Manifolds, Manolos, and Manure...
Many years ago, I packed my heels, suits, and hopes and dreams and traveled to the lovely mecca of Springfield, Illinois. Along with 19 other recent college graduates we traversed the steps of the capitol to join the ranks of the Illinois Legislative Student Internship Program (ILSIP). Roughly, each caucus and the Legislative Research Unit received four bright-eyed and bushy-tailed naïve interns. And my oh my, we were naïve. We were in ah of the grandeur of the building. And we were convinced that each one of us could single-handily change the face of Illinois government.
After a brief introduction and an even briefer tour, we were set loose. I remember arriving with my highlighted street map in hand because the travel home the afternoon before took me an hour to traverse 10 or so miles not because of the traffic but because of Springfield’s notoriously confusing one-way streets.
I spent nearly six years traversing the hallways of the capitol. During that time, I analyzed legislation; reviewed “BIMP” or budget implementation bills; coordinated communication efforts for caucus members; and ensured that floor operations ran smoothly. During my non-state time, I oversaw political messaging; ran Senate campaigns; exhausted volunteers; and brought home two highly competitive and expensive wins for the caucus.
While I didn’t single-handily change Illinois government in those six years, I did learn the value of building relationships. Of building communication channels. And of building a network.
My governmental affairs volunteers will tell you that I harp on the importance of building relationships. Of getting to know our Cook County legislators. Of getting to know our Cook County legislative staff.
Earlier this year, we called on our relationship with Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri, Chairman of the Zoning and Building Committee. Rather than sounding alarm bells and activating an action request regarding the proposed changes to the Zoning Code, we spoke with Commissioner Silvestri and his staff and explained our concerns. And early in the process we had numerous concerns- large lot size requirements for individuals with bee hives; large lot requirements for individuals with horses; and additional acre requirements for each additional horse. Based on conversations with horse owners and riding stables, the lot size requirement and subsequent acre per horse could’ve eliminated most, if not all of Cook County’s stables. However, at no point did it become necessary to issue an action request because Farm Bureau has a relationship with Commissioner Silvestri and his staff and we were able to negotiate a reasonable compromise.
While I’d love to bore readers with tales of Springfield craziness, the takeaway is the importance of building relationships with your legislators, county board members, and aldermen. Many times, issues can best be resolved through conversations and compromises rather than action requests, alarm bells, and sleepless nights.