By Debbie Rauen, Legendary Hills Communications
Christine Varela is chair of the Public Policy Council of Greater Spokane Inc., a position she has held for three years. She is a partner in DH, a public relations, advertising and branding agency. Varela is passionate about public policy and the importance of advocating for the needs of our community.
What is the Public Policy Council of GSI and what does it do?
The Council is made up of a diverse group of community and business leaders with expertise in public affairs. We help identify, educate, and advocate for public policy priorities and issues that support the business community and create real economic impact for our region.
This is done throughout the entire year at the local, state and federal level. The Council also supports two advocacy trips each year, one to Washington, DC and one to the state capital in Olympia.
Why does GSI organize advocacy efforts?
Repeatedly, we hear from elected officials that our community needs to show up with a clear, aligned set of regional priorities.
There is power in numbers. GSI brings together a diverse group of people to look at issues from different perspectives. Being able to come together with one voice and say ‘these are our region’s priorities’ is powerful. The more unified we are as a region, the more likely it is that projects for our community will receive funding.
It also makes a difference when we articulate the impact of an issue beyond just a single organization or industry. Advocacy from representatives of industries not directly benefitting from a proposal speaks volumes and adds credibility to our message.
How does the Council determine priority issues?
We reach out to a wide variety of community and business leaders from companies of all sizes in order to create a comprehensive list of policy issues GSI should consider. The Public Policy Council then evaluates the advocacy items to identify those with the greatest impact for our region.
How do you define public policy success?
Success means legislation has passed or a policy has been enacted, or the opposite – we’ve helped prevent or moderate a regulation or policy that would have been harmful to our community or businesses in our region. For capital projects, it means successful funding for projects that will grow our economy or address important community needs.
Educating people about the impact – and potential unintended consequences – of proposed laws and regulations on employers also represents success. Whether it’s testifying before a committee, working behind the scenes with an elected official or their staff, or alerting our members or the public about an issue, making our positions known is key.
What are some recent public funding successes?
GSI has long been a supporter and catalyst for the expansion of 4-year medical education in Spokane. The establishment of the WSU medical school and expansion of the University of Washington’s WWAMI program are incredibly important to our region. Along with others, GSI also advocated for expanded federal funding to support residency programs in our region.
Another big advocacy win has been the funding for the completion of Spokane’s North-South Corridor – getting it into the Governor’s and the legislature’s transportation packages. We’ve also advocated for critical infrastructure improvements in Spokane Valley, Airway Heights, Cheney and other municipalities.
How about local issues?
Cultivating a healthy business climate requires advocacy at not only the federal and state level, but also the local level. Recognizing the Interstate Commerce Act regulates the movement of goods across state lines, such as freight grains, GSI advocated against Proposition 2, which would have imposed fines on the transportation of oil or coal shipments by rail.
GSI worked closely with City of Spokane Council members, City staff, local businesses, and stakeholders to scale back the initial Earned Safe and Sick Leave proposal. Representing the perspective of business resulted in the passed ordinance being far less onerous on local businesses than the original proposal.
What do you wish people knew about GSI’s public policy work?
Often the process to enact legislation or secure funding is a long one, with GSI working behind the scenes year-round. Even when you don’t hear about it, we are working with elected officials, policy influencers, and many partners to help create a climate for business to grow and thrive in our region.
It’s important to note that GSI does not work alone and that advocacy is done in partnership and collaboration with many others.
If you have any questions about the Public Policy Council, contact Cara Coon, Public Affairs Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 321-3636.