After substantial potholes caused massive damage to vehicles amounting to tens of thousands of dollars in claims, the city of Omaha, Neb., was recently forced to close two major thoroughfares. Fifty miles to the south, roads in the state capital were likewise crumbling.
Using an Issues Mobilization grant, the REALTORS® Association of Lincoln took the lead in supporting a ballot initiative to fund critical road repairs. Though it passed by a very slim margin, says Kyle Fischer, Executive Vice President of the 930-member board, the quarter-percent sales tax increase will help safeguard the city’s economic development, public safety, and quality of life for at least the next six years.
The new funding mechanism was first proposed by a bi-partisan group called the Lincoln Citizen’s Transportation Coalition, following a lengthy study of the city’s insufficient street-repair budget and possible solutions, explains Fischer. The Lincoln City Council voted six-to-one to put the initiative on the ballot, and the REALTORS® got right to work promoting the time-limited, quarter-percent tax increase to the voting public.
“We reached out to NAR about the process, and they walked us through the next steps,” says Fischer. First, the Lincoln REALTORS® received polling services through the REALTOR® Party’s trusted vendor. Initial polling indicated that the ballot measure was slightly favored by a margin of 57-41, with 2% undecided. Armed with that encouragement, the association submitted an application for an Issues Mobilization grant. “The application process wasn’t quick and easy, but it was incredibly user-friendly, he says. “I’d tell first-time applicants to give themselves plenty of time for collecting details and background information and planning a budget. It will take some time to put it all together, but once you have, you’ve got a good road map, and you’ll really know your stuff. In fact, NAR took our initial application and reached right back out to us about what we could do to enhance it, to make it even stronger,” he notes.
The REALTORS® were the largest donor to the campaign called Fix Lincoln Streets Now, which educated voters through a dedicated website and social media messaging. The REALTOR® Party grant funded phone banks that called voters in the last four days leading up to the election, and that, says Fischer, is what made the difference. Despite being supported by the City Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the Civil Engineers Association, and the Lincoln Independent Business Association, among others, the measure only passed by a difference of 368 votes. “Our members are so excited that we were able to play such a critical role in the outcome of the vote,” he adds. “It’s very gratifying to know that the REALTORS® have contributed to making the streets better.
Members on the ground and in the trenches are more aware than anyone that having functioning, passable streets affects every aspect of a community’s well-being, from emergency access, to reducing the necessity of expensive car repairs, to home values. Taking care of the infrastructure helps to ensure a strong economy.”
To learn more about how the REALTOR® Association of Lincoln, Nebraska is using REALTOR® Party resources to improve the condition of city streets, contact Executive Vice President Kyle Fischer at 402-441-3625.
Earlier this spring, two communities on the eastern edge of Missouri found themselves in dire need of improvements to their school facilities, with multi-million-dollar bond measures on the April ballot, poised to provide the needed funding. The Mark Twain Association of REALTORS® and the Southeast Missouri REALTORS® stepped up to persuade the voting public to approve the bonds with vigorous campaigns funded by REALTOR® Party Issues Mobilization Grants and additional funds from the Missouri REALTORS®. Both efforts were successful, and the schools are getting the funding support they need.
“The Issues Mobilization grants are the best advocacy tool that the National Association provides local and state associations,” says Erin Hervey, Vice President, REALTOR® Party and Local Board Relations of Missouri REALTORS®.
In Cape Girardeau, Mo., which the Wall Street Journal cited last year as having the most concentrated poverty in the state, the school system is working in partnership with the city to create a Purpose-Built Community that has been successfully modeled in a formerly struggling Atlanta neighborhood; a $12-million no-tax-increase bond was placed on the ballot to renovate and expand schools, and to create a new aquatic center. Terry Baker, Association Executive of the 305-member Southeast Missouri REALTORS®, credits her Government Affairs Committee with having the vision to see that the REALTORS® needed to get behind the effort. The superintendent of schools came to speak with the committee, she explains, at the invitation of one of its members, who is also a member of the city’s school board. “For us, supporting the school bond campaign was a good way to engage in a true partnership alongside people where they work and live. It was clear that strengthening economic development on the south side of Cape Girardeau must begin with education.” Southeast Missouri REALTORS® contributed $1,200 of its own funds to the campaign, which used polling, live phone calls, digital advertising, and yard signs to promote the school bond, passing with nearly 62% of the vote. “All those who’ve been involved in supporting the bond are extremely grateful to Missouri REALTORS® and to NAR for their investment in the City of Cape Girardeau,” says Baker.
Further north, in the rural community of Monroe City, the Mark Twain Association of REALTORS® was working to convince voters to approve a property tax increase to raise $13.5 million in funding to improve deteriorating school facilities. REALTOR® Debbie Kendrick, Past President of the 108-member association, and chair of the Friends of Monroe City Schools committee, explains that the REALTORS® were already solidly behind the school bond. “But, when you’re running a campaign in a town of 2,500, you have to know who’s going to be walking in to the polling stations and casting ballots,” she says. So, in addition to the campaign of direct mail, yard signs, print media, advertising in local newspapers and social media, Kendrick and her committee supported the School Superintendent in an energetic speaking tour of local civic organizations, from the Knights of Columbus to the Garden Club. “We helped the Superintendent with talking points, and a member of the school board, as well as a member of the ‘Friends’ Committee, accompanied him on each visit,” she says, adding, “It really was a matter of getting our School District leadership in front of the voters, so they could put themselves on the line!” She notes that the application for the REALTOR® Party Issues Mobilization grant was not just user-friendly, but helpful, in forcing the committee to get down on paper what they were doing and why. “We’re very blessed to be able to turn to NAR and the Missouri REALTORS® for funding and guidance; otherwise I don’t know that the bond would have passed.”
Erin Hervey, Vice President, REALTOR® Party and Local Board Relations of Missouri REALTORS®, worked closely with both boards on their respective efforts. “The Issues Mobilization grants are the best advocacy tool that the National Association provides local and state associations,” she says. “Individual REALTORS® and individual REALTOR® offices are active in their communities, but these grants show the power of the whole association and our dedication to the livelihood of the communities we serve. From a practical standpoint,” she adds, “they are a good way for local associations wanting to become more active politically, but are a bit worried about picking one candidate over another. Issues such as school bonds are usually not as controversial and really elevate the status of the association in the community.”
To learn more about how small communities in Missouri are being strengthened by Issues Mobilization grants, contact: Debbie Kendrick, Past President of the Mark Twain Association of REALTORS®; Terry Baker, Association Executive of Southeast Missouri REALTORS®, at 573-579-9586; or Erin Hervey, Vice President, REALTOR® Party and Local Board Relations.
In 2019, RPAC celebrates 50 years of supporting REALTOR® issues. This past February, Mississippi REALTORS® demonstrated impressive support for RPAC: at a festive annual event that coincides with its Winter Meetings, the 6,500-member state association parlayed a $5,000 REALTOR® Party grant, matched by funds of its own, into more than $83,000 of RPAC investments.
“Mississippi is a very giving state,” says Beth Hansen, the organization’s CEO. “For a state association, we may be small, but we have a really strong culture of MARPAC success,” she adds. That’s a considerable understatement: in fact, Mississippi has been awarded the REALTOR® Party President’s Cup in six of the past seven years.
This was the eighth consecutive year that the association has hosted a ‘MARPAC Drawdown’ event following a day of committee meetings and preceding its big annual REALTOR® Day at the state capitol. Hansen is careful to note that while ‘drawdowns’ are a very popular fundraising device in Mississippi, they may not be permissible in other states. A month before the event, members began snapping up $100 tickets, plus $25 ‘second-chance’ tickets for the drawdown, which promised a winning pot of $5,000. They also purchased $25 token packs to vote for their favorite acts in the lip sync contest. Not only did the event surpass its goal by more than $11,000, it attracted sixteen new Major Investors at the $1,000 level; substantial investment increases by 19 other members; and numerous first-time investors to Mississippi’s RPAC family.
This is the second year that a REALTOR® Party grant supported the rental of a large event venue, and a separate admission fee offset the cost of the catered dinner. “It’s grown every year,” says Hansen, “and our members really look forward to it.” As about 150 REALTORS® dined and caught up with colleagues from across the state, they were entertained by a spirited Lip Sync Throwdown – dominated by the Northwest Mississippi Association of REALTORS® for the second year in a row. All in good fun, the lively musical numbers are interspersed with dramatic moments in the suspenseful drawdown, which eventually brings five final ticket-holders to the fore; the finalists are given the chance to split the prize or continue with the drawdown. Hansen reports that the final five ticket holders typically opt to share the pot, leaving everyone feeling good about a win-win conclusion.
The fun and games of investing in RPAC gave way to more serious business the next day at the Capitol, when members heard from the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House and Secretary of State, and met with their legislators about the current legislative agenda as it regards real estate and private property issues, explains Hansen. At the Political Advocacy Luncheon that followed at the state REALTOR® headquarters, Mississippi REALTORS® President Adam Watkins moderated a discussion of the 2019 statewide election forecast with the Chairmen of both the Mississippi Republican Party and the Mississippi Democratic Party. “Our members understand the importance of political advocacy, and how it affects not just the industry, but the communities they inhabit and serve. We’re proud to be acknowledging the 50th anniversary of RPAC at every meeting and in all our branding,” she continues, “It’s an important reminder of all RPAC has done for us, and why we continue to invest.”
To learn more about how the Mississippi REALTORS® are engaging in political advocacy and raising the bar for RPAC investment, contact CEO Beth Hansen at 601-932-5241.