I had to quickly learn the answer to that question for the first time this year… Advocacy Week is our annual opportunity to have a mass impact on opinion leaders and policy makers – together with a cohesive message in support of preservation-positive legislation.  Advocacy Week is organized each year by Preservation Action and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Offices (NCSHPO) and brings together over 250 preservationists to Washington, DC to promote sound federal preservation policy and programs.

In the nearly 12 years I’ve worked for the Pennsylvania SHPO, I’ve somehow evaded participation in National Historic Preservation Advocacy Week. Each year when several staffers in our office would be searching for the best projects and photos to highlight in each of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts, crunching program numbers, and preparing our snappy packets of information, I wasn’t the one waving my arm excitedly asking my boss to take me with her to Washington, DC to hobnob with our United States House of Representatives. It was an unavoidable responsibility for me this year …because now I’m the boss. Gulp. I can’t explain why the thought of “hill visits” gave me the strong desire to call in sick. I love people. I love learning about people. I love Pennsylvania. But “hill visits stirred up visions of slamming doors, general disinterest and sore feet.

I couldn’t have been more wrong and worried-for-nothing! We were well prepared: we came equipped with our new “Your Guide to the Federal Programs of the of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office” and customized reports and maps for each district (here is an example for District 1) illustrating historic preservation activity related to the National Register, Certified Local Government and Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credit programs. We were strong in numbers too. Since this was the year the preservation community is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, we wanted to make a statement by sending a larger than usual delegation to Advocacy Week. In addition to our Preservation Pennsylvania partners, volunteers, advocates, consultants, and a graduate student, the PA SHPO was nicely represented with four staffers.

Pennsylvania’s delegation included:

  • Peter Benton, Chair, Preservation Pennylvania, Birchrunville
  • Mindy Crawford, Preservation Pennsylvania, Executive Director, Harrisburg
  • Brenda Barrett, Living Landscape Observer, Harrisburg
  • A. Roy Smith, Preservation Action, West Chester
  • Wade Catts, Commonwealth Heritage Group, West Chester
  • John Martin, Commonwealth Heritage Group, West Chester
  • Melissa Butler, University of MD Historic Preservation grad student, Bucks County
  • Andrea MacDonald, PA SHPO, Harrisburg
  • Shelby Splain, PA SHPO, Harrisburg
  • Jeremy Young, PA SHPO, Harrisburg
  • Scott Doyle, PA SHPO, Harrisburg
(from left) Mindy Crawford, Shelby Splain, me, and Scott Doyle took a minute to get a photo in front of the Capitol, currently undergoing a large restoration project on the iconic dome.

(from left) Mindy Crawford, Shelby Splain, me, and Scott Doyle took a minute to get a photo in front of the Capitol, currently undergoing a large restoration project on the iconic dome.  Photo courtesy of Preservation Pennsylvania.

The Game Plan

The week’s activities began with training for all state delegations. Participants were given a crash course in policy and the political climate on the hill, fundamentals of a successful hill meeting, and talking points for this year’s policy issues (a.k.a. the “Asks” -what we’re asking our congressmen for). From what I learned, this year’s “Asks” weren’t much different from previous years:

  • Support the reauthorization of the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) & sign on to the HPF Dear Colleague Letter
  • Support full funding of the Historic Preservation Fund request of $94.485 million for FFY2017 and full allocation of the authorized $150 million by 2020
  • Support the Historic Tax Credit through tax reform (Historic Tax Credit Improvement Act, H.R. 3846)
  • Join the Congressional Historic Preservation Caucus

If you’d like to take a look at this year’s talking points, you can read the Advocacy Week Issue One-Pagers at: http://www.preservationaction.org/advocacy-week/.

On day two, each state delegation was cut loose to meet with their senators and representatives. [photos of us outside] The United States is divided into 435 congressional districts, each with a population of about 710,000 individuals; Pennsylvania has 18 congressional districts + 2 senators representing the entire state.  Overall, during 2016 National Historic Preservation Advocacy Week there were over 200 meetings scheduled, representing 37 states!  We decided to divide and conquer and broke off into teams to cover the scheduled visits which were scattered among various capitol buildings. I instantly felt at home during our first meeting with Congressman Shuster’s office (District 9) when we were welcomed and immediately offered classic Pennsylvania snacks!  Congressman Shuster’s Legislative Director, Dennis Wirtz, was attentive, knowledgeable about historic preservation programs, and seemed receptive to our Asks.

I love snacks! It was fun to see some PA snacks in Rep. Shuster's office.

I love snacks! It was fun to see some PA snacks in Rep. Shuster’s office.

Most visits were equally as encouraging.   What I found most rewarding was learning about the impact our visits had following Advocacy Week. One of our “Asks urged our members of congress to sign-on to the FFY 2017 Historic Preservation Fund Dear Colleague Letter to show support for the Historic Preservation Fund. Over 100 members of congress signed on to the letter including five representatives from Pennsylvania! Please help me in thanking Congressmen Boyle, Fattah, Cartwright, Fitzpatrick, and Brady for their support!

PA’s delegation visited 13 congressional offices for scheduled appointments and dropped off our information packets to 7 offices as noted below.  All of the legislators with an asterisk signed on to the FFY2017 Historic Preservation Fund “Dear Colleague” letter after our visit!

Senator Toomey In Person
Senator Casey Drop Off
**Representative Brady Drop Off
**Representative Fattah In Person
Representative Kelly Drop Off
Representative Perry In Person
Representative Thompson In Person
Representative Costello In Person
Representative Meehan In Person
**Representative Fitzpatrick In Person
Representative Shuster In Person
Representative Marino In Person
Representative Barletta In Person
Representative Rothfus Drop Off
**Representative Boyle In Person
Representative Doyle Drop Off
Representative Dent In Person
Representative Pitts Drop Off
**Representative Cartwright In Person
Representative Murphy Drop Off

So, what did we think about the experience?

I have a confession… I actually liked National Advocacy Week and I unexpectedly grasped a little about what makes DC tick. These decision-makers can make or break the historic preservation world and it’s our job to continually educate them about all of the good preservation practices and programs create for our communities. I also asked some of my Advocacy Week cohorts to share their thoughts, impressions, take-aways, experience, etc. regarding our hill visits this year. It was comforting to discover I wasn’t alone in my newly-found appreciation for National Historic Preservation Advocacy Week.   Here is what some of my colleagues had to say:

Mindy Crawford’s experience…

When I started my job as Executive Director of Preservation Pennsylvania, I admit that the thought of being a “statewide advocate” seemed a bit daunting. Sure, I could fight to save a historic resource…I had done it many times. But the idea of meeting with elected officials and actually asking them for support of funding or legislation made me a little weak in the knees. When I headed off to Washington, DC for my first Advocacy Week in 2007, I was more than a little nervous.   I followed behind the “veterans”, those that had been doing it for years, hoping to not make a fool of myself. Guess what? It was actually a lot of fun and if you really believe in something, it is pretty easy to ask for what you want and need.

This year’s Advocacy Week was no different. Appointments were made, teams were assembled and the Pennsylvania contingent headed to DC for a day of preparation and then a full day of legislative appointments with our Pennsylvania Representatives and Senators. I admit to being a bit disappointed that congress was not in session so we would be meeting with staff only. In past years, the halls have been packed with a variety of special interest groups making their calls too and often meetings had to take place in the hall or in some very crowded front offices. This year was totally different. There was so much less chaos and each meeting was at least 20-30 minutes in length. I felt we were able to have real conversations about the need for HPF funding and the importance of protecting the historic tax credit program. We had some great meetings and, even better, a lot of follow-up from district staff once we returned to Harrisburg.

It was great fun to experience Lobby Day through the eyes of some of my colleagues who were doing it for the first time. I reflected back to my first time and realized that now I’m a “veteran” and it’s still a great experience.

 Shelby Splain’s memoir…

I’m very much a Type A personality and tend to be a glass-half-empty person by nature.  I like to know what I’m doing, be (overly) prepared, and feel like I’ll have some measure of control over how things will turn out, so I was VERY nervous about our visit to the Hill during Advocacy Week.  We prepared our information packets, I did my research on lobbying and previous Advocacy Week efforts, and gave myself a good pep talk but the butterflies persisted.  Why? Well, I think it was because I feared some difficult conversations and uphill battles that day.  I wasn’t sure how much impact our visits could really have or how receptive the Congressmen’s offices would be.  I know there are lots and lots of elected leaders who support preservation, but I also know that preservation can be a touchy hot-button issue for others who don’t see any benefit to it at all.  I took a deep breath, told myself to do my best, and steeled myself for our first visit.  Turns out, I didn’t need to be worried at all.  Sure, I had one or two visits that were more challenging than the others, but at the end of the day, I think we got our message across.  And did it in a way that communicated the most important things: preservation matters, the PA SHPO is a resource to help, not hinder, communities, and we are smart, reasonable, professional human beings.  Definitely no ‘hysterical preservationists’ here.  The enthusiasm I saw from the staff at Congressmen Marino’s, Fitzpatrick’s and Fattah’s offices made me realize that this audience is one that has been long-neglected and needs our attention just as much as the many other constituents we serve.  I think there is a lot more support out there than we know about and we just have to keep talking to people – especially our elected leaders – about preservation and the support will follow.

Jeremy Young’s observations…

To me, our visits on The Hill highlighted that Pennsylvania’s members of Congress (and their staff) could likely benefit from additional or more frequent outreach from the PA SHPO and our preservation partners beyond our annual visits, and in particular, more education about why preservation is so important to maintaining a high quality of life in the many communities within their district. One question I left with was, “How can we better include all sorts of elected officials and their staff in future historic preservation education and outreach activities?” I also believe that one area we could improve in our communications with the congressional representatives is to really drive home the connection between historic preservation and the economy (and jobs); for example, making clear the contributions of historic places to heritage tourism. (Tourism is among the largest sectors of Pennsylvania’s economy.)

PA SHPO-er Jeremy Young poses for this great pic at the Capitol.

PA SHPO-er Jeremy Young poses for this great pic at the Capitol.

A bonus!

I believe our efforts were justified when we received a subsequent invitation to visit Congressman Scott Perry’s district office in Wormleysburg (located just across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg). The purpose of the meeting was for us to elaborate on historic preservation funding. Three of us from the original DC delegation gladly accepted the invitation and again prepared packets of information to share about preservation successes and in particular those from the congressman’s district. [photo of us and Perry] We came to know the congressman’s interests include historic farms, barns, and a love of historic building materials and disappearing craftsmanship; we talked for nearly an hour. Following the meeting Congressman Perry expressed an interest in joining the Historic Preservation Caucus. We hope to see his name on the list in the near future!

Mindy Crawford, Brenda Barrett, and I met with Congressman Perry after Advocacy Week.

Mindy Crawford, Brenda Barrett, and I met with Congressman Perry after Advocacy Week.