Lobbyist exposed

“Lobbyists” are often called the lounge lizards of our political system.

They are said to hang around to seduce our otherwise bright and public-minded elected representatives of the people and lure them onto the rocks of special-interest demands.

So, as an intensely local newspaper, we set out to find one of these creatures and capture, if we could, what a real “lobbyist” actually has dared to admit publicly.

It took awhile. They’re pretty sly. We didn’t fully succeed. But we caught an “almost-lobbyist” in a clever trap we laid for one Max Heath in Madison by nominating him for a place in the honor roll of those who have made really great contributions in Wisconsin to helping local newspapers report neighborly news. (We have to call him an “almost lobbyist” because he isn’t officially registered to try and woo members of Congress.) He prefers to cloak his identity behind the name of “nerd.” These are small points such influencers fall back on when identified. A clever bunch, them! In Max’s case it’s like Superman calling himself Clark Kent. His official title is Postal Chair, National Newspaper Association (NNA).

Anyway, what follows is what we got from him – in his acceptance speech:

“I stand before you as a truly-humbled `country editor’ turned NNA `postal nerd.’ I felt the call of service to give a good part of the past 20-plus years of my life, and the rest of my semi-retired work life (God willing), to help the community newspapers that I love, deal with the bureaucratic Postal Service, and advocate for changes in rules and regulations to advance our best interests. It is a distinct pleasure and high honor to be recognized in Wisconsin for doing what I love to do, teach newspapers how to `Maximize Postage Savings & Delivery,’ and when necessary, help community publishers fight off overly compulsive postal rule enforcers who lack consideration for customer needs, or just plain bad postal policies that get over-interpreted by otherwise good people.

“Some of you Wisconsin folks may be asking about now, how’d this guy get up there? I want to share some ties to your state, and postal issues, that go back to a caring mentor who first got me involved in NNA, and then a Wisconsin postal expert, as well as doing multiple seminars here. I’m glad to have helped many deserving publishers, including most recently Barry Johanson of Plymouth, his wife Christie, and son Ian. Thanks to Barry being used as what I affectionately termed in my Publisher’s Auxiliary column a `crash test dummy’ by his postmaster, the NNA built a case for a national exemption policy for small newspapers from detailed per-issue verifications that would have delayed their mail or altered printing schedules.

“My first NNA convention was in Lake Geneva, Wis., in 1976 at the old Playboy Club. A former NNA president, Edgar Schergens of Tell City, Ind., was the publisher emeritus when I worked there. (He and I also helped launch the career of Andy Hall, executive director and reporter for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, who started at Andy’s hometown newspaper in Tell City.) Mr. Schergens’ influence on bringing me to Wisconsin, then later to the GAC in Washington, led to my service as I saw the value of NNA.

“I challenge NNA members in this audience to do the same … invite a friend in the business, another generation, or even your replacement (if you’ve sold your paper), to attend and get involved in NNA. Started in nearby Minnesota, this association is our only hope for continued representation on Capitol Hill, before administrative agencies, and of course, the Postal Service. SO, if I hadn’t started here in Wisconsin, I might not be here in Madison today. Please encourage the next generation of NNA leaders.

“Secondly, I owe supreme inspiration to the late Bill Branen of Burlington, Wis., the postal guru of his day. I was impressed by his knowledge of how to use the system to best advantage. His Tomahawk Plan, using a second section of a Periodical as a Standard mail shopper, is widely adopted by papers today. I know that his wife Nancy, a long-time dear friend, wanted to be here today to see the winners of the Branen Scholarships that continue to give back to the industry. We lost Bill before his time in 1988. I used his handbooks as a publisher, and am proud to follow in his footsteps.

“And thirdly, I have lots of good memories of coming to Wisconsin for postal seminars since I first started doing them back in 1987. I remember going into Green Bay in 1997 and getting off the airplane into a minus 54-degree wind chill. That took my breath. And besides meetings in Milwaukee and Madison, and Appleton, there were a couple in the Stevens Point/Wisconsin Dells central region with all those waterslides.

“My recent work in Wisconsin was particularly exhilarating as I helped navigate multiple postal waterslides, and even rockslides. I feel a special bond with Barry, after his good cheer in the face of repeated malpractice from his postmaster and her minions. But this long-time NNA member was instrumental in helping NNA achieve that nationwide exception from repeated verification steps for newspapers mailing under 5,000 copies weekly, or 300,000 annually. The Plymouth precursor policy was ordered put into place by USPS HQ Business Mail Acceptance … and then NNA spent several months negotiating a national policy based on that Wisconsin experience. Thanks to the Johansons for their faith in, and support of, NNA.

“We encourage all of you who publish a community weekly or small daily to become a member of the National Newspaper Association, if not already. Thanks for your support. Rest assured that no one else is representing your interests on a multitude of issues, including legal notices, Freedom of Information, and postal, inside the beltway (as they say in DC). And NNA is the only group representing Periodical newspapers on the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee.”

Well, there it is, a true lobbyist, no; make that a self-proclaimed nerd, finally caught for the record. Like many others, he’s one of those “lobbyists” who actually figures out what politicians are up to and how to respond. In addition to arguing for fair play by the postal system, Max is also a big fan of harness racing, alpacas, dogs (especially cocker spaniels) and visiting baseball stadiums.

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