Legislative Effectiveness Standing Committee Meeting

August 8-11, 2011

San Antonio, Texas

Meeting Session: Caucus Strategic Planning
Overview and Faculty: Caucus Strategic Planning

Legislative caucuses need to plan ahead to craft their message, achieve policy and budget successes and promote their individual members. This session shared tips on strategic planning initiatives that identify priorities and energize a caucus.

Moderator: Tom Wright, Senior Staff to the Speaker of the House, Alaska

  • Presenters: Christopher Rants, President, The Legacy Foundation, Iowa, (former Speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives)
  • Representative Anna Fairclough, Alaska
  • Representative Marilyn Lee, Hawaii
Summary: Tom Wright discussed the benefits that the Alaska House Republicans gained in working with NCSL to create a strategic planning retreat and he introduced the presenters.

Christopher Rants described his role in that retreat. He was the former speaker in Iowa and had led certain planning efforts within his own caucus. Coming in as a neutral and knowledgeable facilitator, he could use his skills to help the Alaska House Republicans to step out of their day-to-day concerns. The planning takes time, but it allows the group to focus and prioritize, all while gaining buy-in from the caucus members. Using snow cards (a process where people write out their own priorities on sticky notes and the group organizes them into categories) and other techniques designed to get input from everyone, the process insures that the quiet members have equal input and no one person dominates. The process allows the group to identify key areas for further discussion and the retreat setting provides a safe place for candid talk. Using a facilitator, the members can concentrate on solely providing their own input. Creating the plan allows them to craft a message for the public, keep their caucus focused on the important things and establish a sense of credibility and pride.

Representative Fairclough described the experience from the perspective of a participant. The Alaska House Republicans identified five key goals:

  • Fiscal responsibility
  • Responsible resource development
  • Access to affordable energy
  • Excellent schools and workforce development
  • Safe and healthy communities

Rep. Fairclough explained how the caucus held forums after the retreat on each of the topics and allowed members to decide the areas on which they wanted to focus. The caucus members developed bills to address the priorities and left the power in the committees to shape the legislation. The leadership would periodically remind the caucus members of the principles that they had jointly developed. She thought it was an extremely valuable experience and her last tip was to always be concerned with messaging---be ready to explain your positions clearly.

Representative Marilyn Lee described a number of different caucuses in Hawaii. In addition to the traditional majority and minority caucuses, Rep. Lee highlighted the Kapuna (elder) and Women’s caucuses, which are bipartisan. The women’s caucus in Hawaii has existed for almost 25 years and focuses on the diverse needs of women, children and families. The caucus selects a theme for the year (compassion is this year’s theme) and solicits input from interested groups. The goal is to create a package of bills that can be supported by a majority of members. The planning process is driven by those who can attend the meetings, but detailed minutes are sent out so interested people can keep up and the work is transparent. The caucus uses a press conference, press releases and social media to focus attention on their work. Lastly, Rep. Lee thanked the legislative staff of the caucus members who help move the work forward, noted the importance of developing written drafts of legislation early in the process so people are clear on what is in the package and observed the value of creating talking points.