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Political Responses to Technical Facts (updated)

(Updated from December 6, 2021)

Technical facts and data, indispensable to executive agencies, are often discounted in legislative policymaking. “Political Responses to Technical Facts” (v2) guides technical experts to become more aware of the political process.

The legislative process is procedurally logical but often fact-based irrational. A lawmaker knowingly discounting my technical advice said, “In politics perception is reality.” Within this logical-irrational dichotomy, technical people can falter as legislative lobbyists. What makes perfect sense to fact-and-law experts, such as executive agency PhDs, undermines “making the sale” to technically inexpert and often unconcerned “Don’t bother me with the facts[1] lawmakers.

To illustrate, I lobbied to repeal a deposit on rechargeable portable electric products. The deposit doubled the price of our lowest-priced item thereby making it less competitive price-wise with alternate technologies.

In the capitol, I was ready with fact-and-law arguments as to why deposits should be repealed. However, the lawmaker whom I was lobbying at the moment, upon learning I was from Florida, wanted to talk about coconuts instead of deposits. We spent 15-20 minutes talking about coconuts. I got his vote and the deposit was repealed. A colleague told me the similar happened to him while advocating for a $1.5 million appropriation. Youth baseball was his version of my coconuts.

While an advocate must be armed with persuasive arguments “just in case” facts become important (and I’ve had that happen, albeit infrequently), most lawmakers are much more interested in politics than technical facts. The above chart was created to shift technical people to thinking more politically and less technically.

[1] Attributed to Tennessee House member Shelby Reinhart, aka “The man who could get it done.”

 

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