LWVSC Priorities: “Making Democracy Work” at the State House
At every organizational level – national, state, and local – the League engages in advocacy relevant to that level of government. Within each level, the League speaks with one voice, with officers and board establishing priorities at that level of government. Accordingly, the LWVSC board determines statewide legislative priorities, grounded in the good governance issues that are at the heart of the League of Women Voters. The national and local boards similarly develop their own priorities, in keeping with appropriate positions and the identity of the League as a strong voice for democracy.
Effective advocacy requires an identity, a “brand” that is recognizable to the public, partner organizations, media, and decision-makers. LWVUS strongly encourages Leagues not to try to be all things to all people, but to focus on our central “Making Democracy Work” issues in our advocacy. This is sound advice. The League has a broader function in member education and local advocacy, but at the State House we must be focused most heavily on our good government issues. Within that context, we also must also take into account pragmatic concerns: opportunities, potential conflicts, and resources. This is a crucial responsibility. Very often the League is alone in pressing for action on issues related to government accountability, transparency, ethics, elections and voting. We take the lead on those issues. We also work in partnerships and coalitions with other organizations to address additional issues that are addressed in our national and state positions, but must recognize that a focus on only a few major issues during a legislative session is necessary. No organization has the political capital to be all things to all people, and that is true of the League as well.
We are seldom able to drive an issue to the forefront at the General Assembly. We take advantage of opportunities as they arise. So, opportunity is an important part of board decisions. Other considerations are equally pragmatic: there is one volunteer lobbyist, no pro communications staff, no pro support staff, and almost no money. We have very nitty gritty concerns, for example one that occurs repeatedly during legislative sessions – simultaneous meetings of committees working on different bills of interest to the League. Several state board members help out by covering subcommittees and committees when there are dueling meetings on bills we are following, but this can only go so far. We do the most that we can with what we have.
The League leads
Is it a core “good government” issue in accountable, transparent government, a “Making Democracy Work” issue? If so, it is likely to be a high priority League issue.
Examples: redistricting, ethics reform, judicial reform, voting and elections, regulatory reform, constitutional issues such as separation of powers, overall taxation and revenue policy, and home rule. These are issues on which the League takes a leadership role, advocating independently or helping to guide coalitions. Many other organizations depend on the League to lead advocacy in these areas.
The League partners
Is the issue one in which there are organizations already advocating for the same or similar positions as those held by the League, and are those organizations professionally staffed and funded for that work? Is the issue one in which specialist organizations seek/need our help?
Some groups (AARP, major SC environmental groups, and women’s rights groups like WREN and Planned Parenthood) are very interested in working with us as cooperative partners and we work together literally every day at the State House, and in between sessions, on shared concerns, either as official members of coalitions or as more informal partners. We tend to advocate most actively on aspects of these issues that tie into our central “Making Democracy Work” concerns, for example the home rule aspect of the plastic bag ban ban issue or the constitutional issues involved in personhood legislation.
The League educates
Some issues fall within areas in which the League has no position. In others the League has a position but we are not active in State House advocacy. The League can provide educational opportunities on these issues for members and can inform membership when direct member advocacy may be appropriate, passing on action alerts from specialist organizations. LWVSC is working on plans to be more helpful in assisting local Leagues in these areas. However, attempts to insert the League into active State House lobbying in some areas could be unhelpful, and could be actually harmful to our ability to work effectively on other issues on which our work is indispensable.