What People Think We Do, What We Think We Do, What We REALLY Do!Mar 08, 2012
Being a lobbyist is a uniquely fulfilling job. At least at the state level. I won't speak for the big money lobbyists who represent the corporate and special interests in Washington, D.C., nor even the perhaps only-slightly-less-big-money- lobbyists who handle business for certain industries in Richmond. But at least for those of us who lobby on behalf of principles rather than clients, and I dare say even the for-profit lobbyists, there is nothing more exhilarating, challenging or professionally satisfying than working within the representative process to shape public policy.
Sports commentators say the 400 meter race is the most demanding event in sports — it's an all out, one lap sprint, with no pacing. The 800 meter race is double that. The General Assembly's odd-year short session is the 400 meters. The even-year long session is the 800 meters. It can really wear you down. It takes all the physical and mental stamina a lobbyist can muster, and one must summon all the research, writing, small and large group speaking, grassroots, coalition-building, intelligence-gathering, organizational, public relations, and new and old and social media skills within his or her capability. Lobbyists must be resourceful on many levels — if you can't get something done, you better find an asset or ally that can.
But in that exhaustion is an adrenalin kick that makes you want to come back for more no matter how tired or battered you get when your bills get shredded in committee, no matter how much work and negative (or positive) response you receive in meetings with delegates and senators. As someone said, session is the one thing you dread while you're doing it and can't wait to start again when it ends. But it is still exhilarating to get up each morning after getting home at 10:00 the night before and back up on four hours sleep to prepare for a 7:30 a.m. sub-committee meeting. Knowing you have the opportunity to affect life for the better can drive you pretty hard and doing that by working with amazingly accomplished people is a perk not many jobs offer. The occasional reception, meeting astronauts on aerospace day and getting free Brunswick Stew on Brunswick Stew day are fun pick-me-ups everyone who works during session can relate to. The camaraderie and relationship-building with members and other lobbyists, no matter what side of the aisle or particular perspective, leaves one a bit melancholy as session dwindles to an end and your bills have all been resolved. There is a coming down period one must reconcile with.
Even with the sometimes somber session now running its course, without the drama of a last day do-or-die vote as we normally have, even with the rumors that there will be no Sine Die party this year, we always try to provide the public with a taste of what it is like to lobby at the General Assembly, in the trenches, on a day-to-day basis. There is a fair share of humor (albeit some of it of the gallows variety), but it's necessary to keep our sanity. Perhaps the best illustration of what we do — and the funniest explanation of lobbying I've ever seen — is the six-panel image below that illuminates the perceptions various people have of what a lobbyist actually does . . . until it brings down the lofty visions to self-deprecating reality. The best humor is grounded in at least a semblance of truth. This certainly does have its fair share of that! It's hilarious and was brought to my attention via a Facebook tag by Katherine Schoonover, legislative aide to Delegate Sal Iaquinto (R-84, Virginia Beach) and founder of the Aisle News.
It's hard work and not at all wining and dining. But getting compensated for advocating for a philosophy you live and breath hardly seems like work. The mission is its own reward and that's why lobbying is immensely fun — even after hours of committee hearings.