Thank You 2015 KGA/KACS Ribbon Sponsors!
Frankly, KGA/KACS Members Have the Best Lobbyists
(L to R) Gay Dwyer, Rep. Tim Couch (R-90th), Jan Gould
(Originally published in the Fall 2014 KGA/KACS "Check Us Out!" magazine
Your KGA/KACS takes great pride in retaining the services of the best retail industry lobbyists in Kentucky to represent your business and our industry in Frankfort. Gay Dwyer and Jan Gould are experienced state government relations professionals with knowledge of both the people and the process driving Kentucky government.
We must never forget that the primary reason your KGA/KACS exists is to make sure that the industry has input into legislative and regulatory issues impacting your business, either positively or negatively.
For this issue of “Check Us Out!” we wanted to provide KGA/KACS members with information about the team working with KGA/KACS staff on your behalf here in Frankfort. Below is an interview with Gay and Jan designed to help each of you get to know and appreciate all the hard work they do for you. Your annual dues payments are the only reason we are able to put the best team possible in the Kentucky Capitol working for you!
Ms. Gay Dwyer
Kentucky politics has almost always been a part of Gay’s life. She recalls campaigning as an elementary school student when Wendell Ford, who was also from Owensboro, was elected to the State Senate. She retained her interest and involvement in campaigns and in the 1980s, she served as campaign manager for two statewide races - David Boswell when he was elected Agriculture Commissioner and Paul Patton in his bid for Lieutenant Governor.
After her graduation from the University of Kentucky with majors in both political science and journalism, Gay went to work for state government where she served as legislative liaison for the Department of Corrections. She left Frankfort to become the city of Owensboro’s first Public Information Director after her political mentor, J.R. Miller, was elected as Owensboro’s Mayor. When Bobby Richardson was elected House Speaker in 1982, she returned to the Capitol and served as his assistant throughout his tenure.
Gay began her career as a lobbyist in 1987 when she moved to Paducah to accept a job with Jim Smith, a western Kentucky businessman with interests ranging from a highway construction company to a coal mine. She became involved in retail issues after he acquired a 400-plus room hotel and convention center complex. Gay joined the Kentucky Retail Federation (KRF) as Vice President of Government Affairs in 1996.
Mr. Jan Gould
Jan is originally from Illinois and thinks Kentucky is a great state with a rich history and culture. He loves the gentility of the people and the natural beauty of the state. The lifestyle in Lexington is very much laid back compared to where he grew up and there are plenty of things to do without the hassles that go along with living in a big city.
Jan and his wife Cheryl love to play golf along with travelling, hiking and entertaining friends. He graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in Communications and completed a six-year association management program at the Institute for Organizational Management at Notre Dame University.
Now that Jan represents the grocery and convenience industries in Kentucky, it is interesting that his first job was as a bagger at an independent grocery in the Chicago area. He worked at various positions in grocery stores throughout high school and college, including the Randall’s Supermarkets in Lexington. Professionally, his first job was in radio broadcasting and he worked part time positions at radio stations in Lexington.
Growing up in Chicago, Jan had a keen appreciation for politics at a very early age. Richard J. Daley was mayor when he was living there and the Daley political machine was legendary. It captured his attention early on as some of his family members were involved in local city politics. His uncle owned a tavern and it was known as a “political hang out”. He recognized from being around his uncle and his patrons that politics was important. In those days in Chicago, politics yielded very tangible things like jobs, city contracts, and more. It was an important part of people’s lives.
When Jan was 12 or 13 years old, he remembers working as a volunteer on a referendum vote for a new library in his neighborhood. He did the little things like addressing envelopes, delivering yard signs, and doing the “grunt” work essential in the political world. The referendum was successful and Jan was hooked on politics. Jan’s first real exposure to government relations as a career started in 1980 when he was hired by the Kentucky Retail Federation (KRF).
Are there any differences in how the legislative process works today vs. earlier in your career?
Gay - It’s vastly different. My first session was the 1976 Special Session and back then, Kentucky’s Governor clearly drove all policy decisions. In fact, the Governor largely controlled which bills passed and which died. The General Assembly has really come into its own as an equal and independent branch of government.
Jan - I agree with Gay and when I first started the Governor had much more control. The Governor basically set the agenda and legislators followed his lead. Today the legislature is much more independent. Another major difference is the partisanship that exists today. When I started in this business in the early 1980’s, Democrats totally dominated state politics in Kentucky. For example, the state Senate at that time was controlled 30-8 by the Democrats. Republicans were almost irrelevant. That has changed dramatically in recent years. Also, issues are much more complex today than they were then. Retailers for example paid little attention to environmental issues. Many of the issues we deal with today just didn’t exist back then such as privacy issues, SNAP program changes, credit card interchange fees and many others.
In general, is the way you interact with legislators today different than earlier in your career?
Gay - Obviously my interaction is different since I started as staff before becoming a lobbyist. However, I’m confident in saying that any lobbyist’s interaction today is extremely different since I remember the time that it was the first floor (where the Governor’s office is located) that people went to advocate for those they represented.
Jan - There are fewer social opportunities today than there were prior to Legislative Ethics Reform in the early 1990’s, but that isn’t necessarily an obstacle to interacting with legislators. It’s still based on personal relationships and we have found different ways to make those connections.
What do legislators expect from you?
Gay - Honesty. Your credibility is really key. A legislator never forgets when someone gives bad information or tries to mislead.
Jan - Legislators expect total honesty and those of us that have been around a while understand that. Our credibility is our most precious asset. Lawmakers also expect us to know our “stuff.” If they have a question, they expect us to be able to get them an answer. If we don’t know, they expect us to find out. That’s where KGA/KACS members are very helpful because they have the technical knowledge and experience to help us deal with some very complicated issues that arise during the course of a legislative session.
Are there any differences in a typical legislator today vs. earlier in your career?
Gay - Being a member of the General Assembly today requires a much bigger commitment. First of all, we now have annual sessions so one-quarter of every year is spent in Frankfort. In addition, the interim period between sessions is much more active with committee hearings every week. As the legislative branch has increased its independence, it requires more of a time commitment from each legislator.
Jan - In 2000, Kentucky voters approved a Constitution amendment to move to annual sessions. Prior to that the Kentucky General Assembly met every other year. That change made it much harder for “ordinary citizens” to serve in the General Assembly because of the time commitment required. As a result we have seen more legislators who are full-time and are not actively involved in a trade or business outside of the General Assembly.
During a Kentucky General Assembly session, please tell me what a typical day might be at the Kentucky Capitol?
Gay - I don’t really think there is a “typical” day during a session since things are always changing. We jokingly say that everything is “fluid”. However, every day involves reviewing all the bills and amendments filed on the previous day; attending committee meetings and meeting with legislators about issues that affect our members.
Jan - Every day is a little bit different depending on what issues we are working on but most start out with a review of the previous day’s activity followed by committee meetings starting in the morning. Both of us and Ted Mason have an assigned group of committees we monitor and that means sitting through hours of testimony on a wide variety of issues. In between, we are talking individually with legislators about the various issues important to our members. On most days the legislature goes into “session” at 2:00 p.m. and we monitor the proceedings via closed circuit TV. Afterward, sometimes there are additional committee meetings or individual meetings with legislators.
I know that during the General Assembly session there are many long days (and nights), could you tell us a little about how government relations is a year-round process?
Gay - The legislation that is enacted sets the policy but it is the regulations that put the meat on the bones of the law. As an example, I’ve spent a lot of time this summer meeting with officials at the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control about regulations they are proposing on both growlers and the regulatory fees that some local governments are levying. Beyond that, legislative committees are meeting to discuss some of the issues that are likely to be on the agenda in 2015 so we need to be involved.
Jan - During the time between legislative sessions, lawmakers hold hearings on many issues. These interim hearings are where they hear testimony to gather information on issues that will be introduced the next session. We are working so that we are up to speed on these issues and that legislators know what our members’ positions are on them. The interim offers us the ability to discuss these issues with both our members and with legislators in a less hectic environment.
I know that you read each piece of proposed legislation as it is introduced. What are a few of the “triggers” you look for related to the bill possibly impacting our industry?
Gay - I don’t know that I can specify “triggers” but my advice is to read with a healthy sense of paranoia. I’ve found many cases of “unintended consequences” where a bill is designed to correct a problem and inadvertently creates another one.
Jan - Our staff has a lot of collective experience so we often have seen the proposed legislation or a variation before. We also communicate with our members and our colleagues in other states to make sure we know what is happening in other jurisdictions so we will be able to recognize the issue if it is introduced in Kentucky.
How important is it to have association members engage with their legislator on a critical piece of legislation?
Gay - Members need to engage with their legislators not only on a “critical” bill but also to give their senator or representative a better sense of the issues they face in their business. Business people that take the time to get to know their legislator and become a resource for information are going to have greater opportunities for input on issues that affect them.
Jan - It is critical. Legislators respond to their constituents - first and foremost. If they are not hearing from the folks back at home they assume that everything is OK.
Expectations of just what a lobbyist can accomplish are often very high. What are some of the limits of just what a lobbyist can accomplish?
Gay - Legislators see Jan and me every day at the Capitol and they know that we’ll be talking to them about multiple issues. I’m realistic enough to know that it is highly unlikely that any individual lawmaker will be with us every time. That’s why that phone call from someone back home who they know and trust is so important.
Jan - We are only as effective as the people we represent. We can provide legislators with the nuts and bolts of the issue and a lot of times we can work with legislators to “fix” technical issues with legislation. But on major controversial legislation, the key is to have our message reinforced by the contacts with legislators form the association’s members.
Will the continued growth of social/digital communications between legislators and constituents change the legislative process over time?
Gay - The process is always evolving. We’ve gone from the legislator’s desk on the floor being their office when I started to today’s social media. I’m a big believer in using multiple forms of communication but I still believe that it is the personal relationship that often carries the day. After all, it comes back to using information you trust to make decisions which is no different in the legislative arena than in other areas of our lives.
Jan - It already has. Much more information is available in real time. Constituents have many more ways to communicate with their legislators - to that point that it often is overwhelming. The explosion of communications technology makes it must more important for members to develop personal relationships with their senator and representative. They need to make sure their message doesn’t get lost in all of the noise.
Art Potash, an Illinois grocer said recently that, “Not being involved with your association is like talking politics without voting.” How important is having association members supporting your work?
Gay - It is essential and the most effective thing a member can do is take just a little time to get to know their own legislators.
Jan - Very simply, the association will not be effective without their support. It is critical that our message be reinforced by members who know and are willing to communicate with their legislators. We see it every….those organizations that do this effectively reap the rewards of the political system. Always have and always will.
When the 2015 Kentucky General Assembly begins in early January and legislative news starts being reported on TV and in newspapers, please remember that your KGA/KACS legislative team is working for you.
Please also remember that when a KGA/KACS Legislative Alert is sent to members, your single voice in a message to your legislator can REALLY make the difference in helping your business and our industry.