Close 90 floral industry members gathered in Washington, D.C., March 14 and 15 to channel their inner lobbyist and advocate on behalf of the needs of the floral industry.
“Tomorrow you are lobbyist, you are the ones who will tell lawmakers your stories and how issues affect you and your business,” wholesaler and event emcee Paul Fowle, of DVFlora in Miami, said on Monday morning to SAF’s Annual Congressional Action Days attendees — among them retailers, wholesalers, growers, manufacturers and association representatives representing 25 different states.
It marked the 36th time SAF has held the two-day event — this year co-sponsored by BloomNet, CalFlowers, FTD and Teleflora. On day one, attendees learned about the issues and how to use their clout as constituents — all in preparation for day two, when they headed to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress and their legislative aides to advocate the industry’s issues.
“Lobbying of any kind involves persuasion, but it also involves … selling a point of view,” said Fowle, a member of SAF’s board of directors and chairman of SAF’s government joint council. “And to get a persuadable position, it also involves research, analysis, relationship building, generating allies and knowing what and who your opposition is.”
What sounds like a daunting task was made easier by a cadre of experts SAF brought in to help attendees learn about the two issues they’d be advocating in meetings with their congressional offices: immigration reform and the STARS Act.
A few highlights of the advice, ranging from the somewhat obvious to the more nuanced, given by speakers:
Former lobbyist Kevin Burke, president and CEO of the Airports Council International North America, reminded attendees, “[Lawmakers] care mostly about how the legislation affects voters in their home district,” so be sure to focus on that, he said, and be sensitive to their viewpoint. “You might be very passionate, but your credibility is about knowing your issue but also knowing their perspective,” he said. When you know a lawmaker has opposed your issue, “say ‘I understand your perspective, however this is where we are coming from.’”
Stephanie Vance, of Advocacy Associates, gave some hard and fast best practices for approaching members of Congress and their staff. “Don’t tell a staffer you’re disappointed to meet with them instead of the member of Congress,” she said. Aside from being rude, Vance said the legislative aides are the “eyes and ears” of the member of Congress and the ones who will ultimately push the issues forward. “But don’t be surprised if they don’t know about the issue — each [legislative staff member] handles dozens of issues.”
To that end, SAF provided an info sheet with a quick recap of the STARS Act and immigration reform and what SAF is advocating.
Lobbyist Lynne Jacquez, CJ Lake LLC, provided some clarity on
how to talk about immigration reform with those who oppose it. “If they say, ‘These people have broken the law, I can’t reward breaking the law,’” then Jacquez suggests using use the speeding ticket analogy: Many of us have gotten a speeding ticket, and we pay a penalty. “Explain that you don’t mean to be minimalist about what happens when crossing the border, but it is not a criminal crime, it’s a civil one” and should be penalized accordingly.
SAF Senior Director of Government Relations Shawn McBurney boiled down the complex STARS Act into two main talking points: “Simply tell them that seasonal employees and seasonal workers are defined as two different things in the federal law, and that makes it difficult for you to comply with the law. So you will be faced with fines for unintentional non-compliance.”
Veteran Washingtonian and political blogger Rich Galen told attendees they can relax, knowing that SAF has laid the groundwork. “You should be proud of [SAF’s lobbyists] because they represent you well. They spend time talking to all of the right people, in the House, Senate, Agriculgure, Labor. They work very hard and have a great reputation.”
How did attendees do on the Hill? We caught up with a few attendees after their visits — check it out here.