If they knock you down, you’d better come up swinging
On election night in 2016, the Republican Party took control of thirty-two state legislatures, with twenty- four of those having a Republican governor as well.
For many of us who’ve battled for years against Democratic majorities, now is a time of unparalleled opportunity.
And to be fair, there are certainly some states that are moving good bills at the state level.
But this is also a very dangerous time for many activists.
That’s because right now, when many state legislatures are starting to wind down, the pressure really mounts to ‘make a deal.’
Let’s Make a Deal
Suddenly your bill sponsor may be talking to you, asking, ‘what you’ll accept this year.’
Or maybe the House Majority Leader is texting you saying, ‘Your bill is too extreme right now, but with some modifications I think we can get this done.’
Or maybe they dispense with the pretense and just gut your bill leaving you to pick up the pieces, as they did to me in my home state of Iowa in March of 2017.
Oftentimes they’ll want to pass conservative sounding bills for political cover –- but they’ll almost always work to water them down as much as possible.
Either way, you’ve got some tough choices to make.
You want to pass a bill, I get it.
But as you were taught in our previous article, if you water down your own bill, that only leaves you to blame.
Worse, you can’t hold anyone accountable at election time for this backroom deal since you signed off on it!
And if you’re not working to expose legislators at election time, you’ll never be able to advance your policy objectives next session.
Friendship with Politicians
This is also why you should avoid friendships with politicians.
With the Republicans having complete control of so many legislatures, there’s a good chance that the same legislators who are undercutting your bill may have been your natural allies just last year in the minority!
Welcome to politics.
A good way to avoid blurring these lines is to remember who you work for — and it’s not some politician in your Capitol.
In my case, the over ten thousand dues-paying members of Iowa Gun Owners are the people I’m representing.
And they don’t care if it’s the Democrats or the Republicans who are holding up pro-gun legislation.
They expect me to deal with it and get the bill passed, or expose the politicians responsible if I can’t.
Get in the Mud and Start Swinging
With the pressure mounting, you’ve got to choose: do you want to be loved and manipulated by politicians, or feared and respected?
There’s no other option.
Assuming that you want to be feared and respected –- and oftentimes pass your bill in the process — it’ll often be necessary to jump into the legislative mud-pit and start swinging.
No, I don’t mean you can take a poke at the first bad legislator you meet next time you’re at the Capitol.
Rather, it’s time to start naming names and urging action from your members to save your bill, or expose those who are trying to undermine it!
Your members expect it.
And if you don’t, your bill will die or be drastically watered down.
Worse, you’ll be sending a message to the politicians in your legislature that you’ll sit back and allow them to crush or undermine your bill with no pushback.
Do this one time, and they’ll never treat you seriously ever again — nor should they.
One of the groups that I work for, Iowa Gun Owners, has been fighting for six long years to pass Stand-Your-Ground law as of 2017.
This bill has always been stopped by an anti-gun Senate Majority leader, a 34-year incumbent.
But in the fall of 2016, after a massive election program funded by our generous donors in which we exposed him and many of his allies, gun owners flipped six Senate seats — giving us a pro-gun majority!
We knew that 2017 would be our chance.
But almost immediately our House leadership, moderate to the core, broke under the anti-gun pressure and ran an amendment that drastically undermined our bill — and attacked us in the process!
We knew we had to fight back, hard and fast.
Involve Your Members
When this happens, don’t rely on your own cleverness and inside games to fix this problem — get your members involved.
The first thing we did was cut a video in the Capitol that we broadcast out to our members via our Facebook page, urging them to take action!
This is cheap and effective and allows you to show your members that you’re in the trenches for them, increasing their likelihood of getting involved.
(Pro-tip: If you find yourself having to go on the attack, don’t hold back. You’re all in at this point, make the most of it.)
To better explain what I mean, check out the video that we produced for our members by clicking the box below.
(Videos like the one above are cheap to produce and are a great way to mobilize your people to action in real time.)
If you have the budget to boost your video, all the better.
Next we dropped a mailing to ten thousand of our most active supporters — with a petition for them to fill out — calling on the House to fix this bill.
We then mobilized gun owners in key districts with robo-calls, a cheap and quick way to get people to call the Capitol.
(While most states allow for robo-calls, not all do, so check your local laws before doing these.)
And, of course, we were alerting our people via email almost daily at this point.
It didn’t make me the most popular lobbyist in the Capitol — but clearly that’s not something that I worry about, nor should you.
But it did scare the legislators, badly.
Five days after the House gutted our bill, they buckled under the pressure of our program and corrected their ‘mistake.’
Of course they attacked our organization again on the House floor, and me by name, but that’s just politics.
If you can’t handle politicians being angry at you, then you really shouldn’t get involved in this line of work in the first place.
Setting the Precedent
By refusing to compromise on your bill, and by being willing to ‘go public’ by involving your members to make sure the politicians can’t get away with it -– you are establishing a great precedent.
Legislators will know that you’re serious, that you’re backed up by real numbers, and that you’re willing to go to the mat for your cause, setting you up for more legislative success in the future.
And hey, come on, it’s fun!
You Have Not Because You Ask Not
It should be easy to save babies, lower taxes, and advance the Second Amendment when our ‘friends’ are in charge.
But that’s just not the reality in any state where I’ve worked.
You’re going to have to fight hard to hold them accountable and make sure they don’t water down your bill.
That starts with you having the guts to tell the politicians what you want, and refusing to settle for anything less!
If you are in a hot fight and need some backup, feel free to contact me for specific assistance over the phone or to arrange a day-long training seminar in your area.