I grew up as the son of a small business owner, and I suppose that is one reason why I have so enjoyed representing mom and pop business owners during the 40 years I have been in private practice. I believe that it often takes more managerial ability to run a small business than a large one whose revenues and expenses may be larger by many orders of magnitude. The small business owner lacks the staff and the resources of his larger counterpart and often he or she is so beset with immediate tasks they are unable to see the big picture, and unable to plan.
One of the easy “big picture” items to overlook is the importance of participating in the political arena. In my father’s day, that was strictly taboo because of the fear that espousing a political point of view or supporting a political candidate would automatically alienate those with opposing views who were supporting other candidates. I remember a heated argument we had when I was in college and proposed to put a political bumper sticker on the family car. He forbade it. Later when I had my own car which I paid for with money I earned, and put a political bumper sticker on it, he reminded me that while he could not prevent me from putting a bumper sticker on my own car, he could prohibit me from parking it at his house!
My father’s generation of business owners have been replaced with those who see a wider world and recognize that it is important, sometimes crucial, for business owners to participate in and influence decisions in the political arena, for a host of reasons:
- Political leaders who do not come from the ranks of business owners often do not understand the impact their proposed legislation may have on the small business of the state.
- Many legislative initiatives are prompted by special interest groups who have organized in order to pursue a narrow agenda. Political leaders need to hear feedback from informed business owners on the impact of this special interest legislation, so they can make better decisions and choices.
- Business owners have “outsize influence” with members of the public and with their customers, vendors, and employees, most of whom may not be following issues in the public arena most of the time. When business owners take knowledgeable positions on key issues, those groups can be persuaded and can in turn persuade their elected officials.
Echoing back across the decades comes my father’s voice, asking: “Won’t it still hurt my business?” I can now answer him with the authority of my own experiences as a business lawyer for more than 40 years: “No, Dad, not if you do it right.”
He would ask, with his right eyebrow arched, “How do you do it right?” First, don’t be pushy. Don’t inflict your views, candidate, party, or issue on the public in your place of business. People who come to see you as a merchant, a restaurateur, or a professional aren’t coming to hear about your politics. Keep your political activities after hours and away from work. Secondly, always show respect for those with opposing views, whether they are candidates, the supporters of candidates or members of the public.
The public is rightfully cynical about the political process which often times seems rife with dysfunction, dissention and gridlock. At election time, politics becomes shrill and sometimes venomous. But it is also true that there are good and decent men and women involved in electoral politics at the local, state, and federal level. During my career, I have had the opportunity to know many of them and to work with them on good causes. It has been my experience that when business leaders support good candidates, they are often instrumental in electing them. Support of the business community elevates the quality of political discourse and ultimately improves the decisions elected leaders make.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
T. Jay Seale
About the Author: I began the practice of law in Hammond in 1973 as a solo practitioner. Over time I took in partners, hired associates and built what is now the largest law firm on the North Shore of Southeast Louisiana, comprised of eighteen lawyers whose skills are spread into many different practice areas, including general business representation, litigation in state and federal courts as well as ADR (Alternate Dispute Resolution such as arbitration and mediation of business disputes), and corporate consultation on business formations, mergers and acquisitions, and intellectual property. The firm also has three Board Certified tax and estate planning specialists. Ours is a full service law firm combining the legal expertise of larger firms in urban markets with the community values and virtues of a smaller, more personal practice. I’d like to invite you to contact us today with any questions you may have about how to implement or enhance your vision for your company’s future.