Tommy Thompson, the former governor of Wisconsin and former Amtrak board chair, urged APTA members to explain to their members of Congress the importance of public transportation, with an emphasis on specific projects and services in their home districts. Thompson spoke at the March 14 Policy Briefing Breakfast session of the 2011 APTA Legislative Conference in Washington, sponsored by APTA’s Business Members.
“A small group of committed citizens can change the direction of the world,” said Thompson. “We don't want so much to change the direction of the world; what we want to do, ladies and gentleman, is change the direction of Congress as it relates to mass transit.”
He advised conference participants to maintain contact with their members of Congress. “Invite that congressman when you’re opening up a new business and have his smiling face there holding onto a shovel,” Thompson said. “He’s going to feel pretty damn guilty getting his picture taken and not voting for you in the future.”
Invite lawmakers to ride in the engine and hold the throttle: people love trains, said Thompson, whom APTA and its business members have retained to help make the case for public transit.
“We have a [federal] budget in front of us that increases the amount of [transportation] money to the tune of about $556 billion,” he said. “It’s up to us—you and I in our respective roles—to be able to convince Congress that that’s a good investment.”
Thompson reminded the group of the importance of public transit as an employer, creating American jobs while generating tax revenues at the federal, state, and local levels.
Instead of using figures from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—which Thompson said is unpopular with many incoming lawmakers—to make the case for public transportation, he suggested going to state universities for studies of the benefits that transit provides to the city, region, or state. Then bring that evidence to the attention of federal legislators, he said.
Don’t limit outreach to those lawmakers considered friends of public transit, he advised, but seek to speak with those considered foes. “I’ve always found that if you convert a sinner, you get the best disciple,” he said. “A lot of the reason people vote against you is that they don’t understand you.”