The headline states, “KU changing lobbying strategy in middle of state budget fight.”
The story said Kansas University officials have decided to change their lobbying tactics with members of the Kansas Legislature by putting long-time contract lobbyist Kathy Damron, figuratively speaking, out to pasture and reassigning her to focus on outreach with “key stakeholders and community leaders across Kansas on behalf of the university.”
Replacing Damron to sell state lawmakers on the values of KU is Riley Scott who has his own firm, Scott Consulting LLC. He will work with Mandy Miller, a Damron company employee.
It’s interesting to note that Scott had worked for Gov. Sam Brownback when he served in Congress and was deputy chief of staff and state director for U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran. He also is the son-in-law of Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle.
It’s obvious KU officials are pulling out all of the stops and using all their connections to get as good a deal as possible from state lawmakers currently engaged in a tough debate concerning the state budget and how much money will be appropriated for higher education.
In recent years, there has been a revolving door on lobbying efforts by the university. Not too many years ago, these efforts in Topeka were handled by Jon Josserand and Marlin Rein, both KU employees.
These two men stepped aside when KU officials in Strong Hall created the position of executive vice chancellor for university relations. The job initially was filled by Janet Murguia, a former aide to President Clinton who now leads the National Council of La Raza Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization; and then Paul Carttar, a former COO of the Kauffman Foundation, who later served in a number of positions, including director of the Social Innovation Fund for the Corporation for National and Community Service. Damron stepped in to oversee the lobbying efforts, and after both Murguia and Carttar left KU, the lobbying efforts were left in the hands of Damron’s company.
During this KU merry-go-round of lobbyists, Kansas State University has enjoyed the excellent and effective services of Sue Peterson, who has been on the job at KSU since 1989. According to numerous Topeka legislators and even some members of the Kansas Board of Regents, Peterson, a one-person operation and a KSU employee, has “run circles around the KU effort even though they have more individuals carrying out their lobbying efforts.”
Why hasn’t KU been more effective in telling the KU story in Topeka? Is it the fault of the lobbyists or could it be partially due to the messages and/or leadership they are receiving from the chancellor’s office compared with the messages and support Peterson receives from her president’s office?
Or could it be that a “contract lobbyist” does not have the feel, the close and personal connections with the university and its employees that a full-time university employee enjoys? Or could it be the Douglas County legislative delegation does not have the clout and respect it deserves?
As one lobbyist points out, “Anyone, lobbyist or otherwise, who is serving as a representative of the university in dealing with legislators, or the public, has to tell it like it is if they are to merit the respect of legislators. He or she has to have a strong, positive story to tell.”
Peterson has been telling and selling the Kansas State story for more than 20 years. KU, on the other hand, now is relying on three “hired guns” to tell its story. Who are lawmakers more likely to respect?
The news story about the change in KU’s lobbying personnel said Damron would focus on outreach “with key stakeholders and community leaders across Kansas.” Apparently, someone in the chancellor’s office doesn’t believe the KU Alumni Association, with its thousands of loyal members throughout the state, or the KU Endowment Association, with its thousands of loyal Kansas supporters who have contributed many millions of dollars to help the university, are getting the job done in telling the KU story and need the help of contract lobbyists.
Whatever the cause or reason, KU needs help. Also, it should be noted, KU is not represented in majority party leadership positions in the Kansas Legislature or in the governor’s office as it once was.
Unfortunately, KU is not the powerhouse within the state that it had been. How long will this situation be allowed to continue?