High hopes for Springs’ lobbyist in Washington

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Question: How does a lobbyist sleep?

Answer: First he lies on one side and then he lies out the other.

OK, so everyone knows there’s no shortage of lobbyist jokes out there.

And now that a lobbying firm has been hired by a group of locals that includes the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, I guess we’ll be hearing more from them.

Earlier this week, I was invited, along with about 100 or so businesspeople and others, to hear from one of the partners of the firm, David Castagnetti.

The gasp from the crowd was audible when Castagnetti revealed he was a Democrat.

It was a good thing he was joined by one of his firm’s principals, Elise Finley Pickering, who quickly identified herself as a Republican.

The firm, Castagnetti said, is bipartisan, with partners from both sides of the aisle. That’s an approach that works, he said, because it gives the firm access to lawmakers of all stripes.

Castagnetti worked for John Kerry during Kerry’s bid for the presidency. Pickering — who will be one of two lobbyists at the firm working most closely with area interests — was at one time the staff director for the Republican Policy Committee. She also was the congressional liaison to the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004 for all the Republicans in the House.

Her credentials and Castagnetti’s response seemed to placate the crowd, and a brief question-and-answer session resumed without incident.

What no one asked is the fundamental yet critical question of how we’ll know whether these lobbyists are succeeding.

What bacon will they help bring home? What special projects (don’t call them earmarks!) will they help us land? What are the desired results? And what measures should we use to understand whether the resources expended are yielding the right results?

The consortium of local governments, private associations and businesses that have joined together to hire Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti is called the Coalition for Strategic Federal Action.

It includes the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Corp., the Associated General Contractors of Colorado (representing itself as well as the Colorado Association of Mechanical and Plumbing Contractors), Colorado Springs Utilities, El Paso County, Ent Federal Credit Union, the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, and Gary Erickson’s Northgate Development.

Every member of this coalition of public and private interests committed to contributing $10,000 a year for the next three years. A 10th partner is likely to be added soon and there might be room for more, though I was told probably not too many more.

So, what will $100,000 a year deliver? What kind of results should we expect?

Stephannie Finley, the chamber’s government affairs person, said that question will be resolved in the next few weeks as the coalition sorts through a host of potential priorities.

“We realize there won’t be quick outcomes,” she said. “It’s going to take at least a year.”

Issues relating to the military, transportation and health care are all likely to end up on the priority list.

If there’s one item I’d like to see get some attention it’s the proposal to move a combat aviation brigade to Fort Carson.

This idea already has support from Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn.

Fort Carson has been hoping for more helicopters for some time to help better train troops fighting in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Udall, Bennet and Lamborn asked the Army to extend a Dec. 20 deadline for public comment on an environmental impact report on the possibility of locating the aviation brigade here.

Were it to land here, the brigade would bring in 2,700 more soldiers and about 100 helicopters.

The Army has listed three possible options for the additional combat aviation brigades it’s considering:

It could establish two new brigades, with one at Fort Carson and one at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state;

It could create just one at either Fort Carson or Lewis-McChord;

It could decide not to add any additional combat aviation brigades.

A decision is expected next year. A delay, which the Army agreed to a day after it was sought, could buy Pickering and her colleagues a bit more time to make the case for Fort Carson.

Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at allen.greenberg@csbj.com or 719-329-5206.

One Response to High hopes for Springs’ lobbyist in Washington

  1. Lets hope they make a strong case for Fort Carson, and that the media doesn’t whip everyone into a frenzy against the addition of the brigade. I am a serious outdoorsman and love our mountainous terrain and when I am out there I love the solitude they bring, but it never bothers me to see the might of our military forces training either. It reminds me why I have the freedoms I do. A BIG Thank You to all those who serve in the greatest peace keeping force on earth.

    December 17, 2010 at 8:39 am