Sausage Making and Lobbying: Why City Officials Need to Be Involved

February 27, 2020

By Tom Gehl, GMA Director of Governmental Relations
After 30 years of walking the marble halls and lobbies of Georgia’s Capitol, it’s a wonder I don’t hear the House and Senate voting bells ringing in my ears while I sleep. This year, I entered my 31st consecutive legislative session. Here are my top three takeaways:

Tom Gehl with legislators at the capital in the early 1990s.

1: Look in the mirror and say, “I am an elected city official, I vote, and I am powerful.” Sure, there are professional lobbyists, but legislators will tell you, the most powerful “lobbyists” are organized constituents who vote for each of their legislators. Translation: That’s you, a powerful elected municipal official. As the GMA lobbying team works with the members of the General Assembly, it is music to our ears when legislators let us know that they’ve heard from multiple mayors, councilmembers and city\ staff on an issue. GMA can accomplish so much when the membership and staff are tag-teaming legislators on an issue.

2. It ain’t pretty. While “ain’t” typically isn’t a word I use, sometimes the legislative arena calls for it. “There are two things you never want to see being made, sausage and laws,” so the expression goes. Both processes can be messy. But cities share with us the first-hand benefits of having GMA’s professional lobbying team to help navigate this process. Our legislative team also ensures a consistent, year-after year return to policy debates to improve imperfect bills.

I can vividly remember a legislator unironically exclaiming, “Everyone is in agreement on this legislation, except for the words.” Well, after the laughter subsided, it impressed on me the realism that words are the most important part of a bill. This is why GMA works daily to align these words with city interests.

3. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. While city and state priorities are not always aligned, it is crucial that city and state officials forge partnerships to solve problems for shared constituents. Legislators are people too. So, cut them some slack when they may not be on your side on particular issues and work to develop personal relationships, because you may call on them for future issues important to your city.

So, what makes our job easy? You—city officials and staff. We have the best “clients” among the entire lobbying corps who offer themselves up for public service to improve the lives of their communities. Thank you for being your city’s and GMA’s most powerful advocates!

This article appears in the January/February 2020 edition of Georgia’s Cities Magazine.
Photo Above: The late Government Operations Committee Chairman Culver Kidd, the “Silver Fox,” and former Lt. Governor Pierre Howard with Gehl on the Senate floor in the early 1990s.

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