Get ’em Dirty
By John Latta
From the days when SAFETEA-LU’s expiration was way in the future, until today, I’ve followed Washington’s every move on reauthorization and visited the capital regularly to talk to people that mattered, officially or unofficially, in the process.
You know the ugliness that came with SAFETEA-LU’s demise and zombie-like life extensions and the knock-down, drag-out battle among our finest in the Capitol working out the new surface transportation legislation, MAP-21. It was like watching a slow train wreck; and it was our train.
You probably know that in September 2014, MAP-21 is set to expire. Know also that a lot of insiders fear we’ll see the extension game come back to Washington, settle in and again be the reality-avoidance dance (disguised as work) of choice for our elected representatives. And they fear that whatever legislation eventually replaces MAP-21 would retain it’s core weakness – insufficient funds.
So what can de done differently? Well, if you are talking Washington, not a lot. But there is something back home where you are that can affect Washington on this issue. Some of the most knowledgeable and most strategically and tactically capable people in the transportation infrastructure lobbying business in D.C. privately agree that companies that get elected representatives out to jobsites make a difference.
I emphasize this: “make a difference.”
Here I am urging you to get your senator or congressperson out to the workface, and I do so only because it can actually influence the post MAP-21 legislation. Lobbyists tell me that when they visit an elected member of Congress they can usually tell if that member is familiar with the work that happens at road and bridge jobsites. That member “gets” it more often than not. That member, who will run for re-election one day, understands the job-creating and community-benefitting power he is seeing.
The SAFETEA-LU zombie period, the general reluctance among politicians to support the bill they eventually passed, had a lot to do with their unfamiliarity, their uncertainty with what happens at bridge and highway jobsites. But, apparently, if they see it, if they know it, if they understand the work and the people working, they can support spending and reforms for transportation infrastructure because they “get” its actual worth. They know that, in either party, they can position themselves as as a good local guy with that support.
So get them out there to the biggest, noisiest, nastiest job site you have. Get ‘em dirty. Get their hair full of smoke, their shoes covered in mud, their hands oily, their senses pounded by heavy yellow iron, their suits smeared with grease, and introduce them to your work, and your workforce.