Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Legislative Advocacy 101: Suggestions from the Field on Effective Advocacy

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Legislative Advocacy 101: Suggestions from the Field on Effective Advocacy

Article excerpt

Newport (R.I.) Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Susan Cooper started a relationship with Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee after he took over the unexpired term of his father, the late Sen. John H. Chafee in November 1999. Through regular contact with his staff in both the Washington, D.C., and home offices, Cooper portrayed parks and recreation as a major public benefit. Chafee was informed whenever Cooper's department had a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new park, or a facility grand opening that was due primarily to funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. And when NRPA awarded Sen. Chafee in 2003 for his efforts to transform the industrial brownfields of Rhode Island into lush, verdant park land, Cooper made sure she was present to shake hands with him. "So he could tie me with the national award, not as a local official, but as one of his constituents," she says.

Cooper realized she had an excellent opportunity to sustain Sen. Chafee's interests in the environment on National Trails Day, when she invited him to a local celebration of one of Rhode Island's beloved trails. The June event focused on the National Recreation Trail, Cliff Walk--a 3.5-mile trail along the Atlantic seashore that overlooks historic landscapes and buildings. The trail had been damaged due to several storms and was in need of restoration. Sen. Chafee not only attended the event, he walked the entire trail with Cooper's staff. He listened to their tales of the trail and what needed to be fixed. "My staff understand the importance of walking the extra mile," she says.

By fiscal year 2004, Newport received a $1 million grant toward refurbishing the trail through a combination of federal, state and locally matched funds. Sen. Chafee support helped secure the state's allocation of the federal funds.

Cooper's experience is one that can occur in any community, with any agency. Attending the annual NRPA National Legislative and Policy Forum is not the only time a park and recreation executive should come in contact with his or her congressmen, but it's a significant part of a continuum of important actions, observes NRPA Executive Director John Thorner.

Andrew Sansom, former executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Austin, believes that a critical part of the director's duties is to advocate and educate legislators on policy issues that affect his or her department. "Lots of times, there are roles of legislative activities that are circumscribed," Sansom says. "It depends on how each department is set up, but for me, it's absolutely crucial."

Sansom says he benefits everyday from his more than 25-year relationship with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The two initially [net when she was a state representative and he was with The Nature Conservancy. They were both members of an organization for young, moderate republicans. "We first really got to know each other as friends, and she has been aware since long before she ever went to the Senate of my interests," Sansom says.

Hutchison is now in her third term as a U.S. senator, and member of powerful committees including Appropriations and Commerce, Science and Transportation, each of which can be positive forces for public parks and recreation. "She's just always been very accessible and interested in these issues, and it has been a pleasure to work with her and her staff as well," Sansom says.

Sansom advises park and recreation agency directors to extend their knowledge and service to their congressional representatives, rather than just extend their hands when funding is needed. The more these legislators understand what parks and recreation can do for their state, the more they will act in Congress for the protection and longevity of parks and recreation, Sansom says. "You look for every opportunity that if you know that a legislator has an interest in a particular type of outdoor situation, than you do everything possible to get them there--even if it's recreational. …

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