For those of us in the state and local government relations business, the notion that more trade groups, companies and issue advocates are becoming active in state capitals is about as surprising as being told the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. But when you see it on the front page of the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), it is a nice reminder that the “real” government relations action is happening in Sacramento, Tallahassee, Albany and other state capitals. The Wall Street Journal focuses almost exclusively on the place where I got my start in government and government relations, Lansing, Michigan. (For the record, I bleed Maize and Blue like Jim Harbaugh, not Green and White.)
While the bulk of the article dealt with how state capital cities and their surrounding counties are, for the most part, doing better than the other counties in their states from an income perspective, it did serve to highlight that while “gridlock” appears to be the name of the game in DC, it is in the states where policy matters are being debated and voted upon. And that is driving an increase in the number of lobbyists, in the case of Michigan according to the Wall Street Journal, a 27% increase in registered lobbyists since 2000 (which is just before I left!).
State governments need to pass budgets and the requisite appropriations bills each year. (I am not considering Pennsylvania or Illinois—as in any story, there is always an exception to the rule.) And legislators still work together to get that done. This is not to say there has not been in the past or will not be in the future acrimony and strong policy debates between the parties or within parties and chambers in state capitols. We all recall the Wisconsin Democratic legislators leaving Madison for Illinois during votes on a Right to Work bill a few years back and numerous senior Kansas Republicans being defeated in primaries by their more conservative counterparts in 2012.
In the end, with more critical decisions happening at the state level, it is vital to appreciate that policy is being made every day in state capitals even when nothing is happening in DC.