Lobbying 101: `Sticker things up'

General Assembly

February 21, 2006|By JILL ROSEN | JILL ROSEN,SUN REPORTER

Jack Abramoff this was not.

This was knocking on doors and having people not answer. This was slapping stickers on legislators or, well, on anyone. This was a whole lot of standing around in hallways.

This, in all of its nervous, earnest, amateur glory, was grass-roots lobbying.

Groups of state environmental activists and their supporters, about 100 strong, met yesterday evening at the state Capitol to persuade lawmakers to support the Healthy Air Act, a bill to cut power plant pollutants.

Their goal was to hit all 188 General Assembly members and get as many of them as possible to support the bill in writing. Or at least to wear an "I support Clean Air" sticker to chambers.

The power industry and business groups are fighting the bill, and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. backs regulations that would cover fewer plants and pollutants.

Before getting to the senators and delegates with the message, the new lobbyists huddled in an empty Senate room to figure out what the message was and how to deliver it.

They were supposed to be positive, thank legislators for their support (because lawmakers don't hear "thank you" enough), and tell real stories of what the bill means to them, according to event leaders such as Brad Heavner, director of Maryland Public Interest Research Group. They were not supposed to be experts, argue with anyone or overstay their welcome in anyone's office.

About 5 p.m., the lobbyists, who hailed from most corners of the state, filed out in clusters to find lawmakers. They brought literature on the bill, yardsticks to illustrate how much the Chesapeake Bay could rise if carbon dioxide levels continued as-is, and rolls of the all-important stickers.

"Get legislators to wear the stickers," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1,000 Friends of Maryland, an environmental advocacy group, trying to fire up the team. "See how many other people you can get to wear the stickers. Let's sticker things up!"

A bunch of Baltimore residents headed off to find their representatives. First stop: the office of Democratic Dels. Ruth M. Kirk, Keith E. Haynes and Jeffrey A. Paige. An aide told them to come back later.

Next stop: Del. Salima S. Marriott, another Baltimore Democrat. About 10 people crammed into her cramped quarters. But before they got much of a word out, Marriott revealed herself as an easy sell: "I am going to support the bill," she said.

All righty then.

Careful not to violate the "don't stay too long rule," the lobbyists left after a few minutes. After finding a few more delegates "not home," they got in to see Kirk.

"Did we vote on that?" Kirk asked them. "I was just wondering - did that bill pass? 'Cause we voted on something Friday."

No, they told her; that wasn't this. They bumped into Paige as he was getting off the elevator. "Did I do something wrong?" he asked.

They relayed their spiel. He responded encouragingly, as he co-sponsored the bill, and told them he would "spread the word."

As he headed off, they realized no one had given him a sticker.

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

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