Politics has a way of casting shadows upon word definitions. "Lobby" is a prime casualty, having all but lost any meaning as legitimate activity in government or business.
Nathaniel Hawthorne observed in the 1860s that "the Willard Hotel more justly could be called the center of Washington, D.C., than either the Capitol, the White House or the State Department." According to the National Registry of Historic Places, the lobby at the Willard, as one story goes, was the gathering place where President Ulysses Grant held court while sharing a bottle of port.
I always assumed that "lobby" was the hallway to congressional, state or local buildings that spelled initial access to the influence and power of special interests.
Most of my lobbying efforts are grassroots, emanating from good causes energized by public concern. We can attest to the fact that these missions are worth the time and effort and that they produce results in very critical areas of concern to our local community.
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There is an expectation that the folks we elect to Washington or Tallahassee should know and act on every citizen concern. Even the most dedicated and capable do not know or understand all our special needs.
The art of honest persuasion opens doors to great possibilities, witnessed by the fact that our newly elected congressman, Vern Buchanan, met with citizens and toured the Wares Creek area. His in-depth knowledge and words of support added to that vast reservoir of hope we have treasured over the past 25 years.
On March 5, 1996, I appeared before the U.S. House subcommittee on energy and water appropriations: "Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing me to testify on behalf of Manatee County, Florida, in support of the Wares Creek Flood Control project." I went on to explain the geography and hydrology of Wares/Cedar Hammock basin, the hazardous impact flooding has had and will continue to have in and around this six-square-mile area, and the many players involved in this major public works project.
The city, county, state, Army Corps of Engineers, water management district, Basin Board, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Florida Department of Environmental Protection are all stakeholders. Ultimately, we were on the map for congressional authorization and appropriation and were recognized as having a national application as a preventive measure affecting the disaster relief budget.
But 11 years have passed as we breathlessly track "earmarks" - which means hanging on to funding each budget year as the many parts of this award-winning public endeavor come together - buying right-of-way, finding disposal areas and synchronizing agency timetables.
Yes, Wares Creek has been long and laborious work, but good lobbying by and for our citizens helps shape our vision and priorities and establishes trust in entities working together on behalf of such examples as public safety, conservation, child protection and, in this case, flood control. Think of the Katrina disaster and what a corps of determined folks might have prevented.
We learn from each other across seemingly insurmountable barriers. We show our legislators that we can help move mountains.
Political definitions only twist and turn when we stray from the straight and narrow path.
Pat Glass, just-retired from political office after almost three decades as Manatee County commissioner, writes every Wednesday to Herald readers about key issues and concerns with her unique insights. To reach her write to her c/o Bradenton Herald Metro Desk, 102 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, FL 34205.
Citizen at Large
Find previous columns by Pat Glass in the Special Coverage area of our Web site.