Tom Wickham
Senior Vice President, State and Local Policy

Published

October 25, 2022

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While many in Washington D.C. are focusing on the Congressional midterm elections and potential ramifications to the Biden White House’s agenda, state and local-level governments are now more active than ever in driving policy change, including on issues of national consequence. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently highlighted these issues, state and local-level races, and the challenges and opportunities facing elected officials outside the Beltway at its inaugural State and Local Policy Issues Conference. If you missed the event, read on for some key takeaways.  

Big Picture: Overall Trends Shaping State and Local Policy  

After the federal government made billions of dollars available to state and local governments to help with Covid-19 response and recovery efforts, state and local-level officials are now faced with the crucial question of how best to spend surplus funds. The Conference’s opening panel featured four top staffers for groups representing state or local officeholders—many of them confronting this very question. Panelists discussed this and other issues elected officials they represent are facing, best practices for engaging with their members, and how they are developing new partnerships.  

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Ben Husch, Natural Resources & Infrastructure Committee Director at the National Conference of State Legislatures, highlighted the workforce shortage as a key issue that must be addressed, both in the public and private sectors. “I don’t think I’m shedding any light here in terms of talking about the difficulty that we’ve seen in hiring over the past year. That is not just a private sector but also a public sector issue,” Husch said.  

Tiffany Waddell, Director of Government Relations at the National Governors’ Association, also identified the labor shortage as a critical issue. Waddell also pointed to energy and housing as other issues she believes governors will look to confront seriously in 2023.  

Teryn Zmuda, Chief Research Officer & Chief Economist at the National Association of Counties, specifically explored how counties across the country are using funding surpluses from the American Rescue Plan, which allocated over $65 billion to U.S. counties. Local government needs to ensure compliance with the rules prescribed by Congress in discharging funds, and Zmuda said members of the National Association of Counties are working to ensure they are able to do so.  

Irma Esparza Diggs, Senior Executive and Director of Federal Advocacy at the National League of Cities, also spoke about federal funds received by cities. The National League of Cities has launched a program called the Local Infrastructure Hub, designed to help small and mid-sized towns and cities produce data-driven, thoroughly-researched applications for federal funding. “We’re here to provide some clarity and connect the dots for city government,” she said.  

Legal Trends in State and Local Policy  

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State Attorneys General have become more and more powerful, with like-minded AGs increasingly working together, and in some cases, directly challenging the federal government. With the majority of Attorneys General on the ballot this fall, gaining a better understanding of what they do and their willingness to work with businesses is crucial.  

Travis Johnson, Chief of Staff to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, highlighted the increasing problem of organized retail crime, a topic that has become a top priority for the U.S. Chamber. “What we do know is that gangs that are operating in our state [are] now engaged in more violent smash and grab retail theft […] and then taking those stolen products and selling them online,” Johnson said. He believes the Georgia Attorney General’s office now has the tools it needs to fight this problem, with the creation of a Gang Prosecution Unit this past July, as well as the Georgia legislature equipping the Attorney General with the authority to prosecute gang activity statewide. Johnson went on to highlight how his office works with businesses that have fallen victim to organized retail crime, referencing partnering with Home Depot during a statewide investigation into the issue. 

Adam Braun, the Illinois Executive Deputy Attorney General, also spoke about efforts to stop organized retail crime in Illinois, highlighting the Attorney General’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force. Like Johnson, he described how his office partners with businesses, saying it is crucial to dispel the fear some businesses have of interacting with the AG. Braun highlighted the Rebound to Work program, which works with community and corporate groups to provide employment assistance to the victims of violent crime. 

Briefing on Ballot Initiatives: Themes and Trends  

Thomas Wickham, Senior Vice President for State and Local Policy at the Chamber, presented on ballot measures, a vitally important but often under-discussed component of elections. Wickham explained what types of ballot measures there are, why they’re important, and ones to be aware of this midterm election and beyond.   

Wickham outlined the general function of ballot measures in the states and key trends on state ballots this November. Tax and labor measures are particularly prominent this year: in West Virginia, Amendment 2 would allow for the state legislature to exempt property used for business purposes from someone’s personal property taxes, and Tennessee’s Amendment 1 would enshrine the right to work in the state constitution. Looking ahead, Wickham highlighted efforts to get a measure on the ballot in 2024 that would repeal California’s recently passed fast-food sectoral bargaining bill, AB 257. 

Political Trends in State and Local Policy  

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The event closed with a bipartisan panel featuring Tisha Edwards, the campaign Chief of Staff to Wes Moore’s 2022 Maryland gubernatorial campaign, and Kristin Davison, who served as an advisor to Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 Virginia gubernatorial campaign. Both spoke on many similar themes their candidates campaigned on, despite coming from different sides of the aisle.  

While Edwards and Davison expressed some disagreement on whether specific issues matter more to voters, they shared similar assessments on the importance of many others. Kitchen table issues like the cost of living, education, and safety were all commonalities in the messages both believe resonate with voters and will ultimately win the midterms. “Just seeing what’s happening in New Mexico, Oregon, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, all these places, they’re talking about the same things we were talking about last year. It’s the cost of living, it’s inflation, it’s education, it’s keeping communities safe,” Davison explained. “Absolutely people are concerned about inflation, the economy, safety, and education,” Edwards concurred.   

About the authors

Tom Wickham

Tom Wickham

Senior Vice President, State and Local Policy

Tom Wickham, former Parliamentarian of the U.S. House of Representatives, serves as senior vice president of State & Local Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Wickham leads the Chamber’s new division that monitors state and local policy developments and coordinates state and local policy advocacy strategies within the existing Chamber framework.

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