By Brooke S. Appleton
I am happy to be back writing Ears in Washington after spending the last several months away on maternity leave. While I’ve missed the office, the team and policy work, I was thankful to have the time at home with our newest son Henry and his big brother Daniel.
But over the last several months I had a lot of time to reflect on many things, and I realized I can use some of the same skills I have developed as an advocate to navigate the challenges that come with parenting. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between my two professions: mothering and lobbying.
Not just Me, We
In both cases, success depends on building wide support and sometimes joining forces with unlikely allies. Former Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), speaking last summer at Corn Congress, gave some great advice on the advocacy front:
“You’ve got to build relationships with people who care about food stamps,” she said. “You’ve got to build relationships with people who care about conservation. You can’t expect to basically get a farm bill by just being who you are in production agriculture.”
Her advice is true not just for the farm bill but for all policy issues. NCGA participates in several coalitions to help advance our policy work, from farm bill reauthorization to ethanol to transportation. We have learned, as many have, that the larger the group speaking in support of an issue the more successful we can be. Similarly, Mom and Dads need a wide circle of support at home.
When it comes to raising kids or advancing public policy, it really is WE, not just ME.
Another key to success in lobbying and parenting is planning and strategizing. Just as we work to ensure that our children’s needs don’t all fall on one parent, we also need to make sure the responsibilities of telling our story don’t fall on the shoulders of a handful of corn growers.
As we work to advance legislation on behalf of corn growers, we are constantly contemplating how we need to communicate about an issue or which farmer constituent voice we need to send in to talk with a particular policymaker to make them want to champion our priorities.
We also must carefully calibrate our advocacy efforts, at times going quiet on an issue so as not to upset a victory that is under way. (Just as a parent would calmly and quietly leave a room so as not to upset a sleeping child.) Like parenting, this all requires strategy and advanced thought.
Relationships Are Important
The primary currency in Washington is relationships. Getting to know stakeholders is crucially important to success on Capitol Hill. I talked in one of my previous columns about how endangered bipartisan relationships have become among members of Congress as policymakers increasingly spend more time at home instead of here in Washington with their colleagues. But relationships are still critical to success—no different than bonding with your children, it’s time well spent. Policymakers need to see me and the DC team as people who represent the nation’s corn growers, the very people toiling to feed and fuel America and, indeed, the world. NCGA has built incredible relationships with congressional members and their staff on both sides of the aisle over the years, and we work to maintain those relationships every day.
My two life’s passions, parenting and lobbying, are both rewarding work. And I really don’t know which one teaches me more. But I know they both make my life meaningful and enjoyable, and I look forward to a life filled with surprises, victories and challenges in both arenas!
Appleton is vice president of public policy at the National Corn Growers Association.