The Golden Rules of Effective Advocacy

With three decades in Washington, I have learned a few things along the way — you learn more when you listen and your reputation is the one thing that counts the most in this town. Are you honest? Are you respectful of others’ views? Do you represent your industry’s positions well? Are you tuned to political realities; and do you engage in the political process?

To develop an association into a reputable resource for key policymakers, the ongoing process of relationship building must be among the top of its list of priorities. In many ways, it is similar to what you do in running your business every day. Getting to know those decision makers, providing them with accurate and useful information, outlining the consequences both positive and negative, treating someone like you would want to be treated (especially when you disagree), along with political advocacy are all key elements to affecting the legislative and regulatory processes.

The worst part of being an elected official, or being someone who would like to run for elected office, is the constant and never ending need to finance a political campaign. Ask any of them; they don’t like it. But, it is an unwanted necessity as the cost of running campaigns continues to increase. We all likely have strong personal views on this, but it is the world that all trade associations operate in and to ignore this reality is folly.

Our Nation’s capitol, despite its enormous power and amazing monuments and museums, is, in reality, a very small town. Faces change but the titles remain the same. This reinforces the need to be always engaging and respectful of others. In many cases, people become addicted to the political process and are fortunate to obtain key agency or staff positions on Capitol Hill, or influential industry jobs; and then move from one to the other over time. This might be an apt description of my path. I have seen many times in my career where not treating others as you want to be treated can come back to you in many different ways.

Elections have consequences as we all know — sometimes good and sometimes bad — depending upon your political views. When focusing on issues important to the general aviation community, we don’t look at whether someone is a Republican or a Democrat. We look at whether or not they support general aviation, and whether or not they oppose burdensome, redundant, unneeded, and costly regulations or legislation. We look for opportunities to educate, inform, and develop common sense solutions.

With a united general aviation advocacy effort, we can be one of the strongest industry voices in the United States. We will need this unified voice if we are going to be successful in negotiating the challenges upon us and in front of us. Throughout my career, I have been drawn to aviation and specifically general aviation, mainly because its people are passionate, hard working, and honest.

As our Nation’s financial situation continues to provide challenges for everyone, we must be in a position to help policymakers succeed by identifying reasonable solutions that could help contribute to restoring our federal fiscal house to order — and without imposing additional tax burdens on our families and on our industry. In this effort, it is essential that we remain vigilant and thoroughly engaged.

General aviation is in the crosshairs for some, and we are working to educate those on the contributions our industry provides, including job creation and the economic impact that we have on communities in every state in the Union. I believe most would agree that we are all willing to pay our fair share and take our cuts when absolutely necessary. At the same time, we must work within the political, legislative, and regulatory processes to ensure these decisions are advanced on sound policy considerations and not simply for political expediency.

The inability of the White House and Congress to reach agreement on our Nation’s federal budget has led to the potential shuttering of the contract tower program through a self-imposed sequestration process which required federal agencies to make cuts in key programs. Sequestration, along with renewed efforts by the Obama Administration to place a $100 user fee on general aviation, the determination by the IRS to impose federal excise taxes on operators who provide services for air charters, reductions in the budgets and services of our Customs and Board Patrol agency are just a few of the challenges we face today. These and other similar issues will undoubtedly continue to unfold in the coming months and we again will continue to engage key decision makers on all of these matters.

NATA’s recent Aviation Business and Legislative Conference and Congressional Reception in the beautiful Capitol Building provided the perfect opportunity for our members to hear from and meet with many key lawmakers and their staffs. This event further emphasized that your personal involvement in the political and regulatory processes will help make us even stronger as an organization. Meeting with your Senators and Representatives back home, talking to them about what is on your mind — what concerns you have — becoming a resource, and being aware of the importance of political advocacy are all steps that will go a long way in helping us to hit the ground running in 2013 and beyond.

Article originally appeared in Aviation Business Journal.

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