the the low 40s. 

Ulm called the outcome "completely unpredictable,'' saying as much as 20 percent of the electorate was up for grabs. "This race really starts on the 26th of this month,'' he said, alluding to the first debate between Trump and Clinton. 

Ulm said the influence of the Libertarian and Green party candidates would fade quickly to some 3 percent because Gary Johnson and Jill Stein won't be part of the debates. 

Maslin speculated the minor parties could garner as much as 8 percent of the vote because Trump and Clinton are turning off so many people, particularly younger voters. "The average person dislikes both right now,'' he said. "That's a truly unique situation.'' 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

 7:47 AM 

Wendy Riemann column: Advantageous Advocacy: Oh, September!

Congress does two things well, nothing and overreact … or so it has been said.  Between summer recess and the need to fund the government before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1, August and September are prime examples of this half-joking statement.

Earlier this week, Congress returned to session after its seven-week summer recess.  The main tasks before it are to keep the government open (i.e. funded), and pass some type of Zika funding.  The next few September weeks will likely entail some drama and plenty of ever-changing predictions as to when and how these tasks will be completed – and at what cost in financial and political capital.  The sooner all that concludes, the sooner members can return home to campaign. 

Needless to say, officials in Washington are polarized, unpopular and nervous about the November election.

Their minds are on the tasks right before them, possibly doing some posturing for a media hit, and little else.  They want to get home as quickly as possible to protect their jobs.  Now, before we are too quick to judge, how laser-focused would our minds be if our jobs were on the line – especially if we still had personal goals we wanted to achieve in those jobs!?

Since their minds are more preoccupied than usual, advocates using these weeks of session to make their case should be as message-focused, time-efficient and district-specific as ever. 

Advocates should also understand that they may not receive a response before November or be told to check-in after the election, or even in the new Congress.  Some issues a member may want to get off his plate as quickly as possible, while others will not be triaged to the top of the pile.

Furthermore, as tempting as it may be to bring up the election, remember that in an official meeting, the political side of matters should not be discussed.  This cycle, with everything even more topsy-turvy than usual, that may even be for the best!

If confronted with a political discussion, it may be wise to play it safe and go with “it sure is an interesting election,” or one of my favorite topic changes, “at least we can all back the Pack, right!?”

-- Riemann is president of 1492 Communications, a consulting firm. She can be reached at: wendy@1492communications.com.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

 11:29 AM 

Wendy Riemann column: Advantageous Advocacy: How do you August?

Some staff in Washington, D.C. live for August recess (or the “August work period” as others call it).  No joke.  Members return to their states and districts for the month, votes are put off until September, and the entire city slows down – partially from the extreme heat, but mostly from a break in the action.

Staff often find themselves taking a much-needed and well-earned vacation. However, although the voting comes to a halt, the work does not.  Ergo, advocacy efforts should not halt either.

Is a group using the August recess to advance its cause?  How can a group make good use of the downtime?

Visit with staff.  Even though some people are traveling some of the time, the offices are still open. Take the time to catch-up with staff members and introduce yourself to new staff.  August is far more casual and laid back in Washington, which means staff may be able to have a more natural conversation, instead of rushing through the issues.  Plus, since it is a more casual work period, the dress attire can be a little more casual too, i.e. men can likely forgo the ties.  If a group will not physically be in D.C. in August, leave a voicemail or send an email with an update the staff member may be interested in.

Catch-up on legislation.  There is a break in the flow right now when legislation is not moving.  It is a perfect time to review important pieces of legislation to see where they stand, what is needed, and potential outcomes for later in the year.

Check-in with industry colleagues and association partners.  These folks are also enjoying the August recess and catching-up on items that might have fallen by the wayside during session.  Ask what they are working on.  Start a conversation.  If an advocacy group is not a part of a relevant trade association, now might be a good time to investigate those associations, reach out, and even see if the group might benefit from a membership or partnership.

Pay attention to the district.  The member is often back in the district for the August work period.  If she is holding an event or town hall, attend it and greet the official and her staff either before or after.  The relevant D.C. staff person may also return to the district during August for a few days – find out and offer to meet with him there or offer to take him on a company tour.

Congress returns to session after Labor Day, which means there is still some time to take advantage of the slower pace to enhance relationships and catch-up.  If this August flies by, make a note in the calendar for next June to start thinking about the August plan.  Or, create an actual August folder on your desk and computer to store interesting articles or ideas throughout the year.  This way, when time permits in August, those materials worth exploring more in-depth are easily accessible.

In the end, every month is a good month to advocate.

-- Riemann is president of 1492 Communications, a consulting firm. She can be reached at: wendy@1492communications.com.

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