Friday, June 15, 2012

MSUSA June 2012 Washington DC Lobbying Trip

From June 4-7 MSUSA flew three of it's student leaders to Washington DC to lobby on behalf of the 75,000 MN state university students. Below you will find descriptions of the experience from the perspectives of our State Chair Moriah Miles, and board members Kyle Berndt and Russel Ferguson.

Moriah Miles -- MSUSA State Chair

This past week held many firsts for me. It was my first time being down in D.C.. It was my first time lobbying at the federal level. It also was my first week as State Chair of MSUSA. Overall, I think all of these “firsts” add up to one phenomenal first week! D.C. was much different than I expected for several reasons. The first being everyone in all the offices we visited were very nice! For some reason I expected everyone to be so busy getting work done that bothering them with our issues might test some peoples patience. Turns out if you take the time to make an appointment they ensure a reasonable amount of time to sit down and listen to the issues you want to speak with them about. Another part of D.C. that was interesting to me was the sheer amount of people that were down there doing the exact same thing we were. I noticed various causes make their rounds in all the buildings and it reminded me of how vast the issues our Congressmen and women have to pay attention to and work on. One of the last things that I found interesting about Washington was actually how our Senators interacted with their constituents. Senator Franken and Senator Klobuchar both held breakfast events to meet with anyone from Minnesota that wanted to talk to them. The Senators hold these events once a week while in session. I found this interesting because of the amount of time both their offices must take each week to put into these events.

Although the entire trip was very educational and the whole delegation really made progress in getting our issues out to our representatives there was one meeting that in my mind stands above the rest. This was actually a meeting that we luckily had time for and that was with Rich from USPirg. I had only briefly heard of USPirg before the trip down to D.C. and I had never heard of Rich before. However, in every meeting we were in previous to our dinner with Rich we would consistently hear from staff in the offices we were lobbying, “Oh yes, Rich from USPirg.” Almost every time we mentioned we were meeting with him about our issues the staff would know exactly who we were talking about! Therefore, by the time Wednesday night rolled around I was ready to find out, since the rest of the hill already knew who he was, who exactly Rich from USPirg was! It turns out Rich is also very nice but additionally he is passionate about higher education. Hearing about his background and where he is today was inspiring. For those of you in the world of higher education and to all the student leaders on campuses please take the time to see what USPirg does for higher ed. Also, if you’re ever down in D.C. and want a little charisma added back into your day try and schedule a meeting with Rich.  Our meeting with him was a reminder that the issues we have and will tirelessly work for are also deeply supported by phenomenal individuals around the United States like Rich.

Our trip down to D.C. was very successful. We met with the entire Minnesota delegation and were able to talk about all our issues. I think Kyle, Russel and I learned more about the issues we’re working on as well as picked up a few new issues. I look forward to the next MSUSA federal lobby trip and hope as the year moves along we continue to progress in our work for the 75,000 students of the Minnesota State University Student Association.

Kyle Berndt -- SMSU Student Association President, MSUSA Board Member

 One week ago I left for Washington D.C. to advocate on behalf of students of the MnSCU 4 year State University system. This was only the second time I had been to D.C. so it was still a very new experience for me. Lobbying, or advocating, is a very time consuming process but thanks to the great staff at MSUSA, Jon Bohn specifically, it was very easy as he set up meetings as well as coached us on the talking points for the meetings. During our time in D.C. we met with Legislative Assistants and other staffers to voice the concerns of students. We also met 7 of the 10 delegation from Minnesota and had pictures taken. The most open to talk to us was Rep. Craavack who spent 15 minutes listening to our concerns while voicing some of his own. There were three issues that we were communicating while in D.C. as follows: 1. Increase in the Stafford Loan Rate from 3.4% to 6.8%. 2. The new development of bank firms, such as Higher One, that are currently taking advantage of students and should be in some way regulated to protect students from incredibly high fees. 3. To support the True Cost of College Act which would simplify and standardize the Financial Award Letter students receive from school to be better prepared for the amount of money they will spend. While in D.C. we also met with Rich a staffer for USPirg. USPirg is a well respected student advocacy group. Rich has a great grasp on what is happening around the country and communicated that very effectively. USPirg is doing some great studies that are creating a buzz in regards to the voice of students’ in the United States.

This experience of going to Washington D.C. is one that I will not forget. I was able to meet many of the politicians from Minnesota and voice the opinion of students as well as see D.C. politics in a way I hadn’t before. I only wish that this trip would have lasted longer as the experiences that I had were spectacular. Regrettably I was unable to sightsee as much as the regular tourist would. We had long days and by the end of the day I was looking forward to getting a good nights rest to be ready to do it again the next day.

Russel Ferguson -- MSU-Moorhead Student President, MSUSA President

When I was first invited to travel to Washington D.C. I was excited but nervous. Jon was great in settling my nerves by communicating well throughout the experience. Despite the initial scramble to figure out transportation, the trip went very well.

A daily recap of the trip from my perspective would go like this: On Monday we all met up and flew to our destination. Everything went smoothly. We arrived at 7pm and briefly went over our agenda. Tuesday morning we ate breakfast together and discussed the details of our talking points. We then met with the staff of some of the congressmen that represent Minnesota. They were all excited to listen to what we had to say, but offered little information themselves. After meeting with the staff and running around capitol hill, all of us were pretty tired, so we had some downtime before going out for dinner.  After dinner the night was left open for us to do whatever we wanted. Wednesday was very similar to Tuesday. We spoke with the staff of various congress members who represented Minnesota. The most helpful person we met on Capitol Hill was a committee member of the education board. She was well informed about all our talking points and provided additional updates on those issues. Meeting with her earlier on the trip would have helped with our discussions with other staff. That night we ate dinner with another lobbyist. He was also very informed about our talking points and offered many suggestions to strengthen our discussions. It was nice having the personal experience of dining out with a fellow lobbyist. Due to the additional information, Thursday was probably the smoothest day for lobbying. We then flew home and arrived safely.

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