What I learned during a whirlwind, 90-meeting lobbying event in D.C.
by TC Lane, USTA Chief Operating Officer
All politics is local.
Former United States Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill coined this phrase, which summarizes the principle that a politician’s success is directly attached to their ability to understand and influence the issues of their constituents. O’Neill further stated that politicians must appeal to the simple, mundane, everyday concerns of those who elect them to office. Personal issues—rather than big, intangible ideas—are often what voters care most about, according to this principle.
On March 22, the expression hit somewhat closer to home than I had expected. I, along with a large list of Standardbred and Thoroughbred dignitaries, was given the opportunity to participate in a legislative “fly-in” to Washington, D.C., to educate many of the legislative offices of our U.S. representatives on a host of racing-related matters that we feel will benefit both the Standardbred and Thoroughbred industries.
The USTA’s lobbying arm, the Ingram Group, organized the event, which resulted in over 90 meetings taking place over the course of a day and a half—aggressive, to say the least. We were further advised that, for those of us who were not aware, Washington is heavily influenced by a large group of “20-something” legislative aides, and to embrace that, as they were the young men and women that we would meet with. I couldn’t really grasp the visual until my arrival. I quickly realized that I am much older than I thought, and the advice we received became reality as we began our 25-minute “speed dating” meetings.
What I discovered throughout was simply refreshing. The referenced “youngins”—who are often discounted by older generations—were beyond bright. They were prepared, considerate, engaged and extremely in tune with the overall political landscape from many perspectives, something that left me in awe as I considered their comparative lack of trips around the sun.
When you speak with elected officials, your home base and local references matter as they equal votes in the ballot box. While we were advocating for an industry-wide issue on a macro level on this trip, the main concern in many of the meetings I participated in resulted in the legislative assistant asking how the issue affects the congressman or congresswoman’s constituents. Again, votes matter. In this column, I will refrain from discussing the foundation of our advocacy excursion, as more details will be made shortly on that front, I promise.
Shifting gears slightly: I came to realize throughout my opportunity in Washington that I have waited much too long to advocate for our industry on the political front. I have failed by not connec1ng that bridge by making my elected officials aware of our sport and the many benefits it provides, such as how it serves as an economic driver for employment as well as many goods and services, both in the state of Ohio and on a national level. In turn, I too have taken for granted that it is “someone else’s” responsibility to speak for me, to pack my parachute. It took a trip to Washington for me to figure that out.
This summer, I—like many of you—have a chance to redeem myself. Harness racing continues to be grassroots—in many, if not most, of our areas. Politicians love county fairs and they all like to talk. On both sides of the aisle, they are there shaking hands, kissing babies, and gathering feedback from you and your neighbors—their constituents. Take the time to talk to them. Let them know our business and what it means to you. Do some homework in advance. Find out how they stand on certain issues, look at their voting records and ask them questions.
In fact, in many cases, you may be unaware of who your area elected officials are. To find out, you can visit https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials. There, simply provide your address and you will receive the names of your federal, state and local officials, along with their contact information. The rest is on us to execute.
Lastly, we also have an opportunity to engage at the industry level. Too often, that privilege gets ignored as well. The USTA Board of Directors meets each year at the district level between Oct. 1 and Feb. 1, either in-person or virtually. Each USTA member is invited to participate, provide feedback and ask questions. It also allows members to see and hear first-hand your director at work, representing you, as their constituent. It’s the same as my previous reference to my D.C. journey.
Your USTA directors want to hear from you, just like your local elected officials do. I strongly encourage you not to miss out on these very important opportunities. In 2022-2023, there were 13 USTA district meetings held, with less than 300 out of our total 19,000 members taking the time to meet with their directors by attending—roughly 1.5% of our total membership. Not sure who your USTA director is? Visit http://www.ustrotting.com/directors/index.cfm.
Whether it’s Washington or the USTA, we expect our elected officials to serve us respectfully, and we expect them to know what we, as citizens or members, want and need—all through our silence. Take the time, make the call, shake the hand, have the conversation. Let them know how important our industry is to you! In the coming days, we will make sure that you have enough talking points to defend your position. Be on the lookout.
In this case, I think Tip O’Neill got it right. All politics is local, and your voice matters.
The views contained in this column are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association. To comment on this column, email us at email@example.com.