Over the past 15 years, I have traveled to Washington, D.C., as part of the Institute of Real Estate Managment's (IREM) public policy initiative to advocate on issues affecting real estate. This year was no different, and I arrived in Washington for our annual Leadership & Legislative Summit fully armed with an agenda that included: the Marketplace Fairness Act, Leasehold Improvements, 1031 Like-Kind Exchanges, federally-assisted housing, drones and the Tenant Star Energy Program. I also was fully prepared, as in years past, to help educate, shape public policy and advocate on legislation impacting real estate.
If you have never had the opportunity to visit Capitol Hill (or your state representatives’ local offices), I urge you to do so. When you do, you will probably not be surprised by the fact that visiting Capitol Hill is a surreal experience.
If you are planning to visit the Hill to engage your state representatives, here is what you should expect: In the past 15 years of scheduled meetings, I have found that senators, in particular, rarely make themselves available to meet. Instead, in most cases, I have met with their aides.
Do not be discouraged by this turn of events. These aides are almost to a person bright, articulate and influential staff members who know the issues inside and out, and I have regularly been amazed with their knowledge about issues affecting the state and federal levels. Don't believe for a moment that a meeting with an aide will be a waste of your time or that you were passed onto a lackey. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Aides are in the moment and they listen intently. Their objective is to find those golden nuggets of information that cannot be learned in position papers. In effect, they need us to relay important information on what is happening at the representatives’ home base and how important issues such as we bring are impacting Joe Public, you, your family and your business. That is how we as industry insiders, along with the aides who are congressional insiders, together make a difference.
There are 53 districts in California, which is the state I represent on our Capitol Hill visits. Typically, we separate into groups of about 12, which this is important to remember. Congressional offices tend to be very small, and they are jam-packed with every possible special-interest group and people just like yourself vying for a few precious moments of their time. You are like cattle, prodded into the office, just as another group is being maneuvered out of the office. If there are too many in your group, the overflow will end up in the lobby with no chance to attend the private meeting.
Obviously, time is short, so go prepared, knowing what you are going to say and who is going to say it. Arrive on time, sign in and give your business cards to the receptionist. An aide will greet you and welcome you into the private conference room. In our case, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s aide was familiar with our group since we had met him every year for the past four years.
We all introduced ourselves and then gave verbal presentations focusing on a half dozen legislative topics and gave him a position paper. After concluding our presentations, we discussed other issues such as business operations, effects of the economy and unemployment. We offered to be of service should he, or the senator, want to discuss any of the topics further.
We had accomplished what we had set out to do: educate the senator on our positions and why they were important to us and our businesses. We left the office feeling quite proud of what we had accomplished, and we gathered in the hallway outside the senator’s office preparing to do it all again for our next meeting.
So here are some tips for visiting your congressional representative:
- Make an appointment and be on time.
- You will have 10 to 15 minutes, so be prepared.
- Tell your story.
- Bring a “leave-behind,” a document that the aide can refer to later.
- Be respectful.
- Don't feel intimidated.
Lastly, as I mentioned before, recognize that your presence at the local level can have just as much, if not more, impact than it can on Capitol Hill. When state representatives are in their local office they do not have all of the distractions of Washington, D.C., and might present the opportunity to meet them personally.
As business professionals, we have an obligation to our communities, our businesses, our tenants and clients to monitor legislation and take action. That action can come in many forms: a telephone call, a written letter, a visit to your local congressional office.
Whatever form it takes, remember that it is our right under the Constitution. It is easy to grow callous to government. For myself, I know I have done my part to make a positive impact, and I have seen the successes over and over. Get involved. Make a difference.
In addition to her role as IREM 2015 president, Lori Burger, CPM, PCAM, CCAM, is senior vice president of Eugene Burger Management Corp. in Rohnert Park, Calif.