Friday, January 30, 2009

From Bush-Blagojevich to Obama-Quinn. What an upgrade!

Just think: two weeks ago, the two chief executives for Illinois residents were President George Bush and Governor Rod Blagojevich. Tonight, they are President Barack Obama and Governor Pat Quinn.

That is the biggest upgrade in an eight-day span we've ever seen.

We went from two executives who regularly expanded their powers and authority in defiance of the law to two with humility and an honest commitment to greater democracy.

I'm with Senator Meeks: this is a great day for Illinois.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Barack Obama. Sometimes the good guys win.

The first time it hit me was after his speech in Grant Park when the brassy presidential music started to play. All the pomp and circumstance around the closest thing we have to a King would be placed on the thin shoulders of a guy who was working three jobs to get by a few years ago, a guy who believes all politicians are not judged by their greatness but by whether they improve the lives of ordinary people and a guy who comes from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party but believes in governing with an open door to build a consensus rather than make a point.

This guy -- a guy who was essentially drafted into the race -- will be the President of the United States of America.

These things aren't supposed to happen. The smart guy who stays clean and sides with the weak and the powerless usually doesn't end up in power. It's the shady people who saddle up to the moneyed interests, the operators who shift and pivot wherever the wind is blowing, the sons and daughters of wealth and privilige -- they are the people who end up running things. But not today.

Today, thanks in part to the largest grassroots organization in modern history, one of our own is going to the White House. A President for the people, not the powerful. It's a wonderful day.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Live from Cleveland: Speaking engagement on Amtrak advocacy before All Aboard Ohio

Good morning from Cleveland!

I'll be speaking in a few hours before a meeting of All Aboard Ohio on the topic of Amtrak/transit advocacy, sharing lessons learned from the successful effort in Illinois to double the size of the Amtrak program in 2005-6. I helped to lead that campaign for my client, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

If you won't be able to join us in Cleveland today, here's the bottom line:

1. Develop a reasonable but aggressive legislative ask. This is something that the government can do this year -- not a nebulous vision like "get us better service" or "European-style high speed rail" but instead a specific, actionable request like "increase the Amtrak line item in the budget from $12 million to $24 million in order to double service in the state." The best way to develop this request is in close consultation with legislative champions who are the ultimate test for political viability, since they are the ones who will expend their political capital to implement the request.

2. Focus relentlessly on the decision-makers: elected officials. Everybody else in the world, particularly organizations, are a means to the same end of convincing elected officials to implement the request. Don't fall into the trap of working to convince civic leaders and non-profit organizations and then hoping that somehow that consensus of non-elected officials will transform into a consensus among elected officials. The decision-makers are the prize to keep your eyes upon.

3. Cultivate your legislative champions. It takes at least one legislator to decide to move beyond passive support of an idea towards active support for a bill. Someone has to introduce a bill. That one legislator who is willing to introduce your idea as legislation is the most important legislator in the body, because that legislator is your champion. Finding that champion and convincing him or her that your idea is worth his or her limited political capital is essential.

4. Campaign for a yes as the junior partner. Advocates work for their legislative champions, not the other way around. So take direction from him or her and generate a sense of urgency by mobilizing as many influencers as possible to convince the other legislators to join with your champion in implementing the bill this year. "There's always next year" doesn't apply. Push hard for action this year -- until your champion says no. Then, and only then, do you wait.

I lay this out a bit more in graphic format on the Progressive Public Affairs website. And transit advocacy is the cover story in the latest issue of More Riders Magazine (published by my sister company, More Riders).