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Advocacy Angle: Looking for common ground at the local level 

by League Advocacy Communications Strategist Scott Mooneyham

As much as death and taxes are certainties, so too is a simple reality facing the advocacy groups that clamor for policy outcomes before the North Carolina General Assembly. Inevitably, one group will butt heads with another over proposed legislation, and almost as surely some future policy proposal can shift the political ground so that today’s opponent becomes tomorrow’s ally. So, we see doctors occasionally opposing other health care providers on scope of practice issues, only to all join together to oppose insurers on other issues; commercial and recreational fishermen fight over fisheries resource allocation, then join sides to oppose a proposal that might pollute a fisheries’ nursery area; farming groups fight environmental groups over some environmental regulations, then pull in the same direction on alternative energy legislation.

The League of Municipalities is no different. The policy ideas that League members support, expressed through both advocacy goals and the League’s core principals, can mean that a foe today becomes a friend tomorrow. We’ve seen that principle in play more than once recently. The NC Retail Merchants Association was a key proponent of the repeal of the privilege license tax, but the League has joined with the group in advocating for federal legislation designed to ensure enforcement of sales tax collections on Internet purchases. Other groups that may have supported regulatory reform measures opposed by the League have joined cities and towns in supporting legislation designed to shore up road-building revenue streams.

The lessons here are that common ground can be found among advocacy organizations. Unfortunately, in the heat of a bitter policy battle, it is easy to become entrenched in one’s position or to be so focused on coming out on the winning side that the advocates involved can forget that there will be other days when the odds are different, when you might need a friend.

When it comes to finding that common ground, one plus for the League is having a membership of 540-plus cities and towns and all of the elected and appointed officials in those municipalities, who have the ability to reach out to the members of other advocacy organizations. Municipal officials have so many ties to their residents, their constituents – whether it is retailers, home builders or environmental activists – that they have the means to help make points at a grassroots level to promote policy compromises.

With those ties to the community, reaching out to the members of another advocacy organization can be more productive than trying to do the same with lobbyists in Raleigh. It is personal connections and the ability to promote solutions that local people know will pay off by appealing to broad, local sentiment that can make a difference.

And taking into account broad, local sentiment ought to be the objective of every one involved in policy debates.