By Sherman Phillips
I must admit to my naiveté – I thought “Cyclists in Suits” literally meant cyclists in suits. And I kept wondering how we were all going to ride our bikes around the State Capitol Building in our best “Sunday clothes”. After all, I perspire just thinking hard, let alone riding my bicycle. Our Executive Director, Robin Stallings, had a bit of a chuckle explaining to me that while the dress code is suit and tie we would NOT be riding bicycles that day.
What Cyclists in Suits really means, if there is anyone else out there that thought the same as I, is that people with a passion for bicycling would wear a suit while meeting our Texas legislators and their staff to discuss our concerns regarding issues and bills before the house and senate affecting all cyclists throughout the state of Texas. Many of these issues and concerns would also have an impact nationwide.
So, with my misgivings laid to rest, and dressed in my best, the Texas Bicycle Coalition staff in Austin, along with Lubbock Outreach Coordinators Durwood Mayfield and I, Sherman Phillips, headed for the for the Central Conference Room of the Robert E. Johnson Building a little before 9:00 a.m. on the 23rd of April to begin our day as ex-officio lobbyists, knowing that what we might lack in lobbying skill would be balanced by our unbridled enthusiasm and cycling knowledge.
Representatives from most of the bicycle clubs, Richardson Bike Mart and Bicycles Inc., in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and several clubs from Houston and Austin met at 9:00 a.m. for a briefing before beginning our day of lobbying. Most of those attending from the Dallas/Fort Worth area arrived by chartered bus thanks to the efforts of Bike DFW. BikeDFW’s Michelle Holcomb deserves extra thanks for her efforts to organize the DFW bus to Austin.
The next hour began as everyone was welcomed by Robin Stallings who also gave an overview of the “Safe Passing Bill”, emphasizing how important it is and where it stands in the legislature. Dennis Kearns, a cyclist and a professional lobbyist for many years with the BNSF Railway, also provided us with tips on visiting elected officials. He stressed how important it was to be professional, courteous, and polite to all we met. He also emphasized that our message should be clear, concise, and to-the-point.
Former legislator and TBC lobbyist, Ray Allen, spoke to the group from the perspective of an elected official. He said that in spite of what you hear about the role of big money in the legislative process, no one is more important to legislators than their constituents. Our collection of citizen lobbyists would carry considerable weight in the legislative offices. Ray Allen advised that one of the most limited resources of our legislators is time. Brevity was vital. He also reminded us that it was very important to “make the ask”. In other words, we were not there to simply educate. We were there to get a commitment.
After introductions by everyone, we all divided into approximately twelve groups consisting of four members to a team. Each team was assigned roughly a dozen representatives to visit, making sure that each team member would have the opportunity of visiting his or her representative. In addition, each of us was provided a Capitol Building map indicating where the representatives’ offices were, and who was on board with the safe passing bill (Senate Bill 248/House Bill 1790), who was undecided, and who opposed the bill.
For the next several hours, our teams crisscrossed the Capitol Building visiting with either legislators or their aids. Without fail, we were well-received, and everyone seemed interested in hearing our message. We also handed out hundreds of bike pins, and by the end of the day, it seemed everyone in the building was wearing one, reinforcing our presence and the strength and unity of cyclists. At some point during all of this, we collected in the Senate Gallery and were welcomed as representatives of Texas cyclists by Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston. Shortly thereafter we posed for the picture on the Capitol steps that you see here.
At the end of the day, we once again regrouped on the north capitol steps for a group photo where we learned that our efforts had made a significant difference, particularly with regard to the safe passing bill. The two biggest successes were one legislator joining HB 1790 as an author, and the other was an unconfirmed Senator joined the YES vote column on SB 248. With that good news, everyone was in high spirits as we all headed to the new TBC office at 1902 East 6th Street for a happy hour reception.
After healthy and delicious tamales and fajitas donated by White Mountain Foods, awesome micro-brewery beer donated by Live Oak Brewing, and a tour of the new facilities, it was time to say our goodbyes. As everyone headed for their vehicles and those from the Dallas/Fort Worth area boarded the bus for the trip home, I could not help but think how each volunteer must be feeling at that moment. They had devoted their time, talent and money on behalf of Texas cycling and were professional and effective. Cyclists all over the state would give a nod of thanks if only they knew.
Click here to see more photos.