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Strategies for State & Local Government Affairs in an Election Year

by Spencer Gross, High Bridge Consulting, Partner

Maximize your impact during an election year by understanding national politics, leveraging relationships, and swiftly responding to policy shifts to influence state and local policy.

stakeholder management

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As the Presidential election officially kicks into gear, it is understandable that much of the public’s attention will turn to the contest for the highest office. The allure of federal politics and its corresponding 24-hour “horse race” news cycle often overshadows the importance of state and local politics. It would be a mistake, however, for government affairs professionals to allow their teams’ focus to be consumed by federal politics to the detriment of state and local. Instead, find ways to leverage the chaos of an election year to the benefit of your goals.

Connecting to National Issues to Move the Needle at State and Local

To be successful in a general election year, you must keep your finger on the pulse of national politics to have an understanding of how they influence policymaking at the state and local level and quickly react to the fluid dynamics of an election year.

Using Poll Results to Reframe Your Issue

During a midterm election year a few years ago, I found myself talking to a colleague who represented an organization with an interest in curbing the prevalence of organized retail theft. The organization believed that thieves are incentivized to steal goods because they have easily accessible online marketplaces through which they can sell those stolen goods.

At the time, the political landscape was such that majority lawmakers believed retail establishments had a responsibility to secure their products from theft and it was unfair to paint online marketplaces as places that made it easy to sell stolen goods. Couple this with the fact that the online marketplaces had a physical presence in their state, and things were not looking great for my colleague getting their policy changes across the finish line.

Shortly after, however, the crime became a top concern for American voters. Understanding this, my colleague shifted the main narrative away from “We need these policy changes to prevent financial harm to individual retailers” to “We need these policy changes to stem criminal activity in our state.” 

Ultimately, this argument won and their bill was passed. Politicians often use election years to introduce or implement policy proposals that they perceive to give them an advantage in a particular voting bloc. Understanding the larger political sentiment in an election year is key.

The Tools You Need to Manage Breaking Policy Developments

Having the right tools and strategy in place now will make all the difference in the outcome of how your organization is affected by emerging legislative decisions.

On the local government side, we are witnessing national political sentiment surrounding immigration play a role in local politics. Some major cities are rethinking their status as “sanctuary cities” over the last few months. Again, one could argue that the nature of the presidential contest and public opinion polling on the issue is leading to a sense of urgency for local lawmakers to address the topic.

Be Ready to Respond to Emerging Issues

Election years often come with a greater sense of urgency, on the policymaking side, to react to events in the news cycle. Your team needs to be quick to react, often with little to no heads-up on major policy shifts.

Take the recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling on IVF, for example. The ruling sent shockwaves through the Alabama healthcare system, resulting in a pause in IVF treatments for patients. Almost immediately, the loudest responses came not from policymakers in Alabama, but from national figures on both sides of the political spectrum.

National Republicans who, in an election year, recognized the overwhelming support of IVF treatment from Americans of all political stripes, were quick to call on members of their party in the Alabama legislature to swiftly enact legislation to protect IVF treatment in their state. Ultimately, the Alabama legislature did just that. This example highlights the extra layer of urgency in policymaking that accompanies a fluid election-year environment.

Stay on Top of Your Relationships at the State and Local Levels

The shifting landscape of policy and regulation during an election year requires a strategic approach to stakeholder management to advocate effectively for your organization and its interests.

Stakeholder Engagement: How to Measure & Report on Relationships in Government Affairs

Stakeholder Engagement: How to Measure & Report on Relationships in Government Affairs

You can use election years to meet with the multiple candidates running for a particular office to communicate your organization’s mission and goals. There is no need to wait to see who gets elected before you first make contact. By establishing a relationship early, you have more time to build trust and serve as a resource with data and information about the topics that your organization is an expert in.

Across the world, we are seeing housing continue to emerge as a key campaign issue. If, for example, your organization specializes in housing, it would be in your best interest to reach out to the campaigns discussing the issue on the trail and offer your organization’s expertise on that issue. Your organization likely has reports, data, and policy papers that would be of enormous value to any candidate hoping to educate themselves on an issue, so share them. The dynamic changes significantly if your first contact with a newly elected official is an offer to help rather than an ask.

Key Stakeholder Management Strategies in an Election Year

  • Take stock of all of the policy positions/campaign promises a policymaker running for re-election made during their previous campaign. Are any of them yet to be introduced? If so, pay close attention to these and make an action plan if this policy is introduced.

  • Is the policymaker running for re-election relying on a particular industry group or voting bloc for their current campaign? If so, pay close attention to the priorities of these groups to best position yourself for any potential policy action that may benefit them.

  • What is your own organization’s relationship with said groups? Is there any common ground you could find on policy should something be introduced legislatively? Perhaps your organization could be proactive in your outreach to these groups to mitigate risk or boost your impact. Develop a plan of action for all of these scenarios.

While election years present challenges for any government affairs team, you can turn these challenges into wins for your organization. Keep your finger on the pulse and be prepared for a quick response to an emerging policy issue and you’ll be set for success to influence policy at the state and local level.

Spencer Gross is a Partner with the government affairs and political consulting firm, High Bridge Consulting.

Prior to joining High Bridge, Spencer was a lobbyist for the state’s largest trade association, where he attained the highest professional designation given to an association executive. He previously served as the Deputy Director of Legislative & Policy Affairs for the Ohio Treasurer of State, a Legislative Aide in the Ohio House of Representatives, and began his career on Capitol Hill in the Office of the Speaker of the House.

Additionally, Spencer has served in various roles on campaigns for President, Congress, State Supreme Court, and more.

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