All politics is local. That’s the way Associated Press editor and columnist Byron Price put it in 1932. Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill said the same thing when he first ran for office in 1935, and used it frequently in a long career in Washington, D.C.
The point both men made is that politics – no matter how big the platform?–comes down to local, personal, individual connections. Never was that more evident than at Maryland Horse Industry Day in Annapolis in February.
Horsepeople went to the state capital to talk about horses with legislators, staffers, themselves. The result was one cohesive message that horses matter. They matter when it comes to business, economic impact, open space, agriculture, historic tradition, jobs, tax revenues and recreational options for adults and children among other things.
A fact sheet handed out to attendees (and legislators) quantified that impact somewhat. Maryland’s horse industry includes:
• 35 equine disciplines.
• 80,000 horses of 40 breeds.
• 587,000 acres (10 percent of the state’s land).
• 28,000 jobs.
• $78 million in tax revenue.
• 15.6 horses per square mile (more than any other state).
• $1.6 billion in economic impact.
The numbers work, but people and animals make an even better case and that was the point of the day in Annapolis–though the only horses were plastic models and a person in a horse suit (next year, bring a retired Thoroughbred for downtown photo ops).
Led by KO Public Affairs, a Maryland-based communications firm with experience in various political and business arenas, the day felt like a college civics lecture. KO staffers provided tips on how to speak to legislators and what to say and do. KO listed the legislative priorities as promoting and maintaining open space, revitalizing the racing industry, protecting animal welfare, supporting equine operations as agricultural businesses and promoting educational programs.
Around presentations and speeches featuring lawmakers and representatives of the Maryland Racing Commission, Horse Industry Board, Department of Agriculture and Department of Natural Resources and everyday horse people, we met in small groups to sort out actual visits to legislators. KO assigned attendees individual representatives, delivering the message and folders of information.
There were no crucial issues before the Maryland legislature in 2016, but the points were all important. Horses are an industry, in much the same way transportation, higher education, tourism, manufacturing, healthcare and energy are industries.
And you know those industries are in Annapolis and every other state capital, working to protect, preserve and promote themselves.
I’m not all that political. I vote (registered independent). I try to pay attention to what’s going on. I don’t suffer extremes (on either side) well. I’d never met my delegate, but I followed my instructions and went to his office. I didn’t have an appointment and had been told that he wouldn’t be available. The door was open and an aide sat at a desk in the front room.
“I’m Joe Clancy, I’m here with the Maryland Horse industry and I wanted to drop off some information and at least introduce myself. We’re here today to let legislators know how important the horse industry is to Maryland, its economy and its way of life.”
Something like that anyway. It went well. My delegate actually was there, and came out from his office to meet me, handed me a business card and we talked briefly. Nice guy. The meeting lasted about six minutes . . . and I have no idea what it accomplished. I only know it couldn’t have hurt.
And, as Price and O’Neill said, my legislator really listened when he figured out I live in his district. I also got the impression that our meeting wasn’t all that new to him. Things like that probably happen all day long from as many industries and groups as there are crabs in the Chesapeake Bay.
Horses count, too, and though I live in Maryland I couldn’t help hoping similar work was being done in Harrisburg, Charleston, Dover, Trenton, Richmond, Raleigh, Columbia and beyond.