FPCs Represent REALTOR® Interests at Local, State and National Level
The South Dakota Association of REALTORS® (SDAR) recently held its 50th Annual Legislative Chili Feast, a celebration attended every year by about 90% of South Dakota’s state and national legislators, as well as the Lieutenant Governor. Longtime REALTOR® Tom Murphy was there, too, serving chili and oyster stew to the honored guests. “It’s a great opportunity for us to say ‘thanks’ and keep connected to our representatives,” says the past President of SDAR.
He should know: Murphy is also a veteran Federal Political Coordinator (FPC), one of the dedicated 535 REALTORS® assigned by their state association to work with a member of Congress, providing information and analysis on issues that are important to the industry and to property owners. “An important part of NAR’s strong lobbying efforts is the role of our FPCs as individual activists. FPCs are chosen because of the organic existing relationships they have with their legislators. Like Murphy, many of our FPCs know their legislator personally, sometimes as their REALTOR or as in Murphy’s case, from childhood. While REALTORS® are naturally real estate experts, FPCs are also active parts of the member of Congress’ constituent base and deeply rooted in the communities in which they live. This gives them a unique point of view and opportunity to become a trusted advisor, if they don’t already have that preexisting relationship,” said Victoria Givens, who oversees the FPC Program as NAR’s REALTOR® Mobilization Programs manager.
Murphy has worked with Democrats and Republicans; he’s testified before Congress; and in the past year, he’s been working closely with his current ‘assignment,’ Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota, “cleaning up” a list of federal regulations that could be addressed by the new Congress. The list was submitted to the senator by the National Association of REALTORS®, but here’s the twist: NAR had not initiated the process; the senator had asked Tom Murphy, a childhood friend, how he could help improve the landscape for REALTORS® and property owners at the senate level.
Karl Eckhart, a Senior Political Representative at NAR, says that while having a close personal tie to the senator is clearly beneficial for NAR’s goals, he sees Murphy as a natural advocate for REALTOR® issues, regardless of the connection. “Tom has been president of his state association, served on committees at the national level, and is a great believer in RPAC. He’s someone who gives a lot back to NAR and the REALTOR® Party.” Eckhart also notes that other FPCs who don’t have existing relationships with their members of Congress have succeeded in strengthening bonds by virtue of their unique attributes as REALTORS®. “In terms of constituent services, who better than a REALTOR® to find the best locations for a town hall meeting in any given town?” he asks, by way of example. “Being a helpful resource is a first step toward becoming a trusted ally.”
Daniel Blair, one of NAR’s Senior Legislative Representatives, notes that there’s a certain efficiency when a member of Congress can reach out directly to his or her FPC for information, rather than going through staff. “In this case, through our FPC, we’ve provided the senator with a comprehensive list of regulations affecting REALTORS®, the implementation of which gives us some cause for concern. They range from website compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and clean air emissions to banking issues and the protection of the sage grouse. Tom and Senator Rounds have been working on this list for months now. We’re seeing real legislative effort as a result of the FPC program.”
Murphy is the first to admit that his close relationship with the senator is an unusual advantage. “We played kickball together on the same piece of asphalt back in Catholic grade school. When Mike became governor, then went on to become senator, that sense of connectedness remained and gives us a real comfort level. We can trust each other.” That said, Murphy has served as an FPC for about 20 years now, and hasn’t played kickball with any of his previous legislators. “For both Mike and me, it’s a nice situation we’ve got right now,” he concedes, “but I’ve found that it’s perfectly possible—and a whole lot more usual—to build a productive working relationship with a member of Congress from scratch.”
As a seasoned veteran of Capitol Hill, Murphy is happy to share key tips with new FPCs who are looking to forge this kind of bond. First and foremost, he says, take the time to get to know the legislator’s staff in DC. “These are bright kids living four-deep in two-bedroom apartments because they can’t afford otherwise, but the reality is, you have to deal with them, and if they don’t like you, you’ll never get access.” Next, pay attention to what Murphy calls ‘the grocery list.’ “NAR does a great job of regulating its calls to action and prioritizing what it wants us to talk about on The Hill. But there's still no way a senator is going to sign on to everything, so having a strategy and knowing your issues is essential.” Murphy adds that it’s easy for him to approach a legislator when he frames his position as protecting the rights of those who own real estate, and widening the opportunity to enjoy it. “When I tell them that an issue affects ALL property owners, they’re smart enough to see that I'm talking about their constituents. That makes them pay attention.”
Murphy reports that the last thing he does when he’s leaving a meeting on the Hill is ask, “Is there anything I can do for you?” He might be asked if the REALTORS® can get behind a certain piece of legislation. “I can’t necessarily go promising the support of NAR,” says Murphy, “but I might feel comfortable committing my state association, and that counts for something.”
Giving back to one’s industry as a volunteer lobbyist runs in Murphy’s family: his wife, a physician, serves in a similar role for the American Medical Association. They’ve found that, no matter the issue, building a successful relationship with a legislator requires the same approach. Murphy reiterates, “You’ve got to get to know the staff. You’ve got to understand the priorities on your organization’s ‘grocery list.’ Remember to offer your help. And if you present an issue as it affects a broad range of constituents, it’s going to be pretty hard for your representative to say ‘no.’”
To learn more about how Federal Political Coordinators help to get important REALTOR® issues in front of their legislators or to be part of the FPC’s contact team, contact Victoria Givens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-383-1021.
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