I know that social workers loathe militaristic analogies, but I really think that there are some parallels between legislative hearings and traditional military battles. Both are rather formulaic, with literal or figurative lines drawn in the sand. Both feature opposing sides vying for supremacy. Both have these opposing sides aim for the same, finite resource. And, while one can succeed at either with a combination of luck and brute force, it is advance planning and smart strategy that can pull off a seemingly effortless victory.
I have spent a lot of time in legislative hearings–mainly in Kansas, but also in Missouri and in Washington, DC (where I also spent a lot of time waiting in line to get into hearings, since I can’t afford the placeholders who save a space in line for the high-spending corporate lobbyists!). I have testified at dozens and dozens of hearings, and I have listened to hours and hours of others’ testimonies. I have seen really phenomenal testimony–one of the best is Sister Therese Bangert, a lobbyist for the Kansas Catholic Conference, whose testimony is also short and always respected–and some really ineffective testimony. And while any good nonprofit lobbyist will tell you that you are doomed to fail if you only focus on hearings (because the bulk of your work has to be relationship-building, while testimony is primarily about imparting information and putting on a show), you can’t ignore these avenues either. The social work advocate who learns how to use legislative hearings as an opportunity to develop client leadership, make an impressive statement for the media, present a cohesive coalition message, refute your opponents’ best arguments, and create an aura of invincibility that will make it harder for officials to oppose you will be more successful in the other facets of advocacy as well.
This post includes several pieces of material that I think might be helpful to organizations and advocates preparing for legislative testimony. While I was certainly not uniformly victorious in legislative hearings, I have a good reputation for preparing and presenting solid testimony, and I am particularly proud of how often we were able to present a surprisingly strong showing that both solidified our positions and undermined those of our opponents. But, first, some lessons learned:
If you have testified in a legislative hearing, how was that experience? What would you do differently? If you’re planning an advocacy campaign for the next legislative session, how do you anticipate preparing for legislative testimony? What help do you need to get ready? What is the best and worst hearing you’ve ever been part of? The best and worst testimony you’ve ever heard? Do you have any examples of testimony that you’d like to share?
Materials related to HB2615, an attempt in 2006 to repeal Kansas’ instate tuition law:
Testimony List–everyone I planned to have testify, and what points they planned to cover
Questions for the Committee–questions I had developed to share with some sympathetic committee members to aid them in asking questions of our opponents
My remarks for the committee–more or less, an outline of what I intended to say (we were opposing this bill, so I went after my opponents, who were proponents)
My Testimony–what I actually turned in to the committee