Advocating for your business during the midterm elections and beyond
Amplifying your voice by engaging with elected officials and policy-advising organizations should be a year-round priority for your organization.
Election years can be filled with uncertainty for your business. Each cycle often brings partisan posturing and conflicting messages about impactful issues from taxes to global issues that affect supply chain—and markets tend to react. This is especially true for the upcoming 2022 midterm election year, which will be the first election affected by the new U.S. Congressional and state legislative g district maps following the 2020 U.S. Census. These new maps could have a significant impact on who represents you and your business at the state level and in Washington D.C.
Additionally, every seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats will be on the ballot in November. A significant number of U.S. Governors – 36 of 50 seats –will be up for election across the country. Many other statewide offices and local elections will also be contested during these midterm elections, including county commissioners and school boards officials.
“It can feel like you’re operating in a very volatile environment,” says Barbara Benham, Executive Vice President and Chief Public Affairs Officer at Huntington. “It can be challenging to predict who will win and what policies they will actually follow through with, so it's prudent to have a long view and focus on the variables you can control.”
Local politics matter
While politics at the federal level gets most of the attention, when it comes to laws and regulations that affect business owners, much of that happens at the state and the local level. And that’s where business owners can have an even more influential voice.
Benham says your mayor—who likely knows your business well—has the potential to become your state representative, then governor, and possibly a member of Congress. Local politics can be critical not only in the location of the company’s headquarters, but also in each state or municipality in which it operates.
“It’s a long-view relationship,” Benham says. “It’s building relationships of trust over time and not getting caught up in a single issue, but rather, you are working with them to create an overall policy environment that is best for your business. That means keeping the communication channels open and being open to, and suggesting, lots of compromises.”
Benham says officials deal with a broad range of topics, so they depend on and appreciate business owners and companies who take the time to explain the real-life implications of the decisions they’re making and how it affects their business’s ability to serve their customers and communities. These organizations, then, should feel empowered to have a persuasive voice at the local level, where they know their markets and the specific implications of policy issues.
Educate yourself on issues affecting your business
Organizations should strive to be sensitive to the changing political and policy dynamics at all levels. Business leaders should connect with those who are informed and up-to-date on all the latest issues related to their industry. There is likely a policy-advising organization you can connect with in every sector, including your state, local, and regional economic development organizations, chambers of commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), or the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) as a few examples of industry focused professional advocacy or trade association organizations.
Where feasible, it’s a good idea to have a person dedicated to monitoring the political and policy context in which you operate.
“It’s dangerous for a business to spend all its time talking to itself and not be aware of all the factors that could both be a benefit or a risk,” Benham says. “Having someone who monitors that and can speak at a senior leadership level where decisions are being made can protect your business from a reputational and operations standpoint. From a governance perspective, that person can also make sure the company is not tone deaf to the current conversations happening in the country.”
When it comes to policy and political advising, stay balanced. Always take the long view, and do not fall into a trap of believing hyperbole or buying into the fear that often drives campaigns, cautions Benham.
"You should never change your business model based on a campaign speech."
Executive Vice President and Chief Public Affairs Officer, Huntington Bank
Elected leaders remain committed to sound public policy
The majority of elected officials, Benham says, operate in the world of compromise and collaboration—something that doesn't often get celebrated.
“I’ve yet to find a politician who lives in a world solely of absolutes,” she says. “Most operate with an eye toward the middle, which means there are opportunities for subtleties and dimension. Don’t be discouraged by the outlier voices, which tend to get the megaphone.”
Outlier voices on either side of an issue that tend to get the microphone can be discouraging. Still, Benham advises not to get swept up in that rhetoric.
“Many highly thoughtful individuals want to create good legislation, and they want to hear from business owners about the true implications of a policy,” she says. “They want you to succeed, but they can’t address the legislative hurdles to help do that if you don’t engage.”
Amplify your voice during elections
Whether incumbents hold their seats or there is new political leadership, election outcomes bring both opportunities and risks for businesses. Whoever ends up controlling the levers of power in government will bring regulatory changes that either affirm or pull back–to varying degrees–the policies that were put in place by the previous administration.
Benham recommends these three steps to get started:
- Monitor and be aware of the potential political results in your areas well beyond any single election cycle. Plan for those eventualities and be ready to pivot toward opportunities created by the outcomes of those elections.
- Focus your energy on the public policies that matter most to your business. Educate elected officials on how those policies affect your business and your customers.
“For businesses, it’s important that you focus through any election cycle on the policies that your business is most sensitive to,” Benham says. “Think through all your external market factor risks, assuming any outcome is possible, and maintain a healthy perspective that political pendulums tend to swing over time.”
- Join an industry trade association or chamber of commerce that represents your industry. These organizations are dedicated to protecting and advocating for the industry they represent. With your membership, you’ll be updated on specific public policy issues that impact your business and be able to affect change before it’s too late. When possible, serve in a leadership role so your organization has a voice at the table.
“There’s strength in numbers,” Benham says. “Signing on, advocating for, and shaping the policies of the trade amplifies your voice. By doing this, the elected official you’re weighing in with is not just hearing from you, but from many others representing additional employees and customers who share your perspective.”
Your organization’s policy engagement strategy should include more than just election day activity. Being involved with local, state, and regional politics year-round allows you to enact change and influence policies on issues that matter most to your business. For more insights into advocating for your business during election years and beyond, reach out to your Relationship Manager.
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