“When I feel the heat, I see the light,” a quote attributed to former U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen, is emblematic of the importance of engaging in advocacy on policy issues that can impact local operations.
Part of our job in public power is to ensure that policymakers are working with all the information needed to make what we hope will be good decisions. Educating policymakers about how the legislative or regulatory changes they are considering could affect locally owned utilities is essential.
Your state and national associations are a great resource to help you with these efforts. This is a key reason why membership in organizations like the American Public Power Association, joint action agencies, and state associations is so important. The work that these organizations do to track new developments and advocate on behalf of their membership helps to keep policymakers at the federal and state levels informed.
However, it takes more than one match to make a fire burn bright. The advocacy efforts of local officials are still the most powerful and effective tool at public power’s disposal. Reaching out and introducing yourself to your state and federal legislators is an excellent way to establish the foundation for effective advocacy. Invite your state lawmakers and members of Congress to tour your facilities, to attend a Public Power Week event, to join your utility for a local school safety presentation, or to sit in on a safety training course with your crew. All of these are effective ways to promote public power while helping to build strong relationships with decision-makers at the state and federal levels.
In addition, engaging your local officials, including your mayor or governing board members, can leave a positive impression. This is especially true if they are newly elected officials who might be less familiar with the public power model.
The ways in which we advocate have changed in recent years with the advent of social media and texting — and have changed even more during the past year, as we’ve transitioned many interactions and meetings to virtual platforms. While interacting through a computer screen might not be the ideal way to build relationships, hosting a virtual discussion for lawmakers can still be quite effective. In 2021, APPA will host its annual Legislative Rally in Washington, D.C., as a virtual event. We hope that the hundreds of public power officials who traditionally travel to the city for the event will participate in the virtual platform — and that APPA members who have not been able to make the trip in years past will also participate.
A strong, unified voice at the state, regional and federal levels is critical to our collective success. If we want our legislators to see the light, we need to make them feel the heat. It is only together that we can truly make the fire burn bright.
Please reach out to APPA, your joint action agency, or your state association if you would like suggestions for ways to help build your relationship with your state and federal policymakers. We look forward to seeing you online in March for the annual Legislative Rally.