The Voice: Winter 2020 Newsletter
Hello LINCS members!
I hope everyone is safe and well! We are approaching the holiday season, which means that 2020 is almost behind us! I am breathing a sigh of relief with the hopes that 2021 will be a better year for us all.
I am sure many of you have been busy with the hustle and bustle of election season. We have certainly been busy here in Georgia. Now, like many of you, we are shifting our focus to the 2021 legislative session. We convene in January and will be welcoming 27 new members to the Georgia House of Representatives.
Since the elections, we have been onboarding these new members so that they don’t feel like they are drinking from a firehose when session begins. The Georgia General Assembly recently held a new legislator training session where new members had the opportunity to hear from the different joint and House offices about the various services that we provide for members. Additionally, we provided our new members with training notebooks to serve as a reference guide as they navigate their first few weeks of session. Members of the Georgia General Assembly will also participate in a biennial conference later this month to discuss and explore state policy issues ahead of the legislative session. While these events certainly look different than in years past due to COVID, we hope to provide our new members with the tools they need to have a successful session!
I hope you all have a happy and healthy holiday season, and I am hoping to see your faces in person in 2021! Please reach out to me, Jennifer Stewart, or the rest of the LINCS executive committee any time.
-- Betsy Theroux, LINCS Chair
The Role of Rhetoric in Today's Legislature
By: Jen Waldref and Guy Bergstrom, Washington House Democratic Caucus
As today’s legislative leaders grapple with unprecedented challenges—COVID-19 infections in every state, lost jobs, state budget shortfalls and declining revenue, and protests for racial justice—good rhetoric has a more essential role than ever.
The word “rhetoric” may seem anachronistic in these times of viral social media, partisan cable-TV pundits and campaigns-by-memes. Yet it is more needed than ever as an antidote to the trend toward uncivil political discourse and win-at-all-costs messaging.
In this hyper-partisan environment, the “art” of rhetoric may seem like a throwback to another era. Yet it is exactly what we need in these times of challenge and crisis. Tough conversations are happening in every state right now, and these conversations require us to speak—and listen—differently than we have been for a long time.
To govern requires a different approach than campaigning. Where coarse political discourse only promotes division, rhetoric can elevate discussion and inspire compromise for the greater good.
Too often, politics is seen as a zero-sum game, with winners and losers. That may be true in campaigns. It’s not true when governing and legislating.
Bringing that zero-sum strategy to statehouses is destructive because building trust and strong relationships is crucial to a healthy democracy.
Those on one side of an issue need to be able to trust that those on the opposite side are honest brokers who want to sit down together and reach a compromise. This is the ethos part of Aristotle’s three rhetorical appeals: how candid or sincere does a speaker come across to their audience?
But the goal of rhetoric isn’t to deploy language to pummel the opposing side into submission. You don’t salt the earth behind you; it's about persuading others to do something in your mutual self-interest.
Instead of win-lose, rhetoric is about inspiring both sides to pursue a win-win strategy through dialogue and mutual respect. Maintaining mutual respect keeps future discussions alive: Your opponent on a critical issue this week may be a stalwart ally on a different issue next week. We see this all the time in state legislatures, where scoring cheap points in the short term doesn’t net long-term victories.
Tough problems require cooperation—by lawmakers from different parties, chambers and parts of the state. Between state, local and federal officials. And between elected officials and those they represent back home.
Rhetoric should be—and needs to be—a key tool of any democracy. It’s a Swiss Army knife that can help bring people to consensus and tackle problems.
While there isn’t enough space in this short article to provide an in-depth look at all the tools of rhetoric, we hope to have sparked your interest—as professional staff who are key parts of this great experiment in American democracy—in reviving the use of good rhetoric.
Words matter. And while it will take more than words to solve the challenges we face as individual states and as one nation united, how we talk to each other and with each other is a good place to start.
HEARTS AND MINDS (presentation notes for 2019 national LINCS seminar in Kansas City)
(Jen Waldref is the communications director for the House Democratic Caucus in Washington state, and previously served as Governor Jay Inslee’s speechwriter. Guy Bergstrom is the head speechwriter for the House Democratic Caucus in Washington state.)
Six Key Considerations for Conducting the Legislature’s Business During the Pandemic
By: Texas Senate Media
The coronavirus pandemic quickly catapulted state legislative audio, visual and technology employees into essential government workers. We’ve been tasked with finding ways to keep the lines of communication open in a new reality where most of the legislature’s official business is being conducted remotely or with social distancing.
Before the pandemic lockdown of 2020, there were equipment upgrades and routine maintenance to perform. Coverage of remote redistricting hearings were scheduled in conjunction with the census. Our roles quickly evolved as we became key players in collaborating, testing and implementing solutions to empower our legislatures to operate in new ways across our states.
If COVID-19 has closed your capitol to the public to keep a safe distance, there are a few ways to help your legislators remain in contact with each other and their constituents.
Many have remained connected via videoconferencing for personal interactions and routine business meetings. Broadcasting and archiving videoconferences as your state's official business requires additional steps. Although our systems are unique, our common goal is to integrate existing equipment with added functionality. Here are six areas to consider that can help:
- Internet―Do you have access to an ethernet connection with enough bandwidth? Is PC over IP an option?
- Audio―Will you operate with a solo computer or house PA system? Headphones and a USB microphone work well for a single participant. A sound system for multiple participants requires a more sophisticated approach. The Host computer must be installed near an input to the audio system and equipped with "mix minus" echo cancellation to allow a participant in an amplified room to listen and speak without feedback.
- Video―Will you use webcams? Will you repurpose installed pan tilt zoom (PTZ) cameras? HDMI and USB cables have length limitations. Serial digital interface (SDI) signals travel farther, but need conversion from a computer source and require a separate audio connection. Will you have an available and compatible input to your broadcast system?
- Display―Serves dual purposes of seeing/hearing and enabling participants' interaction. Do you have an installed TV adequately sized and located for your intended audience? Can you portably provide a TV with necessary power and connectivity?
- Participation―Local or remote? If local: single participant? panel? at a podium? in another room? If without video capability: audio or written?
- Manpower―Are adequate resources available for setup and testing, rehearsals and tech support? Who will manage the meeting? Who can admit participants to waiting rooms? Can some attend as "non-video" participants for troubleshooting or feedback? Who will mute audio or remind participants to mute to avoid feedback?
While the world waits for the return from physical distance to closer personal space, we can still find ways to bring legislators and the public together for the important work ahead.
Quick Tips for Social Media and Public Engagement in 2021
By: Emmanuel Brantley, The District of Columbia
This year has brought out the best of legislative communicators. With no coffee breaks (cough cough) or quick food runs to “catch up” with other staffers, we learned to creatively connect in virtual settings and maximize each minute spent doing so. Some use FaceTime or iPhone voice memos and others use Zoom and Skype.
Now we know that it is that time of the year when we present our communications plans. But, before you finalize your communications plans for 2021, consider these brief updates and points on engagement!
- Rapid Response and Crisis Communications. With the onset of what many are calling the “third wave of COVID-19,” we should also consider revisiting our rapid response or crisis communications plans. We are all wishing for the best, but it looks like our health care systems are still operating near capacity, students who are not learning from home are braving new protocols to learn safely in the classroom, and millions are left without work. With so much in the air, it is not a bad idea to begin anticipating issues to come, drafting some talking points, and deciding which staffers will be the points of contacts to help respond to the next flurry of media or constituent requests.
- Keep Social Media Fresh and Engaging. If there was anyone who doubted the importance of social media (even in 2020), our new virtual environment should have changed their mind! As we head into 2021, remember to keep your social media fresh and engaging with branded graphics and short but very compelling video clips. On Instagram, consider using the Reels feature to share short, fun and light content, and remember that IGTV can be used for longer videos with more substantive content. Instagram stories are great for daily or timely announcements, and the highlights feature will allow you to fashionably display them on your pages for quick and easy reference. Similar to Instagram and Facebook stories, Twitter recently introduced Fleets, to allow you post content that will disappear after 24 hours. Sharing screenshots of Zoom meetings seems to be the new norm, but we must still find some creative inspiration from the tools at hand! And speaking of Zoom, don’t forget that you can broadcast your Zoom meetings on Facebook live in real time!
- Engagement via Newsletters and List Servs. It is likely that legislative updates and COVID relief efforts have been much of what legislative communicators have shared in the last several months. If this trend continues, consider sharing some warm, heart-felt news at the end of your updates to inspire hope and bring cheer to your readers and subscribers.
- Caucus, Caucus, Caucus! Last but not least, don’t forget to find time for fun! Fun can seem like a forbidden word when you consider that many are hypersensitive to the fact that they are working from home three or more days each week. Nonetheless, you should still find time to engage with your team outside of group chats and staff meetings. If you don’t already do so, consider joining your colleagues for virtual happy hours or engaging in wellness challenges. Scheduling a virtual team lunch may also maintain a positive morale or keep everyone feeling connected.
How to Make a Virtual Holiday Celebration Memorable
By: Emmanuel Brantley, The District of Columbia
Holidays usually mean gathering with friends, reconnecting with extended family, and celebrating hard work with co-workers at a variety of celebrations. Unfortunately, this year, in-person holiday activities increase the risk of transmitting COVID-19. However, there are ways to remain connected while socially distancing this holiday season! No matter what holiday you may be celebrating, here are some ALL-VIRTUAL ideas to have fun with your relatives and keep up the energy for what is usually an in-office gathering.
Before we start, let's take a moment to consider the needs and concerns of our relatives and/or colleagues. When planning, ask yourself, “Do they need to secure a sitter or are they caring for an ailing parent?” “Do they know how to Zoom or Skype?” This should be fun and exciting for everyone —after all, no one wants to have to put the party on hold to the address unnecessary straggling!
The key is designating a virtual and consistent location like Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, Houseparty or FaceTime and ensuring folks know how to use it. If you aren't able to help yourself with setting everyone up, ask someone closest to them to call and walk them through it beforehand and have folks log in 15 minutes before to avoid issues.
Setting up a festive dress code or having folks decorate the space they will video chat from can be fun and help get folks in the holiday spirit, but we don’t want to shame those that won’t be able to. Leave it as an option as we proceed with our below ideas.
Virtual Family Fun:
- Virtual dinner and a movie.
- Have an elder read bedtime stories to all the children at bedtime.
- Dress in your pajamas and dance together and have a dance party.
Virtual Office Fun:
- Toast the team and the accomplishments of the office and individuals via a Zoom toast.
- Virtual coffee/tea break.
- Virtual awards or superlative show/talent show.
Virtual Family & Office Fun:
- Virtual game nights or Virtual Escape Room for fans of trivia.
- Virtually cook a meal together or at home.
- Beer or wine and cheese pairing tours with your loved ones old enough to join the party. (The key is to come prepared with your questions for the host to maximize tour time and experience.)
- Send someone a care package or gift box or even recipes and make family traditions and create new ones together in the kitchen—virtually, letting them know you are thinking of them.
- Host a “white elephant” gift exchange for Christmas, Hanukkah and other traditional gift-giving holidays.
- Virtual talent show.
- Enjoy a class or learn a lesson together like art, a language, instrument or again, beer or winemaking.
- Virtual adventures or scavenger hunts.
- Games to play: Two Truths and a Lie, BINGO, Simon Says, Jeopardy, Family Feud, Charades.
- Ugly sweater contest.
- Focus on wellness and ways to unwind—share tips.
- Escape Room.
- “White elephant” gift party.
Virtual Programming in 2020
LINCS offered three virtual professional development programs in lieu of in-person meetings this fall. These sessions covered a variety of topics, two of which are archived on the LINCS webpage.
Check out NCSL’s Webinar Archives for additional e-learning.
LINCS Comms Shop
This is your source of information about how states around the country handle communications issues and functions. We compile information from our own research, and from responses we get from requests for information from our members. If you have any questions or wish to update information from your own comms shop, please contact Jennifer Stewart.
State Elections Resources
NCSL’s Elections Team provides a multitude of resources for members.
You can find an overview of 2020 postelection partisan legislative control, ballot measures and election administration here.
Do you have a question for your fellow LINCSters?
For any and all communications-related questions, can always ask NCSL or post your questions to the LINCS listserv. Please contact the LINCS Liaison Jennifer Stewart for more information on how to get your questions answered by your peers!
Have an idea for a future issue of The Voice? Want to contribute a short feature?
Contact LINCS Secretary Emmanuel Brantley