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18 | JANUARY 18, 2018
Behold the progressive advocate, the un-retirable woman, the taxcutter and the bottom feeder! By Ray Howze firstname.lastname@example.org @rayhowze1 he state’s legislative session is right around the corner. Legislators will do their usual thing—propose bills, pass new ones and stall others—and you will likely hear about it if you’re following along in the news or on social media. For 45 days, you can find out a lot of what your elected leaders are doing day-to-day. That’s the easy part. But what about others roaming the Capitol for those 45 days? Yes, those people who don’t have a paneled office, who have to wear name tags and who file around talking to a representative here and a senator there. Lobbyists. Sometimes regarded as the elephant in the room, they’re the ones who have the ears of legislators and, sometimes, influence their decision making. Heck, with 104 elected legislators, the more than 400 registered lobbyists outnumber them by more than 4 to 1. So who’s really running the show up there? City Weekly spoke with a few lobbyists, past and present, about what they’re up to.
Claire Geddes’ name likely still brings chills to some legislators. Geddes, a longtime citizen lobbyist throughout the 1990s and 2000s, was usually seen at the Capitol during the regular session pestering legislators about whatever latest form of “bad government” (a bad bill), in her words, was working its way through the halls. While still involved in some bills here and there today, such as the debate over rooftop solar subsidies, Geddes, who says she’s retired “at least four times,” says what she did day in and day out during the session can still be done today. You just have to be strong in what you’re saying, she says, and don’t let power intimidate you. Geddes would usually spend her mornings appearing on radio shows telling the public about what was going on at the Capitol. Then she’d spend the rest of the day talking to legislators and speaking at hearings. All on her own dime. “Half the time they wouldn’t let you talk in a meeting,” Geddes says. “The whole secret is holding [legislator’s] feet to the fire because you’re so disadvantaged being a citizen lobbyist, you don’t have gifts to give them. That’s where [legislators] get the money to run—from all these corporate lobbyists.” Geddes, who formerly chaired United We Stand and Common Cause, says she remembers times legislators wouldn’t listen to her about a bill or what needed to be changed in a bill. She and others would then hold news conferences and talk to news media and, sure enough, she says, legislators would start to come around. While she wasn’t your typical corporate-backed lobbyist, Geddes says she did it to hold those in power accountable and to inform the public. “It’s important you be concise,” Geddes says about lobbying. “It’s a sick system up at the Legislature. They come up with like 1,000 bills and pass 700-800 of them, maybe. And they do that in 33 [working] days? There’s no way. That’s why they depend on these corporate lobbyists. The one constant is always lobbyists.”
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Chase Thomas’ name might emerge in a number of causes throughout the year. Thomas works as policy and advocacy counsel for Alliance for a Better Utah, which recently, delivered a petition to the Utah County Commission calling on embattled Commissioner Greg Graves to resign. Unlike some lobbyists, Thomas and others with Alliance for a Better Utah aren’t on Capitol Hill telling legislators to vote one way or another, but are there to “advocate for balance in government and transparency,” he says. “We primarily try to communicate with the public about good policy and making sure the public knows what the balanced positions are and what they can do to help …” Thomas says. “We’re not going to legislators and telling them to vote for this bill or that bill. “We’re just really going to them and getting their positions on those bills and then communicating that to the public.” So don’t call Alliance for a Better Utah a lobbying group, Thomas cautions. The alliance prefers the term “progressive advocacy group.” One reason is the alliance’s work is not done during 45 days a year. They’re involved in things year-round, such as the Graves petition. When the session does start, though, Thomas will be up there throughout. As for this session, Thomas says the alliance is looking to support any bills that increase “shared prosperity for all Utahns— anything that increases access to affordable health care” as well as any bill that raises the minimum wage (which was tabled last year), to name a few.
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