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Advocacy Angle: Bringing a bit more focus to the game 

By Scott Mooneyham, NCLM Director of Public Affairs

In the Aesop Fable The Fisherman and the Little Fish, a fisherman catches a single small fish in his net one day, only to have the fish beg to put him back in the water. "I shall soon become a large fish, fit for the table of the rich; and then you can catch me again, and make a handsome profit of me."

The fisherman replied, "I should be a very simple fellow if I were to forego my certain gain for an uncertain profit."

By some accounts, Aesop was a slave who was later freed by his Greek masters and went on to advise kings and other political leaders in ancient Greece. If so, that would certainly explain the political undertones of many of his fables. Often, they are warnings – either to rulers or to the ruled – about the consequences of certain actions.

Politics being politics, some of those same warnings are relevant in the political world of today. In the case of The Fisherman and the Little Fish, the meaning is pretty obvious: Be satisfied with the small catch, the doable, and don’t extend your reach so far as to end up with nothing as a result.

It’s a particularly relevant lesson in legislative politics, where recognizing what is achievable, and then seizing on those opportunities, is a big part of what separates successful policy advocates from those who are unsuccessful.

Think you will catch a bigger fish because you are in the right? If the legislative votes aren’t there, it doesn’t matter. Have some poll results that show your position is supported by a majority of the public? If legislative leaders have other ideas, public support may not be enough.

When the League’s policy committees and Board of Directors began considering the setting of advocacy goals for the 2017-2018 legislative biennium, the idea of focusing on the doable was very much a part of the conversation.

As a result, the process resulted in a more pared down set of policy goals, 15 compared to 32 two years earlier.

That sharper focused doesn’t mean that the League and its member towns and cities will achieve all those goals over the next two years. Some goals will always be somewhat aspirational, something that may require several years of strategy and hard work to generate the necessary support to pass.

Attempting to gain support for additional locally-controlled revenue is one such goal – an obvious priority for municipalities in light of their heavy dependence on property taxes as a locally-controlled revenue source but one that has not been and will not be easy to achieve.

Nonetheless, what now stands before League members as their Municipal Advocacy Goals ahead of the 2017 legislative session is a more focused legislative agenda that can be more easily assessed by legislators and more succinctly imparted by League members and staff.

You can read about the Advocacy Goals Conference and review all of the advocacy goals approved by conference attendees on pages 21-23.