LEGISLATIVE TOOL KIT
LEGISLATIVE TOOL KIT
Every horse needs a good diet, good training and a place to grow, with the nurturing and attention necessary to be a successful race horse.
Every one of those necessities can be and is affected by decisions and actions taken by political leaders. Taxes on feed, fences, farm vehicles, employment regulations, the manner in which government sets rules for transport and care of animals, even how you dispose of manure, are all subject to government regulation and affect how you conduct your horse business.
Tracks, too, are affected by all manner of regulations, and thus the horsemen by extension. Few industries are as regulated as racing.
It is in the best interest of all those involved in harness racing to be in regular communication with our political leaders, from the local zoning board to the president. If they don't get their information from us, they will get it from the side that opposes our efforts and wishes. Communication is key to making sure that when legislative changes are made, they are made with the full knowledge and input of those who participate in harness racing and whose livelihoods depend on it.
This tool kit will help you to work with your local, state and federal political leaders to make sure the interests of harness racing are considered.
MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD!
- Educate yourself on the issue.
- Understand how a bill becomes law.
- Join your local Farm Bureau, horsemen's associations, township councils and contribute to developing a unified position on public matters.
- When many voices speak as one, legislators pay attention.
- Reach out to your legislators in any way you can.
- Do not overlook local township or county government.
Why do we matter?
Horses and specifically, racing horses, represent a major segment of the agricultural economy. According to a 2005 study by the American Horse Council, horses produce $102 billion annually in economic impact. The equine industry supports 1.4 million full time jobs. There are 9.2 million horses in the US and 1.96 million horse owners.
How to make sure your voice is heard.
Big corporations and industries pay for the services of professional lobbyists at the state and federal level. A lobbyist's job is to inform lawmakers of the effects of legislation on the interests they serve and to press for changes to benefit the client they serve.
The horse industry is represented by The American Horse Council in Washington, DC. The USTA has long been a member of the Horse Council.
You can support the work they do to represent all those who have horses by becoming a member http://www.horsecouncil.org/. They will also keep you apprised of news that affects your horses at the federal level. Their focus is broad and all-encompassing, including tax matters.
But slick and big is not always better than small and sincere. Grassroots lobbying is at the heart of a democratic government. Lawmakers represent the people of their district, their constituents, and keep their needs at the core of what they do and how they vote. A letter, call or a visit are the most effective ways to keep communication flowing to your leaders.
There are restraints placed on the USTA by federal regulations from donating to political causes. But individuals and state and local political action groups representing horsemen are not.
What can I do?
- Educate yourself on the issue. Gather facts and be ready to back them up. Know the other side's perspective. Consider the source of information and look for unbiased, professional reporting of data. Just because something's "on the internet" doesn't mean it's true.
- Understand how a bill becomes law. There will be some variations from state to state, but bills start with a single legislator or a caucus (group) of legislators with a shared concern. For a quick primer on the federal process, click http://thomas.loc.gov/home/lawsmade.toc.html
- Join your local Farm Bureau, horsemen's associations, township councils and contribute to developing a unified position on public matters. When many voices speak as one, legislators pay attention. Division among related factions is counterproductive at best, disastrous at worst. Lawmakers will not mediate your disputes. Develop your coalition first, identify common goals and positions, then go to your legislators. If your coalition consists of you and six other trainers based at the local fairgrounds, that is a legitimate coalition of constituents with shared concerns.
- Reach out to your legislators in any way you can. Invite them to your farm or stable to see your investment and learn about the issues that affect you. Introduce yourself at a Town Hall meeting organized by your legislator or make a visit to their local office. If they cannot meet you, but an aide does, that is just as effective. Put a stamp on a letter and mail it to tell them about your concerns. All phone calls are logged with your name, address and concern, so they are just as helpful. Keep your call brief and stay on point. To find out who your political leaders are and how to reach them, click here.
- Do not overlook local township or county government. Issues that affect townships may spill over to surrounding areas, take root and progress, to the benefit or detriment of the horse business. Similarly, local planning board or even school board members may move to higher offices. Make their acquaintance now and when they are governor, they will take your call much more readily.
Key Points for any “in person” visit:
- Meeting with staff instead of a legislator is just as important and sometimes more so. Staff members gather and distill information with which a legislator makes a decision. Their input is crucial.
- Bring your colleagues and neighbors in horse businesses that are also constituents of the lawmaker you are meeting. If one of your group is an expert or has additional credibility in a specialized role beyond their involvement in the horse business, make that known.
- Be polite, be informative, be brief and direct in asking for support. If support is not forthcoming, politely ask why.
- Make sure your lawmakers understand that horses are a vital part of the agricultural economy. This brochure can be downloaded to explain racings contributions to the economy. Personalize the BLANK PANEL for your state and countys horse related facts.
The tools you can use to get your message out are:
- Write an opinion piece for your local paper - called an "op ed." Submit to the editorial board of your paper and perhaps it will be published. Here is an example of a good Op Ed, written by a horseman.
- Write a letter to the editor of your local or specialty publication. This can be a daily, weekly, monthly.
- Write to your political leaders and let them know how existing or proposed regulations affect your involvement in horse racing. Click here for an example.
- Know who your "friends" are in state and federal legislatures. Most state horsemen's associations know what legislators support equine interests and many of them have a PAC - Political Action Committee - to support them. Your donation to that PAC will help keep horse-friendly lawmakers in positions of power.
- Support their campaigns by voting for those who help your cause and urge your friends and horse colleagues to do the same. You can also donate to their campaign, host a fundraiser or "meet and greet" with your neighbors to help your lawmaker reach their constituents.
- A petition is quick and easy but, according to legislative staff, barely noticed in the sea of communications they have with constituents. Your time might be better spent writing a letter (sample) or attending a town hall. Your outreach gives legislators a real life sense of how an issue affects people in their district. A petition does not.
- Don't forget social media. Your legislators probably have a Facebook page and a Twitter feed. You can do all of the above plus reach them on Facebook and Twitter and respond to their posts and also ask for action on issues of importance to you. Your horsemens group or coalition can also create your own Facebook page or Twitter feed to get your message out. Neither of these options costs money beyond access to the internet. They can be done from a smartphone and are a great way to respond quickly to issues and developments.