Exchange Matters / March 4, 2014

Texans Speak Up for Exchanges on Capitol Hill

It is critical to educate members of Congress about the importance of international exchange programs. During the 2014 National Meeting, our members scheduled over 100 appointments on Capitol Hill to share the profound impact of these programs with elected officials. This is the story of one of those visits.

During this year’s Global Ties U.S. National Meeting, several Community-Based Members (CBMs) in Texas joined together to visit our elected representatives on Capitol Hill. Texas is a politically powerful state with six new Congressional seats added in the last two census cycles. Given Texas’ political voice in Congress, speaking up for international exchange programs is critical. While individually our organizations may compete for visitors, together we have a common goal: to gain support for continued funding for the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).

The highlight of our efforts on Capitol Hill was a great meeting with Senator John Cornyn. Sen. Cornyn was elected Minority Whip by his fellow Republican Senators in November 2012. The Minority Whip is responsible for mobilizing votes within their party on major issues, among other responsibilities. It is the second highest leadership position for Senate Republicans.

The senator and his team treated us like VIPs. They met us and we were escorted through underground tunnels and his offices to his inner sanctum: his fireplace.

Senator Cornyn sat with us for 45 minutes and listened attentively as we explained our work. Notably, he was not familiar with the IVLP specifically, but his interest grew as he related that his daughter had recently been invited abroad in a similar program. He was warm, open to listening, and enthusiastic to the end. We won a friend and gained an informed supporter. As our meeting came to a close, he noted that we are all his constituents and that he was accountable to us.

This meeting underlined the importance of cultivating relationships with your federal elected officials in your hometown and home state

This meeting underlined the importance of cultivating relationships with your federal elected officials in your hometown and home state. One way to cultivate those relationships is by including their staff members as resources in your programs. Our excellent reception with Senator Cornyn came as a result of many conversations with his staff members in Dallas. Senator Cornyn told me that our request for a meeting arrived at his desk marked “very important.” One year ago, our team had a one-hour chat with a very engaged Congressman Pete Sessions. Again, that meeting was possible after one phone call to a friend of our organization.

When you secure a meeting, it is vital that your team come prepared. In addition to the materials provided to us by Global Ties U.S., we had a plan and drafted a script. Each member of our diverse team had something to say. We took turns and included anecdotes of great outcomes from our past IVLPs. It helped to have stories from different regions of the state. It also helps if someone on your team has experience lobbying. I have been trained in political advocacy and have been lobbying in DC many times before. If the North Texas Council for International Visitors can help you to strategize, feel free to contact us.

Edward Retta, Chair of the Board of Directors, North Texas Council for International Visitors