Though the United States presidential election will get the biggest headlines as November approaches, horse industry representatives were told June 17 they should pay attention to—and get involved in—congressional races around the country.
And with the horse industry coming under increasing scrutiny by Congress and special interest groups, the focus on legislative activism during the American Horse Council National Issues Forum in Washington, D.C., was timely. As for the message, it was simple: If you want to have a voice, be sure to use your own.
“We can impact public policy,” said Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition. “The future of the horse industry will be shaped by elections. You’re giving (candidates) your proxy. Don’t you want to talk to them about issues?
“It’s not too late for the horse industry to be seen as a visible player in the upcoming election.”
The horse industry in general is represented on Capitol Hill by the AHC, which was formed in 1969, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which in this decade formed a political action committee. The NTRA focus is on issues related to horse racing and wagering.
The National Issues Forum, however, was geared more toward local activism. Horse industry participants were told the effort begins in their own back yards, and the sooner they strike up relationships with candidates or lawmakers, the better.
“The earlier the better, and the more at home the better,” AHC chairman Nick Nicholson said. “The decisions elected officials make in Washington—and the decisions un-elected officials make—have a direct relationship on how we can participate with and enjoy our horses.”
The “un-elected” officials to which Nicholson and others referred are legislative staffers, advisers, and those appointed to run agencies. The individuals wield considerable clout when it comes to rifling through issues and setting agendas for lawmakers.
Crandall noted the upcoming national party conventions “produce a road map” for next four years. He suggested the horse industry could plant a few seeds by tapping a governor or a senator to make its voice heard in the proceedings.
Also, the transition period between the Nov. 4 election and Jan. 20, 2009, inauguration is important, Crandall said. That’s when the new administration will select people to head agencies and develop an agenda.
“If you’re not on the list for the first 100 days, you won’t be on the list for the next 100 days,” Crandall said.
Two members of Congress—Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis of Tennessee and Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida—spoke of the importance of horses to their respective districts and briefly discussed the political process. In short, they like to hear from constituents.
“It’s important you become involved and be inquisitive,” Davis said.
“If you don’t come, other people will,” Stearns said. “We have people coming in all the time asking for things, so you might as well be there, too.”
J. Scott Jennings, senior strategist for Peritus Public Relations and senior adviser for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s 2008 re-election campaign, was a special assistant to President George W. Bush for three years, and worked on his 2004 campaign for re-election. Jennings said the reason Bush won was because the campaign had one million volunteers who believed in the cause.
In New Mexico, for instance, the campaign recruited 15,000 volunteers, and Bush took the state by a slim margin even though his campaign was outspent. “We won by talking to more people,” Jennings said.
Jennings called campaigning “a grueling experience, a humbling experience, and terrifying.” Still, he said, it can be a great way to get a long-term “seat at the table” when it comes to offering advice and making policy suggestions.
“Politics is worth it,” Jennings said. “If too many people decide it’s not worth it, we will end up with a government that’s mediocre, or worse.”