Senator Jerry Moran (CrunchGov Grade: A) left his tie back in Washington, D.C., and sat down with me for an informal, yet candid discussion at the SXSW Interactive conference. The folksy Kansas representative has been one of the Senate’s few tech wonks, spearheading a bill to create a new visa for immigrant entrepreneurs, the Startup Visa Act 3.0. We’ve included highlights below. From filibustering drone policy to how to influence his fellow congressmen, we’ve included the highlights below.
“If the federal government can kill a U.S. citizen without due process of law in the United States, what can’t the federal government do?” said Moran, who helped Rand Paul on his epic 12-hour filibuster this week to protest the nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director. Paul had invoked the U.S. Senate’s fire-alarm procedure, the filibuster, which permits any representative to hold up all political activity so long as he or she continuously talks (no bathroom breaks). Moran joined his Republican colleague on the Senate floor to bring attention to Obama’s ambiguous stance on being able to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil with a drone.
The filibuster was front-page news most of the day and was a big hit on Twitter (Paul’s own following swelled roughly 3,500 followers each hour he talked). Thanks the national attention the filibuster received, the Obama Administration has agreed to clarify its position and admitted it does not have the authority to kill non-combatant citizens on U.S. soil. “Most importantly, it educated the American people who are too often tuned out and tuned off of what’s going on in Washington, D.C., about an issue that I think is of fundamental importance.”
How To Influence A Congressman
While Moran admitted that lobbyist money does influence politicians, he argued that it was quid pro quo. Rather, Senators are most influenced by personal conversations, which money often buys through fancy dinners. “I think this is true of almost all humans: we kind of crave the connection with people. And if you get to know somebody, you can influence the way they think based upon that connection,” he said.
To equal the playing field between average citizens, Moran advises activists to use social media to get on policymakers’ or their staffs’ radar, which then peaks enough interest to begin personal conversations with the small guy. “The best way to connect with people still today, despite the value of social media, is human relations.
The massive online protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was especially important to Moran. “It was very appealing to me to find that there is an issue and a medium of communication that gives me the opportunity to have a relationship with a whole new set of Kansans that otherwise would not have been involved in my life.
The upshot from Moran’s talk seems to be that the influence is as much about education as politicking, if not more so. Both the public and policymakers are drowning in information. Those who can get face time, no matter the size of their bank accounts, have the opportunity to be the most important source of information upon which everyone bases their decisions.