Get to Know Your VRLDA Lobbyist

The following is a Q&A with VRLDA Lobbyist, Bill Smith of Smith Government Relations, LLC.

Did you Know?

The lumber and building materials industry employs more than 7,000 people in VT.

Lobby Day

VRLDA once again hosted a legislative breakfast as part of the Bright Futures event as our lobby day on March 20 at VTC.

Tell us a little about your background. Where did you grow up, go to school, etc.?

I grew up in Plainfield, Vt., in a family that had dairy farmers and construction workers. I graduated from the local high school and attended the University of Vermont. At UVM, I graduated with a degree in history. After college, I worked on my uncle’s dairy farm and as a carpenter and concrete finisher until I decided to go to law school. I began my legal career at a litigation firm in Vermont.

What made you realize you wanted to be a lobbyist?

At the law firm, I found that a lawyer has a lot of different opportunities to use their legal training. You can represent plaintiffs or defendants in court; you can help clients form businesses, prepare for the generational passing of assets, or buy and sell property; you can advise businesses on the best means to meet their goals. I found that there is a great deal of flexibility and many different opportunities for lawyers. I also found out that lobbying existed—essentially, it is advocacy without the formal rules of evidence.

What was your first lobbying or political job, and what was your favorite part of it?

My first job in politics was as a clerk/parliamentarian with the Vermont House of Representatives. I really enjoyed the interaction with legislators and advising them of the rules that applied to the issues they were considering and debating. That felt very similar to advising business owners about their options or a person about their estate planning.

What is something people are always surprised to learn about your role as a lobbyist or what you do in government?

People are always surprised at how little control lobbyists have over the process. We understand the process and who to talk to in order to bring an issue forward. When we are successful on an issue, I get a lot of credit, but it is more about persistence and politeness than any lobbyist voodoo. In Vermont at least, “fat cat lobbyists” and their big-money donations don’t really exist.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve worked on lately?

I’ve found it interesting to work with different committees than usual. Recently, we have been in the Education Committees working on increasing the number of students in the career technical centers. Until now, I had never had cause to testify before those committees, and being a “fresh face” to them has been nice to experience.

If you were not a lobbyist, what would you be?

Probably a dairy farmer. Despite the crowds of people at the State House and testimony in public committees, I am very happy to be by myself for large portions of the day. It is still problem-solving and slinging manure, so maybe it is more similar to being a lawyer or lobbyist than I thought.

And just for fun, what about your home state do you believe every person should experience at least once?

Eating a Vermont maple creame and a night at Thunder Road, the 1/4-mile stock car oval track in Barre, “the nation’s site of excitement.”