Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Statehouse and the importance of relationships

Representatives from Northeast Indiana Chambers leave the Indiana Statehouse on Tuesday morning as they head for the new J.W. Marriott for lunch.

By Jon Swerens, Director of Communications at The Chamber

Q. When's the right time to meet a legislator?

A. Before you need one.

Yes, that's a twist on the old advice about lawyers. But that was the main lesson pressed into my mind during Tuesday's trip to the Statehouse with The Regional Chamber.

It was my first time inside the Statehouse, although I've lived in Indiana since 1998 when my family and I moved to Fort Wayne. I found the whole trip to be fascinating, but not just because of the protesting union members and the absent Democrats.

Our group listened to short talks from Superintendent of Schools Tony Bennett, House Speaker Brian Bosma, Chief Justice Randall Shepard and Gov. Mitch Daniels himself. The talks were interesting in themselves — no matter what you think of their politics, Bennett and Daniels will not bore you — but what struck me was watching what happened between the events and behind the scenes.

There was a camaraderie that at first surprised me, because of how tense the political climate has been in recent weeks. But it was a reminder that despite the historic surroundings, to our legislators this is in a real sense merely their workplace.

And just like in every other work environment, relationships matter. An out-of-town protester may make more noise, but the knowledgeable citizen has a better shot at bending a lawmaker's ear.

So I started thinking: If relationships matter, how does one person with only one voice get that connection and get heard? How can you hope to gain an audience when you have a concern?

Well, one effective way is to gather with like-minded citizens and to select someone to voice your concerns and perspective to our representatives. This may be disparaged as a "special-interest group," but if the First Amendment means anything, then "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" as a group is far from evil, but instead a powerful way for the governed to advance their various causes to those who govern.

Such a voice — otherwise known as a lobbyist, of course — can foster those all-important relationships before crises occur. Then, if your cause is just, you are actually invited to have a say in the deliberations.

And if you're a member of The Chamber, that's exactly what our Director of Government Affairs Katy Stafford does for you. Our Legislative Agenda is an important tool that lays out in plain language what is most important to the economic vitality of Fort Wayne. But without someone in Indianapolis who not only has developed those crucial relationships, but who can speak clearly and convincingly, the tool is never used.

Over the next two days, I'll write more about what was said and heard in Indianapolis. But better than knowing what's being said is knowing that we are being heard. Thank you for supporting your Chamber of Commerce!

If you're interested in visiting our beautiful Statehouse and perhaps meet with some of your representatives, find information and contacts on this web page from the Statehouse Tour Office.

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