Extremely important legislation passed the NJ Senate and Assembly today with nary an objection from either party. The bill privatizes NJ's site remediation program (and we have a lot of sites to remediate) by handing the oversight of toxic site cleanups to private professionals hired and paid for by the polluters themselves. The Department of Environmental Protection used to oversee site remediation, but it has had its staff cut so many times and been so underfunded that the task is impossible.
"But Kerry," you inquire, "Isn't NJ broke? Like really broke? Like broke-ass California broke? How could the DEP be funded?"
I'm so glad you asked. Believe it or not, the state of NJ has rules. Apparently, when a polluter breaks those rules, they get a fine. Unfortunately, we don't do a very good job of making sure that the polluters actually pay their fines, but if we did, we could fund our DEP. Cool, right? It sounded cool to the vast majority of Jerseyans I have talked to.
KPd.: "We have a reputation as a place to dump things without getting in trouble... Like bodies. Please write a letter to your state legislators."
So, after thousands of letters, emails, and phone calls to Trenton, the bill came up for a vote today. Our lobbyist recruited some canvassers to come down and help him... well... lobby... so we did.
Lobby days are hilarious and crazy and at the end of the day you always wonder, "Did we accomplish anything?" but our lobbyist has assured us that when the canvassers storm the hallways of the State House, legislators take notice. They know we are with him and they know that we are relatively young and they know that we have not a clue what we are doing or where we are walking. Apparently, that warms their hearts and other lobbyists will approach him to complement his personal army when they all hang out at the State House cafeteria.
So, here is how lobbying works:
1) You need a legislative face book. Legislators don't want just any citizen to know who they are. They certainly don't wear name tags. Fortunately, you can pick up a complementary copy of a book of faces and names to help you spot legislators in a crowd. It's like a field guide.
2) You need a map. NJ's State House is conveniently split into The State House, the Annex, and the "South Wing" (which I don't think was real, but whenever we asked someone for directions they would say, "oh, you're in the South Wing, you *want* to be in the Annex" in a very condescending way). The laws of physics in the State House work a lot like the way they work in Donkey Kong. No matter which direction you walk, you end up in the basement of the Annex next to an elevator that only goes... for serious... down to the sub basement. There is a sign that reads, "For additional floors, use the lobby elevator." Where the fuck is the lobby?!
3) You need to spot a legislator. Legislators do not wear name tags (even though they would be waaaaay cheaper to produce than thousands of legislative face books). That is because they only want professional lobbyists to find them. The strategy for amateur lobbyists is to park yourself outside of a room that you know a particular legislator is hiding in... kind of like hiding in a bird blind. Whenever a person comes out of the room, you look to see if they are wearing a "visitor" badge. If not, they are either a legislator (!) or an aide (oops). Once you ascertain their legislatoryness, you quickly flip through the 120 faces in the face book. Much like the game Guess Who, it helps if they have a distinguishing feature like say... they're a woman... or...they're black. That narrows it down a lot. I bet black female legislators get approached by amateur lobbyists way more frequently than the Italian white men (who make up approximately all of the NJ legislature).
4) You need to be the fastest amateur lobbyist. Once you have successfully found the right room, spotted a legislator, and identified him or her, you must beat the other six people with face books to your 60 seconds of face time. Today, we were competing with gas station attendants, bow hunters, a ton of union employees, twenty-odd fire chiefs, and several Catholic schools. Obviously, in addition to our site remediation bill, they voted on other important things including two (2!!) bow hunting bills.
5) Oh, also, every Grand Marshall from every St. Patrick's Day parade in NJ was there to be... I think... certified...? Maybe? This resulted in several parades WITH bagpipers IN the hallways. So, to recap, after locating the correct building, finding a legislator, identifying him or her, beating the bow-armed gas station attendants to said legislator, and finally beginning the 60 second conversation you worked so hard for... a bagpipe parade passes by. I don't know if you have ever heard bagpipers indoors, but I'll just say they effectively end any conversation.
I did lobby and was lobbied by several other amateur lobbyists. I met a few State Senators and got my few moments of face time. I peed in the Assembly Democrats' caucus lounge. We lost our vote like a billion to 3.
The canvassers lobbied one of those three.
I heard he would have voted the right way anyhoo, but I'd like to think we helped.