IJ uses many tools to communicate with legislators about bills that are important to our cases. Often, a face-to-face meeting is the best way to deliver a message. Other times, we will use campaigns that involve letter writing, email or the telephone to demonstrate broad support (or outrage) on a particular issue.
But for that old-fashioned “feel good” factor, nothing beats a rally at the Capitol. Rallies give people a chance to be a part of something important. They are a visual and audible statement that are difficult to ignore, and the media loves them, expanding your message’s reach.
Texas has been a hotspot for IJ rallies lately because the Texas Legislature only meets for 180 days every two years, meaning that focus and message discipline are at a premium. “Free to Design” was our first rally, where independent interior designers gathered at the Capitol in Austin to fight against an interior design “practice act” that would force them to obtain a government-issued license to provide interior design services in Texas. Thanks in large part to the rally—spearheaded and led by IJ’s Director of Activism and Coalitions Christina Walsh—and the personal outreach that followed, the practice act died in committee and has not been heard from since. The rally generated plenty of media buzz, including an excellent story on Austin’s NBC affiliate, in which one of the practice act’s biggest proponents admitted that, after searching for two years, she could not provide a single example of public harm from unlicensed interior design. IJ quickly turned this admission into a YouTube clip that helped turn legislative sentiment against the practice act.
Our second Texas rally called for eminent domain reform. Texas passed a weak response to Kelo in 2005, but stronger legislation in 2007 was vetoed by the governor. This year was our third effort, and IJ did everything we could do to make sure Texas got it right this time. Our rally brought Texans from across the state who are living under the threat of eminent domain abuse, along with two state legislators and a host of property rights activists.
Once again, the media was all over the story. The Associated Press picked it up, and the rally was covered in newspapers and by television stations around the state.
We were only partially successful. Due to last-minute changes in the law, voters will vote in November on a constitutional amendment that still leaves many unresolved questions about eminent domain for private gain in Texas. More reform and litigation across Texas will still be needed to ensure property rights are protected.
A third rally took place just across the Red River in Oklahoma. Christina Walsh returned to the Midwest to lead a group of horse teeth floaters and horse owners in a rally calling for legislation in response to the arrest of a horse teeth floater who practiced his age-old craft without a veterinary license. That rally generated news stories all over Oklahoma and put major pressure on the Legislature to fix the problem and prevent future arrests. And our work has already yielded great impact: Oklahomans who are not veterinarians will soon be able to float horses’ teeth without risking felony charges, now that Gov. Brad Henry signed S.B. 452 into law in May. That bill strips a 2008 amendment to the state’s Veterinary Practice Act that established felony penalties against individuals without a veterinary license who float (file) or extract horses’ teeth. The new law goes into effect 90 days after receiving the governor’s signature.
Rallies are a lot of work and a lot of fun for everyone involved (except our opponents), and they make a difference. They are one more valuable tool IJ uses in its daily fight for liberty.
Matt Miller is the IJ Texas Chapter executive director.