Lobbying in a virtual world

Mar 4, 2021
Written by Mark Johnson, Senior Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs

Now that we are over halfway through the 2021 Legislative Session, I thought I would pause and reflect on how things are going.

The entire session has been virtual or remote for the lobbying corps and the public. Most legislators and staff are working entirely from home. There are a few legislators and key staff, mostly leadership, at the capitol. Interestingly, I haven’t set foot in the capitol since March 12, 2020.

I was not sure what to expect as the 105-day session began on January 11, 2021. My first “Zoom” hearing was interesting. When the chair called on me to testify my computer screen went black and then popped back on and I was part of the committee membership – scared me at first.

Now it seems like I am getting the hang of it, especially when you are trying to testify at multiple hearings at the same time. I have found the committee chairs and staff to be accommodating and patient. The hearings have not been without incident. I was in one hearing and the chair was in the middle of a speech on his bill and his screen went out. He couldn’t get back in for 15 minutes. The vice-chair did a nice job covering for him. The funny thing is the chair was in Seattle – where you would think the internet service and connectivity would be the best in the state.

One of the positives for this virtual session is the number of citizens and associations that have weighed in on bills. I have been on a few hearings where there were several thousand folks signed in to let their positions be known. Also, citizens from all over the state don’t have to travel to Olympia to testify – saving them valuable time and money.

The part I miss and is still a struggle is connecting directly with legislators, staff, stakeholders, and other lobbyists. You lose a lot of the non-verbal communication on a Zoom call. You must schedule Zoom calls in advance rather than pulling a member from the floor or out of committee or catching them in the hall. Texting has become a very important skill – but again it is no replacement for meeting someone face-to-face.

I am sure we will all survive this session just fine and hopefully the pandemic will subside to the point we can return to an in-person session in 2022. Not only is it more productive it is just plain more fun.