This week, Andrew Smith and I participated in a webinar for Farm Credit Knowledge Center on how to be an advocate for agriculture. If you missed the live presentation, you can follow their Facebook page for “Watch It Wednesday”, when it will be available again for viewing. In the meantime, here are some highlights from our presentation.
What is lobbying?
Lobbying is the advocacy of a point of view, either by groups or individuals. Most people think of lobbyists only as paid professionals, but there are also many independent, volunteer lobbyists — all of whom are protected by the same First Amendment.
Overview of State Government
The Virginia General Assembly is comprised of the Senate and the House of Delegates. Senators serve 4-year terms, and delegates serve 2-year terms. The General Assembly operates on a committee system, where legislation is heard in subcommittees and committees before a vote is taken before the full body.
The governor’s cabinet is comprised of secretariats who oversee state agencies. Farm Bureau works with a variety of secretariats and state agencies, including the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Department of Forestry, Department of Environmental Quality, and Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Importance of Advocacy
We are all advocates for something. If you believe in something and do not speak up, your viewpoint may not be heard. With an increase of urbanization, it’s become even more important for the agriculture industry to educate the public and policymakers. Being directly in agriculture, you provide real-life history, insight, and impacts as well as a story to relate to, common-sense approach to problems, and a specific industry voice.
Key Advice for Success in Lobbying
- Understand the bill/issue and legislator.
- Understand how the bill/issue impacts you.
- Know when the bill will be heard and in what subcommittee or committee—be sure to speak up early in the process.
- Write, call, or meet with the legislator.
- Follow up with a brief thank you email or note.
- Make a point to see your local legislator when not in session.
Major Mistakes to Avoid
- Don’t assume each legislator is a walking encyclopedia on every issue.
- Don’t expect a commitment on the spot.
- Don’t lobby without the facts.
- Don’t forget there’s always another side to the issue.
- Don’t run down the opposition.
- Don’t burn your bridges when you don’t win.
- Don’t fail to say thank you.
- Don’t leave never to be heard from again.
- Attend a lobby day
- Host a farm tour
- Testify at the General Assembly