In Part 1 of this 2-part series, NC Family President John Rustin talks with NC Family Lobbyist and Counsel Jere Royall, about his unique and winsome philosophy on lobbying in the North Carolina General Assembly.
INTRODUCTION: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Our guest is Jere Royall, Counsel and Director of Community Impact at our very own North Carolina Family Policy Council. Since the North Carolina General Assembly recently concluded the 2016 “Short” Legislative Session, we thought it would be a very opportune time to talk with Jere about the legislative session and also about his activities as a registered lobbyist for NC Family. In fact, we are going to spend this week and next delving into this aspect of our work as an advocate for family values in North Carolina’s political and public policy arena. This week, we’ll be talking with Jere about what it’s like to participate as a lobbyist in the North Carolina General Assembly representing NC Family, and next week we will discuss the recently concluded legislative session and what all took place.
JOHN RUSTIN: Jere, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
JERE ROYALL: Thank you John. I am blessed by God in working with you and everyone else who works with the Family Policy Council.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thank you Jere. We’re certainly blessed to have the opportunity to work with you and appreciate so much your heart to serve the Lord in this way. I know that you, and we all, consider this to be a ministry and we all believe that we have been called to this ministry, and so it’s a real pleasure and an honor to work with you and all the members of the NC Family staff. Jere, for starters, lobbying is a word that often conjures up negative reactions. When folks hear about lobbying, they often think of shady deals being made in back rooms by men in expensive suits, smoking big cigars and things like that. Do you think that is a fair and accurate representation or do you believe that lobbyists can actually play, and do actually play, an important and positive role in the policy making and political process?
JERE ROYALL: John, as you know in most professions, there are stereotypes, and unfortunately the one for lobbyists, maybe, is not a good one. However, my experience in over 15 years working with the Family Policy Council, that stereotype does not fit. I see the work of lobbyists as being a vital part of the public policy process. Legislators are faced with many decisions, I mean literally hundreds of issues each session, and they have wonderful staff who work with them, but lobbyists are an important part of how our elected officials learn about the various issues that they are looking at. And they get different perspectives and it all works, I think, in a wonderful way to bring them to decisions that hopefully, in most cases, reflect what is best for the citizens of our state. And so lobbyists do play a vital role in that decision making process.
JOHN RUSTIN: I think that’s a great answer, and as one who has been a registered lobbyist in North Carolina for two decades, I completely agree with what you’ve said. Jere, building on that, how does lobbying help NC Family pursue our vision, which is “A state and nation where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, families thrive and life is cherished.” And, in addition to that, we have a mission statement of “Equipping North Carolina families to be voices of persuasion for family values in their communities.” So, we’ve got a big vision and then a mission statement that kind of puts that vision into action. It talks about how we seek to pursue that vision. Talk about that a little bit if you would Jere.
JERE ROYALL: A lot of our work that we do here, just as we say in our vision statement, is focused on promoting and protecting the sanctity of human life, marriage, and religious freedom. As I mentioned, the role of the Family Policy Council in the area of lobbying is important in the way that we communicate with legislators directly through our publications and through meeting person to person with them. But it is also vital, we have come to understand over the years, that other citizens be equipped as well to help encourage legislators as they’re making these important decisions, to either support or oppose proposed legislation. And we see it’s an important part of our role to help equip citizens in these important areas so they can encourage their elected officials as these decisions are being made.
JOHN RUSTIN: I think the reality is Jere, and I know that we would both attest to this, is that we can do all that we do down at the General Assembly, we can be down there every day working with legislators, building these relationships, trying to educate them, but if they don’t hear from their constituents back home, if folks back in their districts are not engaged and involved, then our ability to really influence and impact and educate is extremely limited. But when we partner with folks back in their districts who care about these issues, who are passionate about them and who have a heart to get involved, that is a partnership that can make a huge difference in North Carolina. And based on our track record and our history, and we thank the Lord for this, we have had a tremendous amount of success in that realm. God has really blessed us with a constituency across the state who really cares about these issues, has gotten involved and really has made a difference. Jere, you have been an incredibly valued member of the NC Family staff for quite a few years and a registered lobbyist for much of that time. In fact, many of our listeners may not know that your father was a very well-respected member of the North Carolina General Assembly, serving in the State House from 1967-73 and then in the State Senate from 1973-1993. Did his involvement sort of pave the way for you to become involved in policy and political work or was this something you came into through other means?
JERE ROYALL: Actually it was not until later in my life that I became involved with public policy, and I really only remember talking with my father one time about a specific issue, and I knew that we had very different views on that. But when when I finished sharing with him, he responded with two words: “Thank you.” And as I look back at that time, I’d like to believe that what was happening there was he cared more about our relationship than he did about debating a specific issue where we had very different views. And that was an important life lesson for me to learn now as I look back. And it’s helped me in the work that I do here to realize, as important as the issues are that we are working on, the relationship that we have with the people we’re interacting with, is just—as if not more—important. Because I realize again, the longer I live, I look at the overall perspective of life and realize that God has created us for a relationship with Him and with each other, and that’s meant to be lived out in every part of our lives, including the area of public policy.
JOHN RUSTIN: I tell people often when I go speak in public that the Lord called me into the ministry, but the ministry was not as a pastor but as a lobbyist. I often get strange responses, but that’s the truth. Jere, when you’re at the Legislature, what is your kind of approach or philosophy? What do you think are some of the keys to being a successful advocate or lobbyist, particularly as one who works on what some might consider to be some of the most controversial issues that we face in our culture today?
JERE ROYALL: The more I work in this area, I think, the more that comes into focus for me is my understanding of why I am doing the work that I do each day. That it’s all part of loving my neighbor. Again, it’s just the calling that God has in each of our lives, to have, what I’ve heard defined that word “love,” to be an unselfish, unconditional commitment to the greatest good of another. As we approach our work at the Family Policy Council with that understanding, we first start by looking at the issues and we do extensive research. We look at the medical, social, scientific evidence, any facts, any information that we can find about the particular issue, and then we realize that as we’re looking at that information, really the foundation is God’s Word. Because He’s the one who made us, He knows what’s best for us. So when you do the research from all the other perspectives outside of the Bible, you realize that when you find the truth, it’s gonna line up with God’s Word because He’s the Author of Truth. And so that’s how we look at the policy information that we provide, and that’s the heart and mind that we want to have as we approach the policy. But really, as I mentioned earlier, just as, if not more, important than the policy are the relationships that we have with the people as we’re sharing the information that we find from our research. I know that the outcome of the issues that we are working on is very important, but also, it’s how we communicate about these important issues, in the way that we speak, the way that we write, the way we interact with others. Do they really see God working in and through us where they really see the message, the unselfish, unconditional commitment to the greatest good of others. So those are the the two things that I have tried to learn to put together personally. And then I think, we as an organization try to put together finding the facts—the truth about an issue and communicating that truth in love— speaking the truth in love as God calls us to do.
JOHN RUSTIN: That is a great insight into the background and the backdrop of NC Family. And, kind of along that same line Jere, would you say that NC Family is pretty much the same as all other organization who lobby in the General Assembly? Are we similar to other groups, or do we differ in some respects from many of the other organizations who have or hire lobbyists?
JERE ROYALL: I think one of the things that’s unique about the way we interact with elected officials is that we are a research and education organization that publishes emails, magazines, produces radio shows like this one, to help inform and educate them about important issues that they’re working on. We are unique in that, in addition to our lobbying, we provide these resources. I know there are a few other organizations that work specifically on the issues that we are focused on. One of the things that I think is unique, because these are often very controversial, emotional issues, is the opportunity that we have, and I know there are other Christian lobbyists there who have the same opportunities for elected officials to see Christ in them and to be drawn, for God to work through them to draw people to Himself. But, the nature of the issues that we work on, I think, gives us a unique opportunity for people to see these are important questions and that the perspective that we are sharing with them is based, again what I mentioned earlier, on a love for others, really caring and wanting God’s best for other people. And that our hope of what happens as a result of our interactions with elected officials is that they see Christ in us and that He works through us to draw people to Himself.
JOHN RUSTIN: Jere, as we close our conversation this week, what words of guidance or encouragement would you give to folks who really want to make a difference and who understand that they can make a difference if they simply make themselves available and take the initiative to get to know their elected officials, and then engage those elected officials when issues come up that they care about.
JERE ROYALL: They definitely can play a very important role. I know as important as the role can be of lobbyists and others who are trying to help inform elected officials, when they hear from the people back home who they represent, and we’ve heard this over and over, that makes a tremendous impact on them. To know that the people they represent have taken the time and effort to be informed on the issues that people are contacting them about, and really the more personal—that’s something else we’ve heard—the more personal the contact, the stronger the message is to the elected officials about a particular issue. Emails are important and are helpful. Phone calls, I think as we have heard, are even more impactful. And then really the most personal interaction is a personal visit, whether it’s to a legislator’s office or to their office back at home in the district. So, yes, people becoming involved is definitely an important part of what can and needs to happen in our decision making process in our state and our federal and our local governments.
JOHN RUSTIN: Jere Royall, thanks so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters this week. We look forward to talking with you next week about some of the specific issues the North Carolina General Assembly dealt with during the recently concluded session. Thanks for your time.
JERE ROYALL: Thank you.
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