Monthly Archives: February 2015

Making laws is NOTHING like making sausage…maybe

We’ve heard the quote so many times, but do you know who first coined the famous political policy making phrase? And can you quote it exactly?

Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.

 – Otto von Bismarck

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1990-023-06A, Otto von Bismarck.jpgSo who was Otto von Bismarck? According to my research staff Wiki P. Edia (tongue in cheek), here’s the official entry: Prince Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg (1 April 1815 – 30 July 1898), was a German aristocrat and statesman, the Prime Minister of Prussia (1862–1890), and the first Chancellor of Germany (1871–1890). Nicknamed the Iron Chancellor he is noted for his laconic remarks.

The Iron Chancellor also has a connection to our state. In 1872, the North Dakota state capitol was named Edwinton, after Edwin Ferry Johnson engineer-in-chief for the Northern Pacific Railway.  But it wasn’t too long before some folks wised up, or in other words, sucked up. Just one year later in 1873, however, the Northern Pacific Railway itself renamed the city Bismarck, to recognize the renowned German chancellor in hopes of attracting German investment.

So it is quite apropos that it was Otto himself who has been attributed to this famous laws/sausage quote. The man after which our Capitol City is named. Especially during this highly energized legislative session.

With 141 moving parts and a couple of administration controlled handles, this legislature certainly takes on the characteristics of a sausage grinder. On Feb. 11, the Chamber chartered a bus of Willistonians (my made up word) to Bismarck to see if in fact laws are as hideous to watch being made as a Johnsonville bratwurst.

Let’s compare:

Federal sausage making is even uglier than state level sausage

Initial ingredients:
Laws=beginning ideas and first bill drafts
Sausage=raw ingredients

Mixing process:
Laws=Committee hearing process,input from public, debate, amendments
Sausage=spices, additives, fillers

Grinding process:
Laws=floor debate and action, sometimes messy process
Sausage=all final ingredients mixed together

Finished product:
Laws=something that won’t make everyone 100% satisfied (it’s called compromise)
Sausage=something that not everyone will enjoy, but will still sell

Our State Legislature recently passed Senate Bill 2103, the surge funding bill that provides immediate funding to local governments in Western North Dakota to catch up with the ‘surge’ of people moving there. The bill, seemingly supported by everyone including the Governor, was quickly passed through the Senate. However when it got to the House side,which should have been the final casing and flavoring for the bill, the law-making grinder hit a bone and got stuck.

Questions were asked of local officials, ‘do you really need the money now that oil prices have dropped?’ ‘What do you need now, that can’t wait until oil prices increase?’ ‘Every part of the state could use extra infrastructure funds.’

Other ingredients are being thrown into the mix from state agencies and other areas of the state; all looking to add that one last spice before it goes to the final grinding. Once the gear jam had been cleared, and these last few ingredients added in to the House version, the finished product rolled out of the process on Friday, and awaits the Governor’s signature as we post this. And yes, the finished product isn’t exactly how drafters first envisioned, but in a politically charged, east vs west type of debate, it was the best outcome possible.

As Otto pointed out:

Politics is the art of the next best

The merits of the legislation aside, the legislative process is not for the faint of heart, and can even frustrate a veteran participant. I suspect working in Sheboygan, Wis. making Johnsonville brats might be easier as the formula never changes, and neither does the process. In law making, the ingredients, the players, and even the process can alter the finished product.

The Chamber of Commerce is just part of the law/sausage making process, but we think the ingredients we bring to the process make everything taste just a little better.


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Williston Chamber goes to Bismarck

Our advocacy efforts at the Chamber took center stage on Feb. 11 when we loaded up 45 Williston leaders and made the nearly four hour bus ride to the State Capitol in Bismarck. The first “Williston Legislative Day” was designed to accomplish several key objectives of our advocacy program:

  • Demonstrate to the State Legislature and state leaders that Williston is committed to being heard on key issues
  • Solidify the Chamber’s position as the voice for Williston area business and industry interests
  • Provide attendees a first hand look at the legislative process and interact with elected officials
  • Support local officials in their lobbying efforts to secure state funding for critical infrastructure investments
  • Support the Greater North Dakota Chamber’s government relations program

We arrived in time to sit in on the House Appropriations Committee public hearing on Senate Bill 2103, commonly referred to as the surge funding bill. The legislation would return more than $1 billion to local governments in western North Dakota hit hardest by the tsunami of people, companies, development, and traffic related to the oil and gas industry the past five years. For many of our participants it was the first time they had been to the State Capitol, and maybe the first time they had thought about the legislative process since middle school social studies class.

After Capitol orientation tours, we dined in the Capitol Cafe and were met by Governor Jack Dalrymple and the First Lady, Betsy. The Governor was

State Senate welcome sign

State Senate welcome sign

gracious in his remarks and thanked us for making the effort to participate in such an important part of our democratic process. State Representatives Gary Sukut and Pat Hatelstad, along with newly elected State Senator Brad Bekkedahl also welcomed our group. Our support of not only particular legislation, but also of their session-long effort on behalf of Williston businesses and residents was noticed and appreciated.

After watching House and Senate floor sessions, we finished the day taking in the new North Dakota Heritage Center, which, I must say is quite impressive. Giant dinosaur and mammoth skeletons, oil and gas exhibits, agriculture historical displays and Native American artifacts provide visual imagery to what is written in our history books. North Dakota has a fascinating and diverse history from the prehistoric and geologic layers that dot our prairies and landscape to the tremendous contributions of individuals and organizations, to cultural heritage of the western frontier. I strongly encourage a visit next time your travels take you to Bismarck.

Each of our attendees had their own reason for surviving eight hours on a bus (a very nice one, btw) but as the instigator of the event, I have to assess it from a fairly high level. Here’s my take:

  • We set a goal of executing a legislative day trip in 2015. Check.
  • We wanted to demonstrate our resolve to support our legislators and local officials. Check.
  • We aimed to orient business and Chamber members to the state legislature and the State Capitol. Check.
  • We had a goal of keeping costs at a minimum. Attendees contributed $25 for the bus, and we had some generous sponsors who helped defray the cost of the bus. Check.
  • The Williston Herald embedded a reporter with us for the day, and Bismarck NBC station did a news piece on our trip. BONUS!

I believe the true measure of our success is yet to be realized. As part of a larger, effective advocacy program, such trips are a key component. The Chamber’s Government Affairs Committee, along with our Board of Directors, has given direction to continue to improve our government relations program as part of our strategic plans for the Chamber. What is the next step for us as we continue to “raise the bar” in 2015?

We’ll save that discussion for another time. But 2016 is an election year, isn’t it?


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Advocacy is priority one

An interesting article was posted recently and asked the age-old question: why do we need associations and chambers? You can read the full post here. But since we are in the business of creating value for Members, it would behoove us to communicate that value wouldn’t it? Let’s start with the top priority for most chambers of commerce including this one – advocacy.

It has been noted that most chambers of commerce and local businesses in general, prefer smaller, less intrusive government and lower taxes. However as American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) Vice President Chris Mead points out in his recent book, The Magicians of Main Street, chambers also were supportive of large government infrastructure investments over the centuries. I would imagine this was to ensure a free flowing economy continues to expand in America. So while chambers of commerce are normally considered organizational watchdogs of the local, state and federal governments; they also can be the best partners in moving public policy toward a common good.

David Kilby, President and CEO of the Western Association of Chamber Executives pointed out there are “Four P’s” needed for a successful governmental affairs program (entire article is at this link).

  • PEOPLE: Successful government affairs – just like business success – is often all about relationships. The people who are engaged in your government affairs program and their relationships with elected officials are real keys to success.It all starts with a chairman and committee members who are passionate, understand the system, and are connected.
  • POLICYDoes your chamber have policy in place and a decision-making infrastructure that allows you to take action quickly? Having statements of principles or a policy platform is a real key to success. 
  • PROCESSHow you take positions, gather information (pros & cons), and communicate the chamber’s policy positions are important. It’s essential to be known as an organization that does its homework and doesn’t just “shoot from the hip” by being a rubber stamp for the loudest segment of your members.
  • POLITICSThe fourth P stands for politics, but not necessarily political action. It actually has more to do with being politically savvy. Knowing when and how to spend your political capital is more an art than a science.

In assessing our Chamber in each of these categories honestly, I’d say we have some improvements to make in some ares, yet our progress in just one year is encouraging.

A couple of items to highlight for you this week:

  • February 11 – Williston Legislative Day in Bismarck. Some seats on the bus still open; $25 per seat for the day. Call the Chamber office to reserve a seat or learn more information.
  • February 25 – Greater North Dakota Chamber “Taste of Business” event in Bismarck.

Today’s 24 hours news cycle and electronic information age doesn’t allow us to ignore our legislative process. Real people with lives and businesses and families and hobbies can only be engaged in issues up to a point. In short, you can’t do it alone. What does make sense is to align yourself or your business with organizations and groups who advocate on your behalf.

You don’t have to be a C-SPAN charter member to have an interest in how your government works, or in some cases, doesn’t work. You have your Williston Area Chamber of Commerce.

Next week we’ll dive into programs and services aspects of chamber membership.

– Sjm

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