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Advice for New Lobbyists: How to Work in a Logical, but Irrational Environment

The previous two posts dealt with questions fundamental to you having a successful lobbying career: Post 1) Who do you want to be in your organization? and, Can you escape burnout? Post 2) How government affairs (GA) sophisticated is your employer? and, How committed is your employer to your GA program and to you? In this post, we complete our pre-hiring career preparation by asking: Can you do well in a logical but often wholly irrational environment?

Can you do well in a logical but often wholly irrational environment? Lobbying is logical in that it follows a series of predetermined, formal, sequential, written, and mandated steps, such as those found in the state constitution, statutes, and chamber parliamentary procedure. The predictability and transparency of the formal processes is why you can plan and implement a structured and step-by-step lobbying campaign. That is, everybody starts at step A and finishes at step Z, and it’s all laid out on a state-published flow chart.

However, simultaneous with and parallel to the formal processes are the informal processes. These are often characterized by the petty, arbitrary, capricious, unpredictable, at times unseemly, and often laughingly nonsensical. The informal but often seemingly irrational processes are called politics.

To be successful you have to navigate both. But are you willing to? I recently spoke to a state organization attempting to organize its 10,000 members into a grassroots lobbying force. After my presentation, one listener came up to me to say that he expects lawmakers to behave “more professionally” than I had described. I took “more professionally” to mean he expects lawmakers to rise above and he will not descend into politics.  He wouldn’t accept a theme of my speech, that is, politics often trumps policy and facts.

To illustrate how irrational the process at times can be: I was lobbying for a healthcare bill. I had my witness ready to go and we were waiting for the chair to call up our bill.  Preceding our bill was a measure sponsored by coroners. At times coroners would find that a cadaver’s sexual organs do not correspond to the sex listed on drivers licenses. For purposes of their autopsies, they want drivers licenses to state the discrepancy.

As the committee debated, it was becoming increasingly clear that the bill was headed for defeat. As the clerk was about to call the roll, the sponsor tearfully pleaded, “Before you vote, ask yourself this one thing: What would Jesus do?” Her bill was solidly defeated.

Irrationality, divorced from facts and public policy, all too often characterizes the legislative process. Before you become a lobbyist you have to answer for yourself, “Can I do well in a logical but often wholly irrational environment”?

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