Since our last interview post was so successful, I started realizing how many other badass friends I have to tell you about! Anthony reminded me of how awesome our friend Marilyn’s job is over in Arizona, so of course I had to share.
I am interested in politics and social change, but never felt like I had the guts to really pursue anything in that world. Marilyn makes it look EASY. She has that calm fierceness that I wish I could buy off her, plus intelligence just emanates from her when you’re in the same room. I really admire her and loved the chance to get to know her a little better through this post.
Without further ado, meet Marilyn!
What is your job title and what is your typical day like?
I am an Associate Director at a government relations firm called Veridus, but “Associate Director” is just a really fancy term for “lobbyist.”
When I first introduce myself as a lobbyist to people outside the political world, I usually receive an entertaining theatrical combination of facial expressions in response: The first of which is their involuntary reaction of shock and horror, quickly masked by a moment of doubt or confusion, followed by the inevitable quizzical head tilt to the side upon which they finally ask: “What’s that?”
The point I’m trying to make here is that many people have preconceived notions about what lobbyists actually do, most of which drift to the negative. I read a Gallup study a few months back where they polled over a thousand people across the country on which professions they deemed the “most trustworthy.” Of the list of 50 job titles – running the gamut of “nurse practitioner” to “teacher” to “used car salesman” – “lobbyist” was dead last.
This was surprising to me. I mean, I knew that there were a lot of people out there who credit lobbyists as the responsible party for the way things are in America, but I had no idea just how despised we really are. (Side story: for a short time after reading this poll I started to introduce myself to people as an “evil lobbyist.” I’ve since stopped doing this after seemingly an entire room of people thought that I was serious… yeah, it was awkward).
So what do I do? I get paid to do what I love: impact policy in a meaningful way. At a very basic level, lobbyists are retained by businesses and organizations to engage with lawmakers at every stage: local, state, and federal. What that “engagement” looks like is very different for every scenario–where one client may have their lobbyist actively pushing for certain regulations and reforms, other clients may just want their lobbyist to “watch” for any hostile or favorable legislation that gets introduced and report back to the client. This is unfortunately a very simple explanation of an otherwise complex world that lobbyists navigate: Our job is just as much social as it is research and advocacy driven. In addition to lobbying, I also engage in candidate campaigns, fundraising, media & communications, social outreach, and issue advocacy.
In order to be great at what I do, I must become an expert in the topic that I am lobbying lawmakers on as it is ultimately my job to educate them about what it is they are voting on and how it impacts both their constituents and my client. This sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But it’s awesome. I promise.
In the three years since I joined the team at Veridus, I’ve never had the same day twice. Every single day has been different. Which, if you think about it, makes a lot of sense: Working in the always-changing field of politics requires me to learn something new every day. Sometimes it’s talking about bills at the Capitol, sometimes it’s research, sometimes it’s consulting, or just grabbing beer with someone.
To revisit that “educating lawmakers” piece for a bit is important. I need to know what I’m talking about when conversing with elected officials. If I misrepresent or lie about information I give to them, it ultimately comes at a great cost to my clients since lawmakers will then trust me less with any information I provide them in the future. Just like you and me, lawmakers do not like being lied to, or made a fool by, those around them. Rather, it is in my best interest to make them look good and sound intelligent. Our elected officials can’t know everything about everything – that’s an impossible and unreasonable expectation – they rely on people like me to fill in the gaps. Over time, if I fill in those gaps with consistently reliable information, everyone wins.
So, when people across the country overwhelmingly agree that lobbyists are the most untrustworthy profession, I just have to chalk it up to a massive misunderstanding about what it is we really do. And you know what? That’s okay. I’d rather have lawmakers and my clients know that I am going to do right by them where it matters. At the end of the day, it’s what they think of me that is the most important. If the public needs someone to point fingers at because they aren’t happy with the state of affairs around them, regardless of whose fault it is, it should be me. I am less vulnerable than those elected officials (who can be voted out) and businesses (who can be boycotted). So go on uninformed public, keep despising me. To my clients and lawmakers: I’m Batman.
What made you want to get into politics?
Politics made me want to get into politics. As an undergrad at ASU, I went through what many of us go through: An existential crisis of “what the hell am I going to do with my life” accompanied with multiple changes to my degree program. The drift toward politics felt inevitable; once I started taking political science and statistics courses, I started getting A+ grades. Where before I dreaded going to class (once I changed my major to Political Science), I now looked forward to it. So, in a way, politics picked me.
To push a bit further: I want to take a moment to explain what compels me to STAY in politics (which is a question I am asked quite frequently): It’s my mentors. Since joining the firm in 2011, each of my Directors at Veridus has taken me under their wing to help shape my professional development – and I am loving the results. They challenge me and push me to a point where I actually feel fulfilled in what I do. Also, watching them and the incredible and positive impacts they are able to create in the community makes me excited about how I can do the same in the very near future.
What is your favorite and least favorite part about your job?
My absolute favorite thing about my job is that I get to constantly learn new things, and am able to do so while working alongside amazing people. One outcome I couldn’t have ever anticipated are the opportunities that working as a lobbyist would be opened up to me. In the few short years that I’ve been doing this, I’ve already met some of the most fantastic and genuine people who are doing great things in the community. The result of surrounding myself with such inspirational individuals is that they have driven me to do the same.
What’s particularly awesome is that the social aspect of my career as a lobbyist enables me to also work on the things I care about in meaningful ways, such as: passing workplace and marriage equality for LGBT, helping good candidates get elected, encouraging young professionals to get engaged in politics, and promoting a positive political community by bringing people together through social and/or charitable means.
It is very difficult for me to find something about my job that is my “least favorite.” I guess it would be that explaining what I do to people can be very frustrating at times, specifically when people take that opportunity to spout off about “political” things they truly know nothing about. I never correct them, but rather just employ a zen-like approach to listening to them. That way, we can still like each other at the end of the conversation.
Do you think it is more difficult to be a woman in politics? What has been your experience?
Being a woman in politics is pretty much the same as being a woman in any other career field: It is what you make it. Yes, men are going to objectify you and you will have to spend a little more time proving to people that there is a brain behind that pretty face. But if you stay true to yourself, maintain your integrity, and silently-but-expectantly-demand the respect you’re deserved? People will quickly start to realize what a fierce, badass bitch you are and will sing your praises when your back is turned.
How would you describe your style?
Bright colors, form-fitting dresses, pencil skirts, scarves, heels and cheap sunglasses: I am “chic-meets-hipster in the city.”
What would you tell your 20 year old self if you could?
“Follow your dreams; I followed mine and I’m a badass.”
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be involved or more informed about local politics, but feels too busy to get that engaged?
I have very little patience for those who say that they don’t have the time to get engaged in politics. The resources available for you to get informed are endless – especially given that fact that we now have this little device in our pockets that can connect us to the information we need in a matter of seconds. Politics aren’t arbitrary things such sports or movies, they directly impact our lives, yet so many people turn a blind eye.
Want to get involved? Then get involved. Register to vote. Visit your state legislature or city council. Ask questions. Read the news. Vote in ALL of the elections, not just the Presidential one. If you are fearful that the information you just read about a policy topic is incredibly skewed – find another news source covering the same topic and compare. It doesn’t really take that much time, but the impact of your engagement is actually immensely expansive.
Thanks so much for sharing some Batman (Batwoman?) tips with us, Marilyn!
Check out Marilyn’s bio and podcast for more badassery!