Lobby days in Salem are an opportunity to talk directly with legislators and get your voice heard.
When I stumbled upon Oregon Housing Opportunity Day, sponsored by the Oregon Housing Alliance, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and participate. It was my chance to speak up about the challenges our community was facing and stress the importance of safe, stable, and affordable housing for a healthy economy. I don’t consider myself an activist and have never lobbied, but I did want my voice heard. I’m writing this article to tell my story and encourage others to speak up. It’s not as scary as you think!
My Reason for Lobbying
From being in the business of designing multi-family affordable housing projects, I understand the struggles our developer clients have finding reasonably priced land and funding projects. As a member of the community, I hear the challenge of locating a home on a tight budget. Central Oregon currently has a less than 1 percent rental vacancy rate. Pinnacle is a small nine-person firm with the desire to grow in Bend. Architecture is a specialized trade with very few local potential employees. Therefore, we must recruit outside of Central Oregon. Unfortunately, when we do find a good fit, they struggle to find affordable housing in Central Oregon and move on to other opportunities. These are the reasons I decided to join the Oregon Housing Alliance on this adventure.
A Day in Salem
The day began at 7 AM with a road trip to Salem. When arriving, The Oregon Housing Alliance did a fantastic job setting up training, schedules, and meetings with my district representatives. Plus, they provided a “home base” room within the Capital to unwind or get more resources (and snacks!).
I jumped right in and attended a House Chamber session which included 50+ people and quickly realized…I don’t remember a thing from my high school government class. I’d advise newbies, like me, to brush up on your Oregon government basics which I’ve included here. As a spectator, I heard bills introduced, discussed, and voted on. I also popped into a House Revenue Committee session and listening to public testimony from each side of a small business tax measure.
Following the sessions, I had my first official meeting with Representative Gene Whisnant. I was paired with a Community Coordinator with J Bar J Youth Services in Bend and the Executive Director of Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation who was familiar with the different housing bills. She briefed us before the meeting on the bills she planned to discuss, and we strategized how our stories supported them. Our mission was to state the problem, describe why the representative should care, identify a policy, and ask for their support.
Another lesson learned, spend extra time studying each bill that your chosen organization plans to address. You don’t have to be an expert but the more knowledgeable, the more comfortable you’ll be.
I attended two more private meetings with Senator Tim Knopp and Senator Ted Ferrioli (out of my district but represents many of our Eastern Oregon clients). The meetings were 15-30 minutes in their private offices. Every legislator was different. Some wanted to tell you what they were supporting, some just listened, and some asked lots of questions.
At the end of every conversation, I felt the representative listened to my concerns, and I came out with more knowledge on the issues. My biggest take-a-way is the importance of private companies getting involved in the conversation. It’s not just the responsibility of social service organizations; it’s the responsibility of all Oregon citizens.
I’m officially a lobbyist, and it’s not a bad word! Lobbyists serve as an information agent for legislators and the organizations they represent. They voice their opinions to help legislators make informed decisions for their communities. I encourage everyone to lobby at least once in your lifetime. You can’t complain about government if you don’t get involved!
How to Get Involved?
The Capital is open year-round for visitors. Attending now, during legislative sessions, is the best time to see government in action. See their website for schedules and ways to engage. I highly encourage teaming up with an organization for lobby days. Whatever issues you’re passionate about, there is probably an organization that arranges a lobby day around it. Just do an internet search for “Oregon Lobby Days,” and you’ll get pages of organizations. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of local town meetings with your district representatives. You don’t have to travel all the way to Salem to get your voice heard…but it is a great experience!
Jessica Biel is Business Development Director at Pinnacle Architecture. Jessica brings over 15 years of experience in strategic marketing and content development at global architecture firms. She’s passionate about learning everything she can about her client’s business, their struggles, and what makes them shout with joy. Through research and developing educational content, Jessica helps communicate the benefits of good architectural design that enhance lives and communities. Jessica can be reached at 541.388.9897×16 or Jessica@Parch.Biz.