I’m asked often what a lobbyist does. After this past session, I’ve been asked a lot about the ever-changing dynamics of legislation, the constant wondering of where a bill stands in the process. The truth is, even those standing in the middle of the hallways day-in and day-out have to track down those very answers, but like many things in life, it is the reaction to what you learn that can make the difference. This past session was not an exception, and in fact, deserves an exclamation point after that statement. The best analogy I can think of is standing in the middle of a storm, or in this case, maybe a tornado.
Before session started, the weather forecast for Terre Haute’s odds on the gaming bill was cloudy with a chance of rain, but nevertheless, we started preparing to wade the waters and survive the storm with sunshine on the horizon. Thanks to the efforts of the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, the “Terre Haute is All In” campaign included a wide-breadth of educational materials equipped with economic data inspiring to those that knew Terre Haute could not only use a shot in the arm, but was also well-positioned next to the Illinois border to boost Indiana’s gaming economy. In addition, over thirty support letters flooded the campaign organizers from city and county officials to public safety professionals to union labor groups, prepared to support the efforts and work together to bring this opportunity to Terre Haute.
The journey included hearings in the Senate in front of Public Policy and Appropriations, and two additional votes on the Senate floor; hearings in the House in front of Public Policy and Ways and Means, and two additional votes on the House floor; a conference committee hearing; signatures on the conference committee report; Senate Rules Committee; House Rules Committee; then back to both floors for final votes on the conference committee report. Every day, every step provided new challenges. Was the next turn going to bring sunshine or hail damage?
The best moments included the community coming together. At every turn, the people of Terre Haute were willing to help. Some made the drive five and six times, often last minute and with little warning. Due to the rapid change in the radar, sometimes watches became warnings in a very short window. A highlight was the bus that arrived at the front doors of the Statehouse with over 50 Terre Haute supporters and approximately 50 more that arrived in their own vehicles. The hallways of the Statehouse were filled with Terre Haute residents and signs that read “Terre Haute is All In.” In my time in Terre Haute, I’ve never seen such a display of collaboration, commitment and coming together by my community. The sun shined the brightest in those moments.
Those who didn’t want us to be successful often made it hard. On those days, you had to choose to either find shelter or sandbag as fast as you could in rain gear and hope lightning didn’t strike. Those people and groups included communities trying to protect their own gaming assets or other operators who were protecting their already standing operations. We chose to fight with facts, figures and the emotional appeal of a community ready for change. In our case, taking shelter would’ve only made it easier for them to be successful.
When you’re in the middle of a storm, your mind naturally thinks to take shelter. Fight or flight reactions become normal, and you make quick, instinctive decisions to protect you and the ones you care about. This past session, we fought bad rain, wind, hail and flooding. We, the lobbyists, became meteorologists. The people in the community were left standing with new hope for the future. Terre Haute’s forecast appears to be sunny with mild temperatures, not just because a new casino could bring new money and jobs, but because we learned to not only survive a storm together, but stand in one, together.
As we conclude a community planning process, it is right to be excited about the future. If we take on the priorities together, through less storms than we’ve already faced, imagine the possibilities. You don’t have to be a fan of gaming to celebrate this win. The celebration is that of the people – you.
In the words of Louise May Alcott, “I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” Terre Haute has a new sail and is learning how to use it. Watch out world! The meteorologists at RJL Solutions see a lot of sunshine and starry nights in the days ahead.