For the week of Jan. 8, 2018

Grassroots’ participation

 By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau

The 2018 Kansas legislative session convenes this week as legislators will consider many health-related topics. At the same time, they will struggle with other complex issues, including development of a new school finance formula as ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court.

While some would argue the largest influence on our state’s legislature comes from special interest groups, members of the Kansas House and Senate maintain constituents exert the most.

In our nation’s capital, Congressional members will tell you the same thing. That said, this is where an active organization, like a farm, business or commodity group, can make a difference.

However, it’s not enough to be an organization with a large membership. While this has political impact, it can be felt only when the organization can deliver grassroots support that is seen, touched and felt by elected officials. 

Having access to elected officials is not enough either. Unless an organization marshals people to act, it is a sleeping giant with little clout. Once an organization’s leaders deliver a grassroots’ message on a consistent basis, the perception the group delivers becomes reality.

One of the best ways a grassroots organization can impact politicians is to identify the strongest leaders. An effective grassroots organization is one that can encourage people to fill a room, write letters, send electronic messages, work on a campaign or seek people outside of the organization who will become allies and support its policies. With a network like this, the group can literally touch thousands of people across the state who will, in turn, notify legislators and members of Congress.  

Two kinds of people comprise most grassroots organizations. The first is the “quality” contact. The second is the “quantity” contact.

Quality contacts are individuals who have a special rapport with elected officials. They know the legislator personally. When the legislator comes back to his/her district, the quality contact takes the time to visit with the elected official.

Quality contacts take trips to Topeka and Washington, D.C. to visit with elected officials on their political turf. They meet and develop a working relationship with the representative’s staff.

When issues that affect their organization arise, the staffer or politician will pick up the phone and ask, “What do you think of this issue? What would be a reasonable stance for me to take?”

Once quality leaders are surfaced, they must expand and seek other leaders. That is where quantity comes into play.

Winning is intoxicating. Nothing is more gratifying than to recognize people for their support in influencing and helping enact legislation.

Active participation, even on the losing side, will bring satisfaction and will encourage volunteers to come back again and again.

But winning requires an organization’s time, energy and leadership. It requires power, a willingness to participate and the resolve to do the job.

Any organization with such a structure, power and enterprise can persuade its Legislature and Congress to protect its interests – if it marshals a grassroots campaign built on active, involved members.      

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.