Citizens Make a Difference in Washington, D.C.
Transportation Construction Coalition Fly-In a Success
We’ve all seen the emails and ads asking us to contact our Congressional Representative or Senator to let them know how we feel about an issue. Sometimes we are invited to go with a group to talk to our congress person about upcoming legislation. But does it matter? Last month, I decided to find out.
I took part in the Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) Fly-In, including members from 31 national associations and construction unions directly impacted by federal transportation programs. The annual TCC Fly-In is organized by its co-chairs, American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) and Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America. The President and Congressional leaders had just announced the outline for a bipartisan transformational $2 trillion investment in infrastructure. The stakes were high and the TCC was prepared to make sure our voices were heard.
Prep and Planning
In the days leading up to the Congressional visits, the TCC partner organizations held sessions to update members on legislative strategy and industry initiatives. I attended a two-day seminar held by ARTBA that included; regulatory briefings, roundtables with federal highway officials and other informational sessions.
The individual group meetings were followed by the TCC program in which more than 500 attendees listened to an impressive array of speakers provide legislative briefings. The new Federal Highway Administrator, Nicole Nason,addressed her top priorities: reducing roadway fatalities, improving transportation infrastructure, and finding ways to make improvements as easy as possible through regulatory reform and improved permitting procedures. Nason encouraged everyone in the audience express their views by engaging with FHWA division offices, staying connected with industry and association leaders and paying attention to the Federal Register to provide input on rulemaking.
TCC was pleased to welcome the highest-ranking member of Congress to ever address the group, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who was warmly greeted by the crowd. Pelosi talked about the non-partisan nature of infrastructure spending within Congress and the President’s commitment to signing a $2 trillion package. Among the priorities that democrats have put forth for such a bill are:
- Improving existing roads and bridges
- Increasing mass transitto reduce the number of cars on the roads
- Updating water systems
- Modernizing the broadband system
Pelosi pleased the crowd with her call to “Roll up our sleeves and build, build, build!” stating that improved infrastructure isn’t just about better roads, it is a jobs issue, a promotion of commerce issue, a mobility issue, a safety and security issue, and it concerns quality of life for everyday Americans. In her closing remarks, Pelosi exclaimed, “I’m confident that it will happen!”, earning her a standing ovation from the crowd.
All of this was a great lead in for the main event, meeting with members of Congress to talk about infrastructure spending.
All Politics is Local
I was part of the Indiana delegation scheduled to meet with Senators and House of Representatives from the State. Build Indiana Council (BIC) a coalition representing the interests of more than 500 construction industry companies is led by Executive Director Vicki Kitchin. Kitchin and her team of state and federal legislative experts had a full schedule of meetings for the 30-plus members attending the fly-in that included dinner with our Senators and office meetings with nine of our Representatives. Our pre-dinner orientation included detailed discussions about our message on the Hill. We wanted to show general support for infrastructure, but also emphasize those issues affecting Indiana.
At the end of the day, I felt like we had positive results from our meetings with Congressional staff and members. Overall, everyone we met with was gracious and appreciative of our efforts to talk to them about our concerns. Sometimes we met with our Representative and sometimes with their aides – both situations had their advantages. Staff tended to know the detailed specifics of legislation and where it was in the process whereas the Representatives knew which way the political wind was blowing. In most cases, our Congress people agreed with the issues and ideas we presented, in some cases they explained why they believed something different and in at least one instance an aide said they would work to change language in an upcoming bill based on our information.
Our Congressional visits were successful because Kitchin and her team prepared us for success. We communicated our message, stayed on topic and stayed on schedule. Both aides and members expressed appreciation for the professionalism that BIC demonstrates. They had us well briefed on what issues we would be discussing and why they were the most important ones for Indiana. They had appointments lined up and they were known to our members of congress after having done this for many years.
Keys to Success
- Schedule your meetings – your congress person and their staff is extremely busy but they do want to hear from you and they do set aside time for constituent meetings.
- Attend with a group with the same interests if possible – more people expressing the same concerns shows that your issue has a wider base.
- Know what you are going to say – you probably won’t get more than 15 to 20 minutes so don’t waste time with chit chat – get to the point.
- Limit your issues to no more than five talking points – infrastructure covers a lot of things, pick the issues within the larger scope are most important to you and have everyone in your group on the same page.
- Prepare a hand-out to leave behind detailing your concerns – this can be referenced during your discussions or as talking points if the person you met with needs to brief someone else.