(First published in Texas Scorecard)
How the battle ground is set against conservatives
It’s simple: there is tremendous money—a good share of it taxpayers’—spent directly or indirectly to assure conservatives don’t reduce government spending or power, or cut into cronyism in Austin.
It really is human nature. Who is listened to: the person who provides 5-star dining and corporate box seats, or the constituent who walks into the office or committee meeting with hand-typed sheets and scribbled notes? The nine lobbyists for every legislator who work the capitol full-time, or the folks who come down for a hearing or two then go home?
Then there are the professional leftist advocates working the other side. Billions dumped into “advocacy groups” to lobby Democrats at both state and national levels help pay for mobilizing a massive web of leftists to pound at the offices at the capitol and arrive in many busloads to testify on key issues.
When the bill came up on ICE retainers in 2017, testimony against the bill was 600 to 6 (I know; I was one of the 6). They show up, because the money is there to make sure they do.
This is the battle, and it is the battle by all rights conservatives should lose 100 percent of the time. We do lose it far, far more than we win; but occasionally we do get at least small, precious wins.
It is the lessons we learn from the small wins we need to turn into more and bigger wins.
How do we do that?
Lesson 1: Do your homework on good bills, bad bills, and even some minor ones
Get to be known for actually knowing what you are talking about. Never address a bill without reading it fully—and understanding it. This takes time, and I wouldn’t start out on the budget bill—at least in its entirety. Also, realize some bills make single-word or phrase changes in existing law that have profound impact. Killing bad bills is more important that helping pass good ones; former State Rep. Jonathan Stickland was infamous for doing that. Address minor bills on occasion; they are the easiest to get experience on and actually accomplish changes to.
Lesson 2: Don’t assume your legislators are your friends
Lawmakers have far bigger and more important friends than you—in their own eyes. They only need you, or are scared of you, around election time. You need to treat them as someone you are doing business with and understand they are constantly assessing whether helping you is going to come out to be cost-prohibitive to them.
Lesson 3: Work with Legislative Directors and Chiefs of Staffs
Lawmakers’ staff can be great allies—again, not as friends but as business contacts. They are the ones actually getting most of the work done up to the committee hearings. From them, you can find out a lot of “inside the game” information, and also work to sway their bosses to some degree. Also, they have great capability to effect minor changes in bills and the like that can make profound differences. They are the ones that can most help in understanding the bills.
Lesson 4: Work by issue, and never assume who is for or against any one issue
Again, for legislators, it’s cost analysis. The don’t mind being helpful—if it isn’t costly in some way to them. Believe it or not, sometimes Democrats can be better allies on some issues than the mushy moderate GOP members, especially in “going against the way things are,” on certain freedom issues, and a few of them even on social issues.
For example, Democrat Sen. Eddie Lucio is positively the most courageous legislator in Austin on the pro-life issue. Many Democrats are willing to fight the dominant cronyism that bleeds tax money to sweetheart economic development deals (since they get a far smaller piece of it). Do not be reluctant to work to gain allies where ever you find them on an issue-by-issue basis.
Lesson 5: Don’t be a cookie-cutter version of an advocate
Few things are less effective than legislators hearing the same points made in the same ways over and over again in committee hearings, whether it’s liberals with the same tear-jerking heart-tugging stories, or conservatives’ liberty and freedom stories.
You must be different—in an effective manner—both bringing common sense and logic, as well as tugging heart strings, all in the three minutes you will be given to make an impression on any given committee.
There is no doubt being different allowed me to stand out and make an impact in the last session—from my ‘Not a Damn Lobbyist’ shirts that made me famous/infamous throughout the capitol, to my testimony at the property tax committee that State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (who I consider the absolute hero on that issue in the session) noted as the best he’d seen.
Above all, try to be polite (or at least marginally respectful) to everybody in Austin. That is one of the hardest things to do, but you never know who might be a potential ally in the future. It helps to look at everything there, not personally, but as principle and policy to support principle. People will slight you, will have contempt for you, while you are in the “swamp.” Reacting in kind only gives them power over you.
Lesson 6: Be happy with small steps forward, but never accept any steps backward
I have seen almost nothing significant accomplished in a single session. The political machinery works really hard against that and, while that can be maddening, it can also be a benefit of slowing up a lot of really stupid stuff. We all want to implement massive change—so does the other side—and they are better funded and organized to do so.
Work your issues, gain whatever ground you can, and commit to come back and gain more ground next time. That’s been my approach on property taxes; a long way to go, but we’ve made some progress at least.
Lesson 7: As much as possible, keep a good attitude through it all
Even with my ‘damn Lobbyist’ theme, I let them know is was done- mostly- in good humor. (and the fact they saw how much affirmation I got about it from legislators and staff kind of forced them to accept it as such). The best approach to TRY to practice (and I fail too often to accomplish) is being a political mixture between Mahatma Gandhi and Michal Corleone saying; ‘It’s not personal, it’s strictly business’. But you always want to leave your legislators unsure whether- politically- homespun cloth or a horse’s head is to be expected next.