By Pamela Ray
Government Relations Expert
Pam Ray & Associates, LLC
While thinking big is a great concept for most sectors, the zeal for government spending has led to big deficits and outrageous debt. At the personal level, the quest for an ever-bigger house, helped out by big banks eager to provide loans, led to often-unaffordable mortgage payments for homeowners nationwide.
There is enough blame to go around regarding indulgence, but regardless of your political affiliation (I’m a liberal Republican turned Independent), I think you’ll agree that the pain from big foreclosures, big unemployment numbers, and big health insurance costs is felt most deeply at the local level.
So, what is the solution?
As a government relations professional who has worked with countless organizations and political groups for the last 15 years, I vote that we continue to think big—but in a brand new way. Here’s how.
1. Let’s go local.
In my work as a congressional lobbyist, I have found success for my clients by telling the local story in a way that meshes with federal programs. My message also justifies a federal role with a constituent’s agenda, whether it be securing federal funds or impacting the outcome of a policy debate. I also use this approach to empower others to be their own best advocate.
I suggest that this go-local technique be applied by local organizations to build new local partnerships. Collaboration between traditional and nontraditional partners with similar missions and goals is critical to the bottom-up foundation needed to rebuild our country.
2. Let’s reassess what it means to think big.
Locally based agencies, organizations, programs, and businesses need to stop operating within their own silos. They need to get out from under the one big tent that has sheltered them for so many years and, instead, pitch a dozen tents throughout their community.
Given these tough economic times, I firmly believe that it is imperative that the local story for politicians and business owners alike be one of leadership, partnering, and collaboration based on vision, creativity, and a sense of community.
3. Let’s focus on Main Street, not Wall Street.
Local governments represent Main Street, USA. And nowhere does the pain of government funding cuts, home foreclosures, access to credit, and unemployment weigh heavier than on the local government and its citizens. And yet, mayors, county leaders, and other local officials rarely testify before the U.S. Congress. Instead, they deal with the reality of city and county Chambers that are packed with local citizens upset and angry at funding and service cuts.
Many local officials are setting out on a road not yet traveled. They are targeting the consolidation of local-county governments; the regionalization of governments, courts, law enforcement, schools, and infrastructure projects; and they are also engaging in government-business partnerships (public-private partnerships, or P3s).
4. Let’s work together.
At a time when big solutions are in great demand, and local governments are short on staff, creating and executing a collaborative approach with all its details may seem overwhelming. But it is necessary to move forward on this long and sometimes painful journey of economic change.
All the proposed options are being forced by austerity. All the outcomes will redefine how local, state, and federal governments operate and how they integrate with each other and with non-government organizations that serve our citizens.
5. Let’s make a real difference.
Our role as communicators and interpreters between non-government and government processes and people makes it imperative that we help to create, debate, and achieve big solutions to very difficult problems and rebuild from the bottom-up, not the top-down.
It is our obligation to seek outside-the-box solutions at every level of government to help move this country forward.
About Pamela Ray
Ray has more than three decades of in-depth experience in policy and politics, with expertise in congressional budget/appropriations and federal grant programs. Her selected policy experience includes housing and community development, housing finance, transit/transportation, taxes, and trade. With a focus on bridging the knowledge gap between elected officials and their constituents, Ray has achieved success in her own government relations business for 15 years and for elected officials in the U.S. Senate, U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs (1989-95), and the NYS Senate-Federal Affairs Office (1986-1989). For more information, visit www.pamrayllc.com.