Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Real State of the States ... I watch, listen and read so you don't have to (part 1)

Each year, I watch, listen or read the state of the addresses from every governor in the nation.  The annual ritual gives me better insight into the priorities of each governor and a sense of what issues or opportunities could arise from those priorities.  It allows me to better serve my clients and develop better advocacy strategies.  Simply put, it makes me a better state lobbyist.

This year I am starting what will be an annual tradition - highlighting the state of the state addresses.

In 2010, the country elected the largest class of new governors.   So in 2011, most governors had just received the keys to the mansion and were still finding their way around.  Fast forward four years, and the country elected the largest class of incumbent governors.  And now in 2015, many of those governors are considering their legacies via state of the state or inaugural addresses.  

This post is the first of three posts that will cover the 2015 State of the State addresses.  Two will cover speeches from incumbent governors.  A third will focus on newly-elected governors, as they outline the goals of their first (and maybe only) term in office.

Click HERE for Governing ( collection of video and/or text of all the addresses.

This week, I'm highlighting the two longest serving governors in America and the current chair of the RGA and next chair of the DGA, as they all won reelection in 2014.

Governor Brown's legacy is certainly secure as he enters the second term of his second stint as governor, and fourth term over all. Hard to believe he was sworn in for his first term 40 years ago. In his address, he highlighted the success of several programs including: two recent ballot initiatives (Save Water and Save Money), and his record paying down the debt.
"Over the next four years and beyond, we must dedicate ourselves to make what we have done work, to see the massive changes in education, healthcare and public safety are actually carried out and endured. The financial promises we have already made must be confronted honestly so they are properly funded. The health of our stat depends on it."

The governor's address touched on several programs in areas of education, healthcare and public safely (corrections). He touched on his next phase of pension reform program and his plans for funding long-term infrastructure - including a fund to invest in bridges and roads.  All part of what I believe Governor Brown believes legacy to be - returning the state to fiscal health.

One thing I learned?  Governor Brown was a former Jesuit priest.

Governor Brandstadt is another governor whose legacy is all but assured, even before he gave his record sixth traditional Condition of the State address.  Governor Brandstadt will soon become the longest serving governor in history.  Hard to believe he needs more of legacy than that.

However, after informing the audience that the condition of Iowa is strong, he dove into the theme of his address - "Together, we can."

"Together, we can," strengthen school safety; invest in rural infrastructure; make college more affordable; and make Iowa the most transparent government in the land.  Those represent the goals of the governor's agenda over the next four years. 
Governor Haslam started his state of the state address by saying it would be the shortest in state of the state in Tennessee history - mainly because he gave his second inaugural address two weeks before.  I pulled from both speeches to get a sense of what Governor Haslam would like to be most remembered for.

I think it is clear that Governor Haslam wants to be remembered for vastly improving the state's education system - both K-12 and higher education.  Both speeches and his budget priorities point to that.  The state has made significant statistical improvements over the last four years and the governor wants to continue them.  He also wants to ensure access to higher education and continue his program of making Tennessee community and technical colleges affordable (if not free) for every citizen of the state.  

The governor talked about how these important education improvements and reforms would lead to better jobs, economic growth and a better Tennessee for all. 

Governor Malloy led off on several significant accomplishments - raising the minimum wage, reducing the uninsured by half, and legislation aimed at reducing gun violence.  But his speech was all about transportation and infrastructure.
"To be competitive regionally, nationally, and internationally, we need a transformation. For our roads, bridges, rails and ports, even our walkways or bikeways. We need to change the way we commute, the ways our businesses move their products, and the ways we get around our cities and towns. It's time for a Connecticut to establish a collective vision for the next thirty years. A vision for a best-in-class transportation system."
Among some short term goals, Governor Malloy called for widening I-95 state-wide and fixing its entrance and exit ramps, and a significant improvement of the state's commuter rail lines and bus lines.  He also called for a transportation lock box, ensuring all transportation funds are actually spent on transportation projects.

Next week, I'll look at some of the 2016 presidential contenders.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

What Am I Reading? February Edition

In an effort to get my blogging back into a regular cycle, I'm going to squeeze this in during February.  I am introducing what I hope will become a monthly feature - What Am I Reading?

Each month I pick five or six articles or blogs that I found interesting over the last month.  While most will be related to state and local government, startups or entrepreneurship, you might get a random post about Ireland, beer, sports or music.

First up ...

1984 with ... (in this case it was Whitney Rhodes, Pierce County, Assistant to the Auditor)
A series of blogs on by Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL)
Author (and subjects) - varied (@elgl50)

This series was born from ELGL's Webinar: Women in Local Government, which examined how and why the percentage of women in leadership positions in local government has held at 13% since 1984. ELGL surveyed those who registered, and published the responses to four questions.

I'm highlighting this because the 13% issue deserves more attention and discussion, and ELGL is becoming THE leader on this issue.  It's just one of the reasons I'm proud to be affiliated with such a great organization.

Please check out ELGL for more information on how you can join and get involved in helping local government break that 13% ceiling.

Tesla’s Forgotten Co-founder Wants to Electrify America’s Garbage Trucks
Posted on Government Executive February 25, 2015
Originally published on Quartz
Author - John McDuling (@jmcduling)

"Ian Wright was one of the five original founders of Tesla Motors, so he knows a thing or two about electric vehicles."

If you know me, you might know that I am fascinated by electric vehicles - though sadly don't own one yet myself.  I love e-bikes and Tesla.  I have a client trying to launch a startup e-bike share company.  

So when I read electric garbage trucks (and I presume for other heavy equipment), I was intrigued.  It is an idea who's time has come.  Certainly a cost savings to state and local governments.  Huge reduction in both emissions and noise pollution.  So... probably one of those ideas that make too much sense for government.  I hope I'm wrong.

I liked it because it is the kind of idea that MOB Advocacy was founded for.  A startup, new to market with an innovative idea that can change the world, or just help the city.  All they need is some local government to take a chance on them -- and someone to help them get there.

Posted on CNBC on February 25, 2015
Commentary by Brandi Travis, chief marketing officer of Aristotle (@bntravis)

"With scarcely a declared candidate, the 2016 election cycle is nonetheless in swing. Unsurprisingly, presidential contracts top PredictIt's 'most predicted' list."

I picked this article because I am a political junkie and I love the new PredictIt site.  For those not familiar with PredictIt, it is a platform that allows users to trade futures on political outcomes, essentially becoming a poll of the market.  Will DHS be forced to shutdown?  Who will be the next governor of Louisiana?  Who will be each party's 2016 nominee?  If you think you know?  Check it out.

I think it is a fun idea.  I hope it takes off.

Posted on the Congressional Management Foundation on February 25, 2015
Author - Lauren Williams

"The beginning part of each year means one thing for many on Capitol Hill – fly-ins. From the largest corporations to the smallest non-profits, civic groups and grassroots advocates flood the steps of Congress." 

I am always interested in got my start in government relations in grassroots advocacy, organizing advocates across the country and I am always interested in reading about ways to do it better.  While this article is not groundbreaking, it based on survey data from actual Congressional office staff and it is very applicable for grassroots lobbying at the state and local level.  It is a great reminder as grassroots activities are going in state houses from coast to coast. What are their four tips to put you on your way to a good meeting? They are:
  • Include constituents
  • Know the schedule
  • Be Flexible
  • Keep the group small  
I'll add my own advice on what to do once you are there - keep it simple, stay on message, make one ask, and don't forget to follow up.  Do that and you will be fine.

Students lobby in Annapolis for bill to prevent fracking policy across Maryland
Posted on The Diamondback Online, February 24, 2015
Author - Grace Toohey (@grace_2e)

"College students across the state convened in Annapolis yesterday afternoon to fight for stricter state environmental regulations."

I know, two grassroots articles ... but ...  whether I agree with the issue or not, I can read student advocacy articles all day.  Some of my earliest experiences with advocacy involve bus trips to Albany, NY to talk to law makers or administrators about issues like budget cuts, tuition hikes, and campus safety.  

I think it is important for students to be active.  It is a sign that these students understand how our government works.  They understand the power of the people.  And they are willing to take a stand for what the believe.  Good for them!

That's my five for February.  What are you reading?

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Best NGA Meeting Ever?

This past weekend, I attended the 2015 Winter Meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington, DC.  I always enjoy NGA meetings.  They give me a chance to catch up with friends and former colleagues, to meet potential clients and learn about their issues and policy concerns, and most importantly to represent and advocate for MOB Advocacy's clients.

While I enjoy the sessions, I have attended enough of these meetings to hear the same challenges come up year after year.  Government needs to fix the way we pay for healthcare, government needs to do a better job of teaching our kids so that they can actually get jobs, and government needs to do a better job helping startups and small businesses because they are vital to the economy.

That last one is really why I started MOB Advocacy - to help startups and small businesses tell their story to government (whether that is directly in the statehouses, or at meetings like NGA, National Conference of State Legislatures or the Council of State Governments) in venues that are usually dominated by big businesses.

So why was this the best NGA meeting ever?  One word TechShop.  In one session, TechShop's CEO Mark Hatch showed the power that a startup can have at a meeting like NGA - and helped a nation of potential entrepreneurs and creative startups in the process.

Mark told story after story of the businesses TechShop's advanced manufacturing facilities (which might sound like a huge factory, but is really just a giant membership-based high-tech tool shop) are helping to launch everyday.  It was amazing!

Watch Mark Hatch's presentation here (Mark's presentation begins at 12:24)

And best of all - the governors got it.  Governor Doug Ducey, governor of Arizona for all of about thirty days was making a back of the napkin outline for a new job skills program that would partner with the Arizona TechShop.  And at least three other governors publicly invited Mark to help them bring TechShop to their state or territory.  I'm willing to bet Mark also got a few emails after from other governors asking the same thing.

Watch the question and answer portion of the program here.

Why was this so successful?  It is pretty easy to dissect.  One, Mark had great stories.  Two, Mark kept it simple.  Three, Mark had one call to action - bring TechShops to your states and let us do the rest.  And wha-la - a few more successful public-private partnerships are born.

I'll be the first to admit - NGA meetings aren't for every startup.  But if you are a startup that needs states to make policy changes for you to scale, or you are looking for pilot program with a state or states - then an NGA meeting is a great place to meet key staff to start those conversations without having to travel the country to have them.

And when it works -- it is beautiful.

Michael O'Brien is the Founder & Principal of MOB Advocacy, a nationally-scoped state and local government relations firm located in Washington, D.C.  Contact Michael O'Brien if you are interested in exploring whether your company is ready for the NGA.