Legislative network prepares for session

by Stacy Jo

Take a Reform Party governor, add a dash of a bi-partisan politics and a pinch of previous legislative reapings, and you’ll have the mix for the 1999 legislative session.
It’s not exactly the ideal recipe for University success at the Legislature this year. But those odds are not stopping anyone; in fact, many seem intrigued by the challenge.
One hundred seventy-five members of the “legislative network” — people in the University’s alumni association who lobby the Legislature for University funding — gathered in the Cowles Auditorium of the Hubert H. Humphrey Center on Wednesday evening with one task in mind: gearing up to once again ask the Legislature for University funding.
While still patting each other on the back for last year’s $200 million budget windfall that landed in the University’s collective lap, members are approaching the task at hand — asking the Legislature for $1.28 billion for the next two years — with a more critical perspective. Not only is the legislative focus altered in light of the competing partisan interests at the Capitol, but the focus of the request itself significantly differs from last year’s.
“They have to really sell this message to the Legislature this year, because there are a lot of competing interests,” said Rondi Erickson, association member and 1969 University graduate. “And while last year (the request) was for buildings, this year it’s for people.”
The request solicits funds centering around five themes: competitive compensation for University faculty, enriching the undergraduate experience, financing health professional education, connecting the University to surrounding communities and improving technology and physical surroundings.
The University is using last year’s request to build and renovate campus buildings.
Members said they realize that riding on the coattails of last year’s overwhelming financial success is not an option.
“The reshuffling of the deck at the Legislature means that no one can take anything for granted,” Erickson said.
Members advocate unwavering and consistent efforts to promote the University’s cause to legislators. When contending with competing interests, members said sticking to the central message — that the University is a worthy recipient of state funds — provides the most effective lobbying tactic.
“When we stay at that level, it transcends partisan politics,” said Dan Erkkila, alumni association member and co-chair of the University Issues and Legislative Committee.
Erkkila took that message to heart last year. He began discussing the University’s budget request with his legislator upon routinely encountering him in the shower and sauna at his nearby YMCA.
“It’s hard for your legislator to run away from you when all he’s got is his underwear on,” Erkkila said.
The request will be submitted to the Legislature by Feb. 16.