In November, The New York Junior League’s Advocates for Public Policy (APP) Committee hosted a special meeting with guest speaker Basil Smikle, the Executive Director of the New York State Democratic Party. Smikle graciously allowed the committee to interview him about the state political process, effective advocacy approaches, and important issues that are being considered in the New York State Senate and Assembly. As a bipartisan advocacy group, APP was delighted to hear Mr. Smikle’s recommendations based on decades of experience working with a diverse group of clients from all sectors and political inclinations.
Before his current post as the second-ranking official of the New York State Democratic Party, Smikle managed a political and policy consulting firm and worked with politicians, nonprofits and corporations alike. Previous clients include New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation, the New York Urban League, AT&T, Senator Joe Lieberman, former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, and the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence. He also served as a senior aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton during her first Senate campaign, and later on her Senate staff.
Smikle began the conversation by asking the committee a simple question: “Do you know what political parties do?” He proceeded to explain that a political party is composed of several levels. The National Party Committee, which is what usually comes to mind, meets several times a year to set the agenda on the national stage and focuses on the presidential race. The State Party shares resources and branding with the National Committee and implements the vision of the National Party and the Governor of the State of New York. The State Committee engages and expands the voter base and focuses on State issues in the State legislature. Finally, the County Committee focuses on hyper-local issues.
“Most politics that affect you day to day are state politics,” said Mr. Smikle.
For this precise reason, each year APP participates in Advocacy Day in Albany where the committee and members of NYJL and other Junior Leagues of the New York State meet with State senators and assembly members and advocate for a state issue impacting women, children and families of New York. As we gear up this day in the spring, APP asked Mr. Smikle to share some advice about effective advocacy approaches. Here were his recommendations:
- Pay attention to multiple bills that address similar issues. This indicates increased interest in the issue from several groups, which increases the likelihood of success. Eventually, the discussion to consolidate is bound to happen.
- Build relationships with the key members of the legislature such as the Senate Leader and the Speaker of the Assembly. Get to know the Chair of the committee behind the bill and all the committee members and ensure they know your stance. Think about how to touch these contacts and how many points of familiarity you need to effect change.
- Influential independent caucuses that transcend party lines can be your powerful allies. For example, the IDC (Independent Democratic Committee) is a caucus of 8 Democratic Senators who caucus with the Republican leaders of the state. Neither the Republicans, nor the Democrats, can pass legislation without their vote.
- Research the major donors of the legislators you’ve identified as being critical to the passage of your bill. Look at the campaign filings to determine who gave money to the sponsors and opposers of the bill. Contact these individuals, organizations and companies to let them know your stance – they have influence!
- Labor Unions are an integral part of advocacy in New York State. Have a relationship with them and know their positions.
When asked what legislation should APP focus on this year, knowing APP’s successful track record supporting legislation that empowers women in the workplace, Smikle recommended the committee take a closer look at three bills that seek to further Close the Pay Gap. He additionally suggested APP consider a bill that protects comprehensive contraceptive coverage, a bill that amends the definition of rape and a bill that aims to end discrimination of victims of domestic violence. APP is researching the bills to determine whether one of them will be the bill that the committee supports in the spring.
Several other issues that Smikle feels will be important going forward are College Affordability and Tax Reform. Locally, he recommended that APP considers looking into Teacher Evaluations, School Choice, and Property Tax Cap.
APP looks forward to implementing Mr. Smikle’s recommendations in our advocacy efforts this year and in the future.
Is there an issue that you think APP should support? Get in touch with the NYJL’s APP committee.