By John Denny

Four years ago, in a blog post entitled “What Makes Civic Campaigns So Different?” I highlighted the importance of identifying and recruiting the right leader when trying to make substantive public policy change:

“The importance of strong civic leadership is impossible to overstate. Whether a civic campaign is trying to change environmental policy, local taxing structure, government structure, human service delivery, or community development, the most important element is getting the right leader(s).”

Oftentimes, when the civic campaign involves a legislative policy issue, we refer to that leader as a “champion.” Picking the right legislative champion can mean everything – including the very difference between winning and losing.

So why does it matter so much, and how do you go about getting the right champion on your side? Let’s consider the “why” first:

  • Legislative bodies are inherently about power – the majority party most often controls the agenda. But legislative bodies are also about finding compromise, so finding bipartisan champions is important.
  • A champion who is in (or close to) leadership, who serves on the right committee for the issue you are advancing, or who has a personal story/connection to the issue matters a lot. Getting the trifecta is the gold standard in selecting a champion.

Now let’s consider the “how”:

  • Research, research, research: you have to do your homework and have some political sense. Is the prospective champion in the majority party? What committee might the legislation go through, and does the champion sit on that committee? Does the issue lend itself to a certain champion based on its demographic and geographic targets? Does the prospective champion have a personal connection to the issue?
  • Remember, the targeted champion is a potential customer of yours. What does that mean? It means you have to view the issue you are trying to advance as a product that is well researched, designed, packaged, and priced so that the champion has an incentive to “buy in.”

Here’s an example of four ideal champions currently providing exemplary leadership on an issue for our client, the #StrongMomStrongBaby Campaign. In the Senate are Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Washington, Beaver, Greene) and Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks). They’re women from opposite sides of the aisle and opposite ends of the state – and one serves on the committee responsible for overseeing the legislation currently being backed by #StrongMomStrongBaby.

In the House are Rep. Tarah Toohil (R-Luzerne) and Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh) – once again, one Republican and one Democrat. One was instrumental in exposing the “Cash for Kids” scandal in her county, and the other started and chairs the mental health caucus.

So while it is their diverse backgrounds that make them such a formidable group, their real strength lies in the one factor they all have in common: all have served as tireless advocates for an issue that they truly believe in.

And we think “champion” really is the only word for that.