Tom Flynn called his most recent trip to Washington D.C. a very expensive "first date." In December, as regional director of the Outdoor Alliance--a national coalition of mountain bikers, kayakers, skiers, climbers and other outdoor recreationists--Flynn took 25 recreationists to meet Idaho's congressional delegation.
"Sometimes you just gotta put on the suit and tie and show up," Flynn told Boise Weekly.
Four attendees were from Idaho, representing the Wood River Bike Coalition, the Boise Climbers Alliance, the Boise Area Mountain Bike Association and local paddlers. The goal of this "first date" was to meet with members of Congress to talk about issues that threaten outdoor recreation.
"All day, every day, these guys hear from paid lobbyists," Flynn said. "This gives them a chance to hear from real people and on a pretty fun topic. We're talking about outdoor recreation--it's not health care reform. They sit there and get hounded on those things all day. They're kind of happy to hear from us."
Conversations included the outdoorsmen's interest in a national monument in the Boulder-White Clouds, their concerns about the state overtaking federal lands and an accounting problem when it comes to fighting wildfires. Flynn said when money runs out for fighting wildfires in the summer, the government takes funds from other accounts, like building and maintaining trails.
But putting "real people" before Reps. Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson and Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch takes some preparation. The group flew in on a Monday; spent Tuesday learning how to present their topics; met with congressmen and people from agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management on Wednesday; and left D.C. Thursday morning.
Flynn said, the most important part of starting these relationships is setting themselves apart. After that, he believes their input can make a difference in national politics.
"We come from a place of authenticity," Flynn said. "We're talking about our backyards. We're talking about what we love to do. We're talking about why we live in Idaho. Those are super important things. And we're younger, less gray hair. More fun."