Legislative Advocacy

Last Wednesday Phi Alpha, Xi Phi Chapter hosted Nancy Amidei, who spoke to students about legislative advocacy. Amidei has served as Director of the Food Research and Action Center and in the Federal Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. She has also taught social work at UW Seattle, and during the Reagan administration, her advocacy work kept ketchup from qualifying as a vegetable in school lunches

Amidei defined advocacy as “speaking up,” and started by ensuring students that politicians do want to hear what voters have to say. She asked the room what came to mind when they heard the word “politician.” Words such as liar, corruption, and money were offered, but Amidei believes such conceptions have less to do with the people in office and more with the media reports about them.

“A lot of cynicism has to do with the fact that we don’t hear positive stories [about politicians],” she said.

She told the story of two legislatures who met with voters continuously over the holidays off the clock, not for campaign checks, but to hear their stories.

“There are lots of people who want to represent you, but you need to tell them how we want to be represented,” she said.

The Washington State legislature will begin its session on January 14 and go through April 28, and this is one of the most important sessions for college students to be involved in.

While thousands of bills are proposed every year, the one that must pass is the budget. The general fund budget is predicted to contain a $1 billion deficit. On top of this, the federal legislature ruled in favor of school districts last year in the Mcleary Decision, when they sued Washington over insufficiently funding K-12. Fulfilling the responsibility to primary education will cost the state another $1.4 billion.

Since a balanced budget must be passed, and Washington voters have chosen to require a two thirds majority vote in the house and senate in order to raise taxes, the legislature must find $2.4 billion in existing budgets, and they generally pull from three main areas: higher education, Department of Social and Health Services, and other human services.

“If this is an all cuts budget it’s going to be pretty devastating,” said Amidei.

Seattle Times reported last week that state college presidents have promised not to raise tuition next year if an extra $225 million is added to the budget, but the likelihood of an addition to higher education budget, as opposed to more cuts, is doubtful.

“It’s a big challenge, but you can’t give up,” Amidei said, “We have faced bad budget years before. In fact we have never had a good budget year.”

Amidei went on to list what people can do to advocate for their issues: sign up with an advocacy group that is tracking your issue, communicate with your elected officials, get other people involved, advertise your issue, and talk.

She recommended that everyone develop a short “elevator” story, and tell it whenever the opportunity arises, especially if you make it to Olympia at some point.  Throughout the legislative session there, is a toll free number anyone can call in order to leave a message for whatever official can influence the issue you are focused on.

If you want an easy way to affect change make a quick call to the Legislative Hotline: 1-800-562-6000.