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Polarization: It's Everywhere

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Polarization: It's Everywhere

 

Yesterday I heard a state legislature tell me that the best place to train for legislative leadership is in the minority. After spending a few years as a Democrat in a Republican House of Representatives, this person when on to become the Majority Leader when the Democrats gained control. 

Politics is cyclical. Those in the minority may soon have control of either or both chambers. Yet, according to an article in The New York Times, Polarization: It's Everywhere. According to the article and a new study from Pew Research, Republicans in Congress don't trust Democrats (and the feeling on the other side is mutual) and the voters certainly don't think very highly of those that we put in office. 

When we don't trust each other we don't work well together, but in creating sound public policy we need that trust. To help restore the ability to work together, to accomplish a common goal or mission, I propose the creation of a Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution. They exist in states such as Washington and Oregon and in city's like Salt Lake City, but we need to bring these models to other centers of power where politics trumps policy and progress.

There will always be politics and opposing views and debates on issues -- that is healthy, but what Oregon Solutions or Salt Lake Solutions provides is "process".

To formalize and sustain this process, I propose creating an office similar to Oregon Solutions, which provides a system and process for problem solving, using collaborative governance as a method of public decision-making in which government leaders involve stakeholders from many areas of society, including community members, businesses, other government agencies and non-profit organizations in making decisions that affect how people are governed or how public resources are used.

Oftentimes issues are brought to the Governor’s attention through Regional Solutions Centers (RSCs), which are places for state agencies to collaborate with each other and among key stakeholders.  

When an issue seems intractable, Oregon Solutions calls on Oregon Consensus to mediate and resolve conflict.  Oregon Consensus focuses its work on issues regarding the environment, economic development, transportation and public health.

Both Oregon Solutions and Oregon Consensus are not government entities, but they are affiliated with Portland State University. The Oregon Legislature continues to fund this program ($1.2M). Washington also has a similar system. 

Similarly, at a city level, Salt Lake Solutions is jointly funded by the City Council and the Mayor and is part of the city government. It is charged with the task of solving community problems by cultivating inclusive collaborations of public and private support. Ralph Becker, the Mayor of Salt Lake City, took that same model and created Salt Lake City Solutions, an office, in the city’s planning department, that is dedicated to community engagement and facilitation. 

These organizations provide a system and process for problem solving, using community governance. This includes:

  • Assess situations and bring the right people to the table to discuss them.
  • Design and facilitate meetings to make sure all viewpoints are considered.
  • Help groups sort through information to support sound decisions.
  • Help groups convey their recommendations or agreements in writing.

It takes the burden off the elected officials to drive politically charged issues to a neutral organization that can create the process to resolve them.

Each issue comes to the organization’s attention after the Mayor, Council or Governor defines a problem that needs to be solved. The Mayor/Governor designates an impartial convener to bring people together and develop an assessment of the proposed project. If the issue meets the criteria for resolution, a neutral or convener is selected to manage and help resolve the project through facilitated meetings.

If we can agree to disagree than let's work together to at least build a process to help resolve our differences. 

 

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Lessons from the Obama Campaign for all Parties

Candidates in this election cycle can still take a few pages from the President's campaign playbook that helped him build a brand that connected with voters, such as:

  1. Develop a consistent message. One that strikes a chord with the public, such as, Change, Re-invent, or Believe.
  2. Have a rallying call – Your message should I part, engage the voter and give them something to use as they build support for you, such as:  Yes We Can.
  3. Offer solutions.  A campaign is a great opportunity to suggest solutions to improving the status quo and why you are the better candidate.  Offering solutions instead of going negative will help you stand out from the other candidates.
  4. What do we stand for. At the end of the day, based on your messaging, behavior and performance, the voter should be able to identify you with your issues and know what you will focus on once elected. 

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When Politicians Lie...

.... They get caught.  Toronto Mayor Rob Ford knows that now when he faced reporters earlier this week asking them to re-ask a question they asked him in May. "You asked me a question back in May and you can repeat that question," Mr. Ford told a bunch of journalists earlier this week as reported in The New York Times. He then admitted that he did indeed smoke crack cocaine.  Also last week, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R) was accused of plagiarism, denied it and finally this week admitted what happened. (Although to his credit, he also came out with a plan for addressing the situation.) Rolling Stone magazine released their "Top five political excuses of all time" earlier this week and unfortunately we keep hearing these excuses from our elected leaders.

To a political figure there is no worse punishment than a damaged reputation. The longer a person works to cover up something the more damage they will do to their reputation. As a result, here are 5 tips to help politicians out of a sticky situation:

  1. Don't lie.  If you do lie or misrepresent something, speak out of turn or make a mistake, quickly admit it, apologize, work to resolve the issue and move on to the next issue.
  2. Don't try to cover it up, it will only make things worse.
  3. Don't react. Re-evaluate the situation and respond quickly but thoughtfully.
  4. Don't dodge the media. Focus on the facts and process.
  5. Seek the advice of an attorney and public relations professional before things get out of hand.

 

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Chaos in Congress as the U.S. Government Shuts Down

In Detroit, we can live with a municipal bankruptcy as the government continues to function -- albeit not at an optimum level, the government still works. However, when Congress focuses on politics rather than sound public policy, it is the American people who suffer, and it is "Brand America" that gets its reputation damaged across the globe. And at such a crucial time as we become more involved in international disputes. Congress has had ample opportunity and time to work out their differences, even with complex policy disputes mired in politics and controversy. When it would have been clear that the House could not reach a consensus among themselves they should should have tapped trained non-partisan facilitators, including those from the Federal Mediation Conciliation Service, a federally funded agency,  to provide a forum for resolving the toughest public policy disputes and create a process by which to bring the stakeholders together.

Consensus building is a process by which the parties seek unanimous agreement.  It involves a good-faith effort by each stakeholder to meet the interests of each other. In today’s legislative environment, politics often trumps policy and public policy dispute resolution can assist lawmakers and regulators in reaching consensus and bring closure to a number of issues that have long been unresolved, while overcoming outside political pressure.

However, in this situation chaos trumped consensus because not all the stakeholders sought an equitable solution in good faith.  It is time politics takes a back seat to agree on a vision for this country. Once our elected members of Congress can agree on a vision, we can then work to re-establish trust and begin to engage in civil and productive discourse leading to resolving complex policy disputes for the sake of moving our Nation forward.

However, this takes leadership and I am not sure we have that today in Congress.

 

 

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A Road Map To Moving Forward - It includes you!

With the recent State of the Union, State of the State, County and City, we now know where our elected leaders want to lead us. Each has laid out their vision for where they want us to go. Now it is up to us to help them. Whether we support their agenda or not, we each have a role in seeing our Nation, State, County and City succeed. It will only succeed if we give our opinion, show our support for specific issues or voice our opinions against regulations or legislation should it negatively impact your family, business or industry.

How do you do that?  This morning, I gave a similar presentation to the Michigan Society of Association Executives (MSAE) Association Management Academy at the American Concrete Institute and here is what I told them:

1.Figure out why you to to become more engaged in the political/legislatie process.  Does it fit into your mission or strategic plan? Are your members asking for it? Is your industry affected by legislation?

2. Learn about the legislative process, how the legislature works, How a Bill Becomes a Law (SchoolHouseRock) and what role lobbyists play (ThankYou For Not Smoking) in addition to other outside influences (Distinguished Gentleman).

3. Know the regulations and laws that impact lobbying, advocacy, campaign finance and ethics and why those laws were created in the first place. (Casino Jack)

Some useful resources include: ASAE; Clerk of the U.S. House; Secretary of the Senate; Senate/House Ethics Committee; or, your Secretary of State.
4. Know what your issues are. Begin to create an issues matrix to help identify the issue and prioritize them.
5. Identify the resources you can use to engage lawmakers in a discussion about the issues important to your members, industry
or business.
6. Get to know those whom you elected. You may or may not have voted for them, but they did get elected. So take the time to meet them, learn about them and teach them about the issues you care about.
7. Know what their agenda is. In Michigan, right now the legislative agenda is full of issues involving Jobs, People & Good Government. Knowing what the issues are will help open the door to solid discussions between you and those ultimately deciding on what the laws will be.

8. Become relevant. Knowing the agenda and staying on top of the news cycle will help your issues remain relevant. Provide the local angle to a national problem, take the legislative agenda in Lansing, Columbus or Albany and show others how it will impact you locally.

9. Become an expert. Lawmakers are pulled in too many directions with too little time to fully read and understand the legislative issues they are voting on (for the most part). By knowing the issues.

10. Proactively develop relations with lawmakers and like-minded organizations that can support you and your agenda and likewise you support theirs.

Relationships help empower people to act and it is important to develop those strategic relationships early.  To view the presentation vist: Helping Associations Create Government Relations Program.

*For education purposes only. Please consult an attorney for any legal advice. This post does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Sustain a move-ment

As Republicans and Democrats convene their conventions this month to affirm or select new leadership, one thing is certain, both parties need to work harder at building a brand and sustaining a movement. A ‘move-ment’ is a series of organized activities towards a common objective.

How do you create a movement – With just one big idea.

That idea should be simple.  It should be something that you and others can be passionate about.

Now that you the idea, you now need to get people to care about it. And it also will need its own identity to give people something to talk about.

Now its time to “Ignite the Movement,” and provide even more reasons to talk about it.

From a political party perspective, to sustain a movement, everyone should be on the same page. The House and Senate Caucuses should work in sync with the established party so that everyone is working to compliment the other, reinforce the messages, engage the public and build a movement by getting people who are interested engaged.

The American Electorate is frustrated with politics as usual, the name-calling and the lack of progress in state capitols and in Congress. Instead of being against what the other party is for, each party should create a platform to engage the other side in a solution-based discussion about where to agree and where to move on.

I recently read that “a credible idea makes people believe. An emotional idea gets people to care.’  Given the right agenda, Democrats and Republicans can create the right stories to bring outsiders inside their movement and in the end they will get the right people to act to help us all move forward.

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Tools to Craft Your Message to Lawmakers

Primary Message:The Challenge (Background/Summary of the problem)

Secondary Message: What needs to change, barriers, issues? What is the desired change or outcome? What do we hope to achieve? (this could be a policy change, funding, etc.)

Your Message/Experience/Story:

Why do you have  the solution or are a leader in finding solutions? What do you do? Why do you do it?  This should include personal stories tied to emotions to create a story and an image in the legislators mind, complete with research or statistics/numbers to show positive results.

The Ask: What is the call to action or solution?

KEY TAKE AWAYS These will become are key messages so what do you want them to remember about your visit.

LEAVE BEHIND

Don't forget to always leave something with them -- a folder, brochure, fact sheet etc. and then don't forget to follow up with them after your meeting.

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Telling Your Story to Legislators

Media at Capitol You know how local, state and federal policies impact the day-to-day life of your program, association or company than any member of Congress, the legislature or city council, so many elected officials need you to help them understand the issues, establish a connection and work collectively to find solutions. When we have the opportunity to talk with your Mayor, Member of Congress, State Representative or State Senator, we have to be sure to tell the stories that are going to make the most sense to them and encourage them to act if that is an appropriate next step.

Ideally, you would establish relationships with lawmakers long before you ever need them. This could be due to your involvement in the community, a pre-existing relationship from school, through your children and their activities, based on meetings where you have invited them to tour your business or their political advocacy or attending fundraisers and other events.

Regardless of when you meet them, you still need to know your story and the messages you wish to convey. Here are 3 tips to telling your story to legislators:

1. Share the Strongest Message

  • Share a couple of stories about your program.
  • Thank him/her for past and ongoing support.
  • Let them know what they can do this year.

You may find yourself meeting with a legislator or staffer who offers that they are connected in someway to your organization or issue.  Seize that link and deepen the connection.  However, in many other instances, they may not be familiar with your organization or issue. This is your chance to advise the member on the vital issues in your industry.

  • Start with the basics of what you do and who you serve; and,
  • Why you need their support or leadership.

2. Tell the stories that are relevant, newsworthy and tied to a larger agenda so that they the lawmakers are more likely to seize it as their issue

  • Find out as much as you can about your Senator and Representative.
  • Quantify the impact your organization and issue has on the economy, in the community and around the industry.
  • Localize the issue so that they can see the connection/impact in their district
  • If they don’t seem to support your issue, don’t argue with them. Work to just disagree, focus on what you can agree on and move on.
  • Use the meeting opportunity to be conversational, and get to know one another. Convey that you can be a friendly resource any time.
  • Think about what you want to bring to the meeting:  A Fact Sheet on the organization and issue, key contacts, annual report, latest newsletter, media clips, key contacts etc.

3. You are the expert!

Most of the time, legislators want to know the basics. So what may seem basic to you is information they are hearing for the first time.

And just relax. They may be elected officials with ornate offices (at least some of them), they are still people that you elected. They could even live in your neighborhood.

Visit us later this week to find a template to CRAFTING YOUR STORY.

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A New Way Forward & A Consensus Approach to Public Policy

The honeymoon is over. The dust has already settled on the President’s Inaugural Address and the State of the State for many Governors. The Mayors have returned from their winter conference and special interests already staked out their positions on legislative agenda’s across America. Over the next legislative cycle, what issues will be tackled, which ones will be resolved and which issues will our government leaders punt to the next session will depend in large part to how well our legislators can get along.

We elected our leaders to represent a common mission not a party platform. Yet in legislating, most often it is politics that trump sound public policy.

It is time to shift how government decisions are made and for our elected leaders to find:

a new way forward while seeking consensus instead of controversy.

It is time our leaders lead us forward, not back. This starts by reframing the problems plaguing our state or nation in a way that each side could identify with. Once we find a connection to an issue, we are most likely to work hard at finding a resolution. In doing so it is hard to look beyond the politics, but as long as we can agree to concepts and work to make small steps towards building or rebuilding trust in finding a common agenda, our lawmakers can eventually find common ground and those difficult issues, the ones that kept getting put off or “re-authorized,” will move off the agenda so we can focus on the next great challenge.

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Elections are about change, Public Affairs helps manage the risk during that change

Elections are about change. In fact, Change is what President Barack Obama campaigned on four-years ago and won. And change is at the core an effective public affairs strategy. Public affairs professionals help companies and individuals navigate the changing landscape in capitals across the world, and help them better understand the politics, the personalities and the policies that affect their industry, company, employees and other key stakeholders. For example, what will a new administration mean for your business?  Will the leadership in a new Congress provide a Third Way, or does that new committee chair have priorities counter to my industry?

Public affairs professionals help CEOs understand the dynamics of governments in transition and help them build relationships with key decisions-makers who will have an impact on their business goals.

Public affairs professionals, also help companies manage risk -- Political risk and risks to their reputation in a constantly changing legislative and regulatory environment. You just never know who will get elected and who will sit in leadership positions. So you should know who these folks are and proactively work to develop meaningful relationships with them, should you ever need their help in the future.

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PR Lessons from Obama, Romney and other political candidates

With the political conventions upon us, to nominate candidates for President of the United States, and the slew of campaign commercials set to convince voters who to support, we should remember these lessons in marketing, that the candidates teach us, each year:

  • Stay on message.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, but remember who you are talking to and who is listening.
  • Empower your stakeholders to do something each time you engage them.
  • Guard your reputation, in the end, it is all you have.
  • Build a brand in way that resonates across generations and parties. Voters are like shoppers, many vote/buy on impulse once they are in the voting booth.
  • Create trust before you need it.
  • Budget accordingly – issues, media relations, messaging and research staffing can be expensive in politics and in the business arena.
  • To build trust – Convey credibility through a vision, mission and values, early and often.

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Who can help Detroit and Michigan Find Resolution Throughout all the Chaos?

I am extremely frustrated by how partisan politics has become. In talking with lobbyists and lawmakers about the good old days of lawmaking, in both Washington and Lansing, it used to be that during the day, legislators would fight like crazy for their issues, they would debate and argue for what they thought was right and in the best interest of the people. And after a hard days work, they would shake hands and grab a drink or have dinner. In fact that model still works in various Parliaments, including the EU in Brussels. Not today and not in America. In the Michigan Legislature you are lucky if they know each others name. In Washington, Members of Congress take their cues from their party leadership and everyone points fingers at the other person to say why they are not making progress. And that is in a non-election year.

So in Washington, you have a highway transportation bill that expired a few years ago that still has not been authorized -- only extended for two years. The education bill also expired and has not been authorized, leaving a generation behind instead of "no child," punctuated by an election year that brings little hope of progress to a bitter end, at least and until sometime next year.

In Lansing and Detroit we are still discussing bridges and transit. In fact, in 1976, President Gerald Ford offered funds to build a rail transit system in southeast Michigan. Instead, we just got the People Mover and today, we are still talking about the need for regional transportation.

Today, there is a lack of progress in moving forward on the difficult decisions that affect our nation and impact our state. Some would call it an impasse while others just chalk it up to politics. However, these are issues that can be resolved and resolved in a way that preserves the relationships, maintains the political differences and helps move the agenda forward collectively.

The use of ADR processes by the courts and federal government has been widely celebrated as a more efficient and cost effective method of conflict resolution. Mediation is a voluntary, confidential process in which a trained, impartial mediator helps people examine their mutual problems, identify and consider options and carefully consider possible resolutions. A mediator has the experience to bring disputing parties together and help them draw out a successful resolution while preventing an impasse during the negotiations, or otherwise prevent the discussions from breaking down. Unlike a judge or arbitrator, a mediator does not make the decisions nor do they offer solutions. They help separate the politics from the process, help the parties find a common ground, build trust and identify potential solutions to agree on.

Public policy dispute resolution focuses on the resolution of issues affecting the public, such as: Transportation; land use, special education, election districts and healthcare. With public policy disputes, the issues tend to be a bit more polarizing, emotional and there are often a number of stakeholders from the community, including non-profits and business groups, and governments at a local, state and federal level.

Whether it is a public policy dispute or a dispute between neighbors, the goal of public any dispute resolution is to save money, preserve relationships and take control over the decisions. When it involves a public policy dispute, it is helpful and most effective if it creates the opportunity for all voices to be heard. It is a process being used in the planning process of multiple projects, including economic development projects in Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City Utah.

In any mediation, the first step in the mediation process is to get both parties to agree to use a mediator. That is actually the first agreement both parties make together and we are on the way to developing trust and building a relationship.

While many states have dispute resolution clauses in key legislation or dispute resolution centers at universities, the State of Michigan does not. The ADR Section to the State Bar of Michigan, continues to talk with universities about creating a "Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution Services," and continues to talk with legislators. However, since no university has yet to step forward in creating such a center, in part due to funding, The ADR Section is trying to show by example, the benefits of ADR.

The National Policy Consensus Center has found that legislators are becoming problem solvers, facilitators and conveners of issues vital to their state. Yet in Detroit and throughout the State of Michigan, we still cannot accomplish enough to move the state forward. It is time to rebuild and repair relationships in the City of Detroit and throughout the State of Michigan. It is time the people we elected to lead our government and help move it forward. It is time that they ask for someone, or a team of neutrals to step in and help find resolution throughout all the chaos.

Policymakers can avoid making difficult decisions on controversial issues by creating a process by which public policy disputes can be resolved. Through a facilitated consensual process, issues such as consent agreements, transit, new infrastructure projects, transit and councils-by-district can be avoided and we can all move on to other issues to help our city, state and nation move forward.

If we just talked earlier and learned about the real issues underlying the bigger ones, than perhaps today, we would be talking more about basketball instead about a bridge, debt ceilings, transit or a consent agreement. It is time we brought in neutrals to help resolve the bigger issues plaguing our nation.

About Daniel Cherrin

Daniel is a public relations + affairs executive who just happens to be a lawyer. Cherrin also is a certified, SCAO-trained mediator. He served as the Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary to former Detroit Mayor, Kenneth V. Cockrel. He also has served as spokesperson for an 1800 MW off shore wind farm in Southwestern Ontario and also for Mackinac Island. He also led efforts to support a deep injection well in Romulus, Mich. He currently serves as a spokesperson for The Ann Arbor Art Fair and advises a number of clients through a variety of crises, B2B marketing, brand development and lobbying. This includes the Detroit Windsor Tunnel, Detroit Wayne County Port Authority, City of Windsor, ONT, Grand River and Mentor Ohio (on a proposed Lake Erie ferry project between Ohio and Ontario), Cassidy Turley, Vistage International and Guardian Industries among others. For more information, see http://fraserlawfirm.com/ourlawyers/lawyers/profile/daniel_j_cherrin.

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Managing Political Risk in an Election Year

There are some things we can control and others we cannot. But we are all susceptible to risk. Some are natural, like the Tsunami that ravaged the pacific, the Quake that destroyed Japan or the Tornado that ripped through the south. Others are economic, such as the credit crises or the recession.  While others are political. While we may not know when we will be hit by a crisis, we can plan and prepare for them by monitoring the news, engaging our business, political and economic leaders, meeting with our employees and vendors on a regular basis and talking to others to  see where are vulnerable. With 2011 now behind us, we need only look forward, yet a new year brings new crises. In fact, on January 3, Iowa voters will turn out to support their candidates for the GOP Presidential nomination and so beings a year of extreme political risks. Candidates will say anything to win a vote, promise to make key decisions without the advise and consent of a Congress, while we have a Congress that will delay important issues only as to avoid any political fall out, leaving the issue yet again for another day. As business owners, we need to be mindful of the politics behind the policy, the issues behind the people and the issues that affect our bottom-line and ability to build a sustainable company. It is our job as business owners to ask the candidates the difficult questions about job creation, business development, creating a sustainable economy, long term solutions over short-term fixes and holding those that we elect or that are elected, accountable for improving our economy.

However, with all these uncertainties, it is important to identify and asses risk across the country. Public affairs plays a vital role in identifying, managing and avoiding risks.  Public Affairs professionals can spot risks that may be overlooked. They are familiar with the big picture, know the politics behind the issues and the key influences behind them. Public affairs professionals are able to offer a company a broad view as to how they fit or could fit into the big picture and where risks may exist now or down the line, so companies a can better prepare and plan.

They can also communicate the companies key messages to key decision-leaders and influencers in the political sphere, as well as to the public through the media. Companies can mitigate risks by improving stakeholder-relations with government leaders and through community engagement. Risks can emerge whenever decisions are made.

A New Year and an election year is the perfect opportunity and excuse to become more engaged in the political process, and develop deeper relationships with the candidates or elected officials. It will help a company protect and enahnce their reputation in the media and before the public, while raising awareness for the products or services it provides. To begin, we suggest:

  • Building relationships before you need them
  • Monitoring legislative, regulatory and political action
  • Attend fundraisers for candidates you support -- not to win influence but to develop relationships and expand your network
  • Talk openly about the issues that matter to you personally and to your company
  • Invite candidates to visit you in your office or plant to see first hand the work you do, the jobs you create and the benefits you provide to the community

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What's On Congress' Agenda in 2012?

When Congress returns to work on January 17 after their winter recess, they will return to the agenda they left before the end of the year. This includes focusing on tax policies, EPA regulations, deficit reduction strategies, jobs and the economy.  Nothing new to this agenda fromt he past several Congresses, but now 2012 begins the election season in earnest with the first election (okay caucus) on January 3rd in Iowa and New Hampshire Primary on January 1o. As the campaigns focus on the caucuses and primaries, so too will the rhetoric as the GOP candidates continue to battle for the nomination. Candidates will focus on spending cuts, deficit reduction plans, smaller government, fiscal responsibility and other issues that will lead to new jobs.

While the candidates talk politics, Members of Congress (who also are up for re-election) will talk policy. Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, for example, will focus on overhauling the nation's tax policy, and linking tax policy with job creation efforts. The income tax rates established in the George W. Bush Administration, for example, will expire at the end of 2012. It is the goal of Camp's committee to keep those tax cuts in place.

On Energy & Commerce, another Congressman from Michigan, U.S Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) will look at the FDA and how it regulates food and pharmaceuticals. In addition, Rep. Upton wants to remove the "road blacks" in place to energy devleopment.

Other issues Congress must tackle this year (or just pass an extension which is punting the issue) include the expiring aviation and highway surface transportation bills which expire in January and March, respectively, as well as education reform.

So as Congress begins to tackle an election year agenda it is important for their constituents to keep them accountable and remain focused on getting our country back on track economically, while preserving and protecting our democratic system.

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Winning Again – What Business Wants in 2012

Today’s economy is constantly in flux and despite the advances in technology, we seem to be living in very unstable times. A faltering economy, uncertainty with the markets, a lack of consensus in Congress and among many state legislators, and a lack of funding from the federal and state government where local government can no longer obtain the money they need to provide standard municipal services . While the price of gas continues to fluctuate, unemployment continues to gain.  Although property values in some communities are starting to come back, economic uncertainty continues to grow.  Overal political uncertainty reins as gridlock and political in fighting continue such important issues as tax reform, health care, education, deficit reduction and more.  

There is a leadership vacuum in Washington and in a number of state legislators to provide any direction or resolution to these lingering issue.  There is also a split in the business community.

  • Some want government help with rising health care costs, while others do not.
  • Some want more action on global warming while others do not.

Yet we all agree that something needs to change in order for the economy to improve, sales to increase and jobs to be back in demand.  In fact, where most if not all business folks agree is that they want more jobs and greater certainty in conducting business, as well as for the government to get their act together.

The business sector also want:

  • Tax credits and specfically tax credits for R&D; and,
  • Increased visas for high tech workers to supply a workforce with a skills gap.

At the same time the business community seeks a government that invests in education and finding ways to educate our children in areas that will advance America’s economy.

The business community also wants a government that they can partner with to help move the economy forward. But business does not want to be in a partnership with a government that has a growing deficit with no plan to get out and a government that is not as transparent as it should be.  As we look to end another year, with a potentially devisive election, it is important for all candidates to agree on the big picture as to where they want this country to be one year from now.

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We Have The Responsibility to Watch Out For Each Other, Don’t we?

By Daniel Cherrin*This article originally appeared in the October 6, 2011 issue of The Detroit Jewish News.  

With the 2012 Presidential campaign well underway, and the field of candidates becoming a bit more clearer in the new Congressional and legislative districts, it is now your opportunity to get to know the candidates. In fact, with new districts, now is the perfect time to reach out and introduce yourself to them.

Just Ask! In campaigns, candidates want to raise money to advertise and get-out-the-vote, as much as they want to meet with voters and establish a connection with them.  Elections are therefore your chance to talk to candidates directly about your concerns and solutions. So engage them in a discussion. In fact, invite them into your home, plant, store or office to see first hand what you do. Our elected officials are approachable and they should take the time to meet with you one-on-one – All you have to do is ask.

How do you vote? With no single issue galvanizing our community, other than Israel, it is difficult to rely on the Jewish Community as a voting block. In fact, our community is getting more and more divided as Democrats and Republicans, which actually strengthens are importance as a voter. Just look at the recent special election in Brooklyn as an example, where a Republican beat a Democrat for the first time in decades, on the issue of Israel alone.

Yet there are still some that know nothing about the candidates on the election ballot, but if there name sounds Jewish or they look presidential, they will vote for them.  In an election as important as the one next year will be, it is important to know the issues that are important to you and what the candidates tell you about this issues. So take the time now to react to what you read in the paper and see if there is something there that will turn you into an advocate for that issue or cause and have something to talk to candidates about.

Reflection and finding the way forward

With the High Holidays now upon us, now, more than ever, is the perfect time to reflect on the past year and look forward to the next. In synagogues and temples across this country, we will hear about Tikun Olam (repairing the world), Tzedakah (charity) and Klal yisrael (all of Israel).

As we reflect on the past year, we really need to take a deeper look at our community and its role in serving the larger community, throughout history. Our service to the public is and was not by choice, it is an obligation -- A Jewish obligation rich with tradition.  All Jews are responsible for one another. On Yom Kippur, for example, we do not ask G-D for our forgiveness, we ask G-D to forgive everyone. Whether we know them or not, whether we like them or don’t, agree with them or not, we have an obligation to look out for each other, to support our neighbor and to be involved in our community.

Yet lately, we have become comfortable in our own community and with our lives.  We as a community do not venture far beyond our home. We rarely stand shoulder-to-shoulder with others for the common good anymore and it is rare still that we have an open door to our elected representatives.

Today, it is vital that we keep that tradition of community engagement and political involvement as pillars of our community. Today, it is even more important that we get engaged, become more vocal, become visible and demand accountability for the principles and values we, as a community stand for. It is time that we re-establish relationships with the candidates running for office and those that are elected, to be a trusted resource to them, as should be to us.

Know what you believe in Before you become involved, however, first, you have to know who you are, what you believe in, and where you stand. Do you agree more with the Republicans, Democrats, or Tea Party, or are you truly independent.

Once we know who we are and what we stand for, we as a community and individually need to take the time to meet the candidates and our newly elected officials, invite them into our homes and share with them our suggestions for creating a stronger future, not just for the Jewish community, but the larger community as well.

The Jewish people have an obligation to make this world a better place.  We can start right here in our community and in Southeastern Michigan. Contact the candidates and meet with them, attend their events such as town hall meetings or fundraisers. Share with them your interests, issues, concerns and solutions. Most importantly, take the time to figure out who they are, what they have accomplished and where they want to take us as our representatives. I hope you will stand with me, get to know the candidates and your elected leaders and become a voice for the issues you believe in.

Daniel Cherrin, a father of three students at Hillel Day School, is an attorney, mediator, public relations executive and lobbyist with Fraser Trebilcock in Detroit and Lansing. 

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Cutting through the clutter

This week marked the official kickoff of the 2012 Presidential Election. From now until August 2012, we will be bombarded with candidates announcing their candidacy, being critical of each others policies and otherwise complicating the issues that are now before Congress. This already in an age where we are bombarded with information. So much information that we just don't know what to believe. WorldPublicOpinion.org, a project based at the University of Maryland, conducted a study that found "strong evidence that voters were substanitally misinformed on many of the issues prominent in the (2010) election campaign."

Congressional Quarterly featured this issue in this week's edition of CQ Weekly. Despite having access to a lot of information, what this study and a recent CNN-Opinion Research survey found was that there is still a knowledge gap of how much we know what goes on in government and how it impacts our lives. In fact, according to the survey, we do not have a clue about which level of government (local, state or federal) does what and for whom. In fact, according to the CQ article, "President's get blamed for local problems, mayors for national problems." In fact, I would get calls almost every week from Detroitiers when I was the Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary to former Mayor Kenneth Cockrel, Jr.  about issues out of the realm of local government. Also, as a  intern for William D. Ford (Ann Arbor) in the 1990's, I would get calls from constituents wanting their street lights fixed.

So as we being a new election cycle, it is important to know what issues are important to you and who is responsible for those issues at either a local, state or federal level. It also is important to reach out to those people and offer your opinion and solution.

In addition, it will benefit you to have a relationship with those individuals so that you can help shape public policy. Retaining a lobbyist or someone who has the connections can prove to be beneficial to you as an individual or as a business. Lobbyists not only know the people involved, they know their personalities and politics surrounding issues. They not only know the policies, they also know the process and can help you navigate above and beyond the rhetoric, to help you achieve your business objectives.

For more information, please contact Daniel Cherrin at dcherrin@fraserlawfirm.comor visit www.fraserlawfirm.com.

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Focus remains on job creation

Just as our children return to school to acquire the skills, knowledge and experience to enter the job market, so to does Congress and state legislatures return to work to create the environment to stimulate job growth. The Federal Agenda In Washington, Congress returns to an agenda that will focus on the "deficit debate," that Democrats will insist must also include measures to create jobs.  According to Congressional Quarterly, "Democrats, especially in the House, are pushing for theJoint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to include jobs initiatives in the legislation that the panel is directed to produce by Nov. 23. Republicans are likely to oppose such proposals, particularly if the cost would add to the federal government’s $14 trillion debt." In fact, Rep. John Larson (D-Conn) has a bill to expand the panel's mandate to include jobs.

The 12-member bipartisan panel, created by the debt limit increase law (PL 112-25), is charged with finding ways to trim the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over a decade. The committee is also free to seek additional savings. The committee is already limited with already established discretionary spending caps and as a result, are expected to focus on finding additional reductions through savings in entitlement programs (ex. Medicare, Medicaid) and tax changes. They will have their first meeting on September 8, the same day the President will speak to Congress laying out the Administration's jobs plan.  They have until January 15 to enact at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, or across-the-board spending cuts will be triggered.

Congress also will consider a number of regulatory changes to stimulate jobs and reduce the regulatory hurdles of doing business. In fact, in August, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) sent a memo on what those changes will be. The President outlined 7 regulatory changes he wants, including 4 EPA rules and 3 transportation rules.  This includes:

  • A delayed EPA rule restrictions hazardous emissions by coal- and oil-fired electric utility steam generators, at $10 billion.
  • New emissions standards for emissions by major industrial and commercial boilers, $3 billion.
  • Standards for disposal of coal ash from power plants, $0.6 billion to $1.5 billion.
  • New vehicle safety regulations for rear view mirrors, $2 billion.
  • Electronic on-board recorders and documents for supporting restrictions on the hours that commercial truck drivers can operate their vehicles, $2 billion.
  • New hours of service rules for commercial truck drivers, $1 billion.

Republicans are focused on changing some labor regulations Finally Congress will try to work on a few bills dealing with transportation and infrastrucutre, extensions of the Federal Aviation Administration and surface transportation programs. The FAA authroization was quickly extended before Congress left for the summer until September 16 and it seems likely will be extended again as Congress will not have enough time to consider something else. A sticking point in the authorization deals with the right of airline and railroad workers to unionize. Also, subsidies to airlines flying into small airports remain a concern. If Congress fails to act, we can expenct som shutdowns of non-essential government workers at airports, as well as a number of key construction projects put on hold.

As for any movement on projects, the current extension expires September 30 and neither chamber has a bill. As a result, states will not be reimbursed for varous highway and transit projects and some may even suspend the work completely.

Other issues Congress will focus on this Fall, include:

  • Alternative Minimum Tax - if current exemptions expire at the end of this year, many middle and upper-middle class tax payers will see their taxes rise.
  • Defense Authorization - There are a number of questions lingering with the Defense Authorization bill which the Senate still has not acted upon, including: pay for our soldiers, potential upgrades for tanks, tirals for terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay, potential updates to use of military force and alternatives for the F-35 engine.
  • Doc Reimbursements - Doctors who take medicare patients are scheduled to have their reimbursement rates cuts unless Congress fixes it and fixes it for the long term... not another short term fix. Unless fixes, physicians may choose not to treat Medicare patients.
  • Education Left Behind - Despite some action on re-authorizing education policy in this country, the law (PL 107-110) expired four years ago, with no measures emerging yet in the Senate. If Congress fails to act on implementing new education policies, states will be forced to have all their students be 100 percent proficient in math and reading by 2014 under the existing law or their schools will be labeled failures and be forced to undergo costly restructuring unless the state receives a waiver from the Secretary of Education.
  • Payroll Tax Deductions - Payroll tax for Social Secrutity was reduced for employees with the employer half unchanged. Self-employed individuals also were reduceted. Unless changed, the employee half of the Social Security Tax will increase from 4.2 percent to 6.2.
  • Taxes - Some tax breaks extended under a 2010 tax law expire at the end of this year. This includes tax breaks for R&D.
  • Trade - Congress has yet to approve trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. The issue is how to help American workers displaced by trade. Look out for a new trade agreement between Canada and the EU and how we can take advantage of that in Michigan.

Jobs Debate

While there is agreement between Democrats and Republicans that economic growth and job creation are crucial issues to move forward on, the government's role in that effort is up for debate.  The Democrats want new programs or tax breaks to promote growth while Republicans want regulatory changes and reduce tax burdens on business.

If you can think of any changes to the tax code or ways to improve existing regulations, please comment at the end of this blog or contact us at www.fraserlawfirm.com.  This post also appeared on Fraser Trebilcock's Blog.

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