HINDMAN — Members of the Eastern Kentucky chapters of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth met Saturday in Hindman to improve their skills as lobbyists and prepare to lobby local, state and national officials this year.
KFTC, a statewide organization that claims more than 7,500 members, works to improve the quality of life for all Kentuckians, according to the group’s literature. The group has lobbied on environmental and economic-justice issues, like mountaintop-removal coal mining and tax reform.
One way KFTC members make their voices heard is through lobbying.
The citizen lobby training Saturday at the Hindman Settlement School opened with a discussion of what lobbying is and how citizens can take action to petition legislators and policymakers at home, in Frankfort, and in Washington, D.C.
Patty Amburgey, of the Letcher County chapter, has lobbied many times since becoming a KFTC member in 1999. She said during the training it is important for KFTC members to be prepared before lobbying.
“Always read your information and know what you’re going to talk about,” she said to the group.
She said members also have to work to keep the attention of whomever they are lobbying.
“Don’t give them a chance to start going through their papers and stuff like that,” she said. “Keep them focused on what you’re saying and do not let them intimidate you.”
Other KFTC members present, like Josh May of the Letcher County chapter, had less lobbying experience.
May said he lobbied during a trip to Washington, D.C., when he visited the Environmental Protection Agency as part of “Week in Washington,” an anti-mountaintop-removal event that is organized by other groups, but in which KFTC members participate.
“It’s just really intimidating if you’ve never done it before,” May said.
May described what it was like to lobby a federal agency. He said he had to go through metal detectors, empty his pockets and then wait about 10 minutes after the meeting was scheduled for everyone to show up.
“And they’ve got an agenda when you get in there,” May said. “They’re ready with the answers and ready to give you the run-around, you know. And so, if you’re not really prepared, it can be pretty tough.”
He said he felt the experience went well and the group changed some people’s opinions, but at the same time, it felt like the officials had their script and “didn’t go real far from it.”
“But it was a good experience, and I feel like it’d be easier with practice,” May said.
Isaac Owens, 12, of Prestonsburg, said before the training that he was one of KFTC’s newest members, having joined the organization Friday. Owens was familiar with KFTC’s efforts because his aunt, Kristi Kendall, is the KFTC organizer for Floyd and Knott counties.
Owens said he plans to attend “I Love Mountains Day,” an annual rally that raises awareness about mountaintop removal, in Frankfort on Feb. 14.
Katie Pirotina, of the Perry County chapter, is another new KFTC member. She said she came to the training to “build skills” and said she sees involvement in KFTC as one way she can help “make sure everyone is taken care of.”
Jerry Hardt, KFTC’s communications director, said the organization has helped Kentuckians get involved in the legislative process, helped pass good legislation and stop bad legislation, and held elected leaders accountable.
Even when legislation KFTC supports does not get passed, those times can still act as “an educational process that results in positive changes in other ways,” Hardt said in an email.
Hardt said KFTC has several major items on its agenda for this legislative session, including restoration of voting rights for former felons, tax reform, clean energy and a “stream saver” bill aimed at the large valley fills that are part of mountaintop-removal mining.
In addition to “I Love Mountains Day,” KFTC has scheduled “Economic Justice Lobby Day” on Feb. 7.
Hardt said KFTC members lobby at the Capitol many legislative days, but “Economic Justice Lobby Day” is a day for members to focus on economic justice issues that may be on the legislative agenda during the session.
Other upcoming KFTC events include “Growing Appalachia,” a one-day conference with workshops hosted by the Floyd County KFTC chapter, March 3, in Prestonsburg, and the “Transition Conference,” a three-day conference focused on creating a just economic transition in Appalachia, April 19-21, in Harlan.
KFTC staff, who follow the organization’s policy of not being quoted by name, said turnout at the training Saturday was lower than expected because of sickness and slick roads. Eleven members attended the event.
Russell Oliver, a member of the Perry County KFTC chapter, said in an interview that lobbying is “something you learn to do” and a skill that one can “learn by doing.”
Oliver, who said he had been a member of KFTC for a “long time,” said during the training that lobbying provides the opportunity to find out personally which legislators are or are not sympathetic to one’s views.
He said members should remember that the officials they lobby on a local or state level today could end up in national positions of power.
He also said there is power in being with a group, such as KFTC, versus trying to lobby on one’s own.
“If you go down and say, ‘Well, I’m from representing KFTC,’ then see, you represent an organization,” Oliver said. “So then they’re a lot more apt to talk to you and listen to what you have to say than if you just go down there by yourself.”