January 1, 2012

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Beyond the Ballot Box

Get Involved Early to Make a Difference in Local and National Politics

David C. Gessel

January 1, 2012

The election of 2012 will be one of the most important elections in over a generation. Utahns and Utah business leaders need to make it a priority to engage in the political process in the coming year. Whether we like it or not, all levels of government and politicians have a major impact on every business in Utah. It is admittedly difficult for any one person to have a large impact on the federal government, but this is not true for state or local governments

Below are 10 simple things you can do over the next year to become a political player in your neighborhood and in your industry. Doing these 10 things will only take the equivalent of an hour or two a month and will make a large impact on your personal political profile.

1. Attend the mass meeting of your choice in March, 2012. This is where politics starts in Utah. This meeting will be close to your home and will elect state and county delegates who in turn will choose the state and federal candidates of your party. Even better: run and become a state or county delegate. Nothing else will give you a better view into how the political system works in Utah.

2. Hold a meeting at your home for a political candidate you support. This signals to both the candidate and to your neighbors that you are engaged in the political process and are a local political leader.

3. Contribute to the political candidate of your choice. Federal law does not allow corporate contributions directly to federal candidates and limits personal contributions. However, in Utah there are no limits on personal or corporate contributions to state candidate campaigns. A review of publicly available reporting documents shows that the vast majority of funding for legislative campaigns comes from corporate and political action committees. Very few individual Utahns actually contribute personal funds to their state or local candidates. Doing so will make you one of the relative handful of constituents who think enough about a state or local candidate to contribute personally to them. You can bet that your state legislator will remember that. A $25, $50 or $100 contribution signals that you believe in that candidate.

4. Talk to your state legislator or state legislative candidate when you see them at the local school, store, sports game or public event. State legislators live close by to you in Utah. Once you know who they are, you will see them regularly in your neighborhood. Go up and introduce yourself and engage in a friendly conversation on a couple of different occasions and you will soon stand out to that legislator as a concerned citizen and community leader who they will remember.

5. Put up a lawn sign for the candidate of your choice. They always appreciate this and it costs you nothing and signals that you are politically active and willing to take a stand.

6. Give a tour of your business to a legislator. Legislators can’t be an expert in everything. A tour gives them a lot of information about you and your business in a short amount of time. If you are a decent-sized employer, legislators will really appreciate the opportunity to learn about your business and meet your employees.

7. Go on the Utah Legislature website, http://le.utah.gov, for an hour. It provides a wealth of information about the legislative process and the legislators. You can find out who your state senator and state representative are and obtain their contact information. This is especially important now, as many citizens will be in new legislative districts due to redistricting.

8. Write a letter or send information to a legislator as to how a given piece of legislation impacts your business or industry. If a state legislator gets a letter on an issue from even five – 10 constituents, they will often assume this is a big issue to many of their constituents and will take the issue seriously.

9. Walk your neighborhood with a legislator or candidate. They love this as it gives them entrée to your neighbors. If you don’t want to walk with the candidate, be willing to do a literature drop in your neighborhood. You can get an hour or two of exercise by placing literature on the front porch of your neighbors.

10. VOTE! Vote in both the primary and general election for the candidates of your choice. It is amazing how few Utahns actually go out and vote. If you don’t vote, don’t complain about the government you get! Business leaders need to vote personally and encourage their employees to vote as well.

If you do these simple things, you will find yourself becoming an incredibly effective part of the political process in Utah.

David C. Gessel, J.D. currently serves as the vice president of government relations and legal affairs for the Utah Hospital Association. He has more than 20 years of experience in Utah politics.

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