PE Legislators

2018 PE Legislators

Professional engineers are impacting policy at all levels of government. Learn about PEs who became legislators and their experiences, and gain insights into how NSPE members can advocate for the profession.

Bart Korman, P.E.Rep. Bart Korman, P.E.
(R, District 42, Missouri House)

When Bart Korman, P.E. (R, District 42, Missouri House), first ran for a seat in the Missouri legislature in 2002, he lost. Yet, he was determined to not let that stop him. He learned the importance of fundraising and engaging the community through a grassroots campaign and found success in his 2010 race.

Korman believes that it’s very important that professional engineers share their views on public policy issues with legislators. PEs can greatly affect public policy, particularly on issues related to transportation, utilities, environment, public safety, and licensure, he says. “Public officials, for the most part, want reasonable and unbiased information prior to making decisions.”

Korman’s legislative successes include passage of a bill that established a peer review process for design professionals and a bill that created parity between contractors and subcontractors on public works projects. He has also brought his engineering experience to many conversations dealing with energy and transportation legislation.

Professional engineers should also participate in the legislative process by working with a political campaign or running for office, Korman says. Public bodies need a mix of people serving; there is usually a shortage of engineers. “Public service can be rewarding and frustrating; [PEs] should be prepared to face people that think differently and to realize that some decisions don’t seem logical,” he says. “They should also be prepared to compromise, to deal with the media, and to upset people from time to time. In politics, everything is a variable in the equation.”

The experience that engineers have with problem solving and working with various project stakeholders will help when they have to navigate the legislative process, Korman adds. “Lawmaking is similar to a project engineer dealing with an owner, architect, multiple regulatory agencies, and a budget.”

Download Korman's speaker presentation from the NSPE 2015 Annual Meeting:
The Path to Political Office—Encouraging Involvement in the Political Process.

Louis Blessing III, P.E.Rep. Louis Blessing III, P.E.
(R, District 29, Ohio House)

What are the keys to a successful political career? Staying connected to the community, fundraising, and working well with others, says Louis Blessing III, P.E., who is serving his second term in office.

During his tenure, Blessing has focused on backing computerized FE and PE exam testing as well as continuing education requirements. He has also provided strong input on transportation budget and capital appropriations bills. “Since it is becoming increasingly more difficult to pull down federal funding for infrastructure, it is up to the state to pick up the slack,” he says. “This makes it even more important that Ohio funds its own infrastructure.”

PEs are well poised to become great legislators, says Blessing, particularly in the areas of budgeting and infrastructure. One reason is their demonstrated commitment to the public health, safety, and welfare. “Licensure signals to the public that the professionals in charge of the design of public projects not only know what they are doing, but also have the public’s best interests in mind,” he says.

Aspiring politicos can start by getting active in a political party, Blessing advises, since party support is critical for fundraising and drawing future campaign volunteers. Then they should focus on the local level by running for city council or serving as a member of a county board. “It’s important to build a name ID as well as a strong fundraising base,” he says. “Unless you are a billionaire with a name that everybody knows, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to raise the millions of dollars needed to win a congressional seat right out of the gate.”

PEs who don’t want to run for office but are concerned about how legislators make decisions on issues critical to the engineering community should get more vocal with advocacy, says Blessing. “This means showing up to town hall meetings and corresponding with the legislators.”

Sen. Clyde Chambliss, P.E.Sen. Clyde Chambliss, P.E.
(R, District 30, Alabama Senate)

Clyde Chambliss, P.E., took “a leap of faith” and ran for a seat on his county’s commission when he saw first-hand, while serving as the assistant county engineer, that problems were not being effectively addressed by his local government. He served on the local body for 12 years before eventually taking another leap to a state-level office. As a state senator, he understands how critical it is for professional engineers to engage in the political process and share their views on public policy issues.  “We don’t participate very well in the political process and we don’t understand when people don’t think just like we do,” Chambliss says. “The good news is that [both] of these things can be changed. We can have a great impact in the political world.”

Chambliss believes that professional engineers can start to have a positive impact by engaging with elected officials even when there isn’t an active issue that needs addressing. “When people in my district contact me, it trumps the contacts of lobbyists and government officials that have a vested interest in the outcome,” he says.

Chambliss is the only member of the state senate out of 35 members who has a background in engineering. During his tenure, he has used his engineering education and professional expertise to defeat a proposal that would have allowed the reuse of plans, reports, and studies by any state agency without the involvement of a design professional.

One professional engineer is better than none, Chambliss says, but he believes more PEs need to run for office. He advises anyone interested in doing so to start by seeking guidance from someone who has run successful campaigns. “This is what I did in 1995 and it has worked very well for me in seven elections,” he says. “You will be frustrated by the process and by the decisions, but if you don’t do it, others will and they won’t be as friendly to the profession as you are.”

Rep. Dennis Paul, P.E.Rep. Dennis Paul, P.E.
(R, District 129, Texas House)

Dennis Paul, P.E., believes that licensure is vital to ensuring an educated and capable profession. He has used his experience as both a professional engineer and a small business owner to engage with his fellow legislators to address issues of concern to his constituents and the profession. “I think my fellow members know they can trust me on many issues due to my own work experience, especially on issues concerning transparency, infrastructure, water, and the constitution,” he says. One of his legislative accomplishments involved working to pass a Good Samaritan law to protect professionals from liability when they volunteer their services during a disaster or emergency situation.

Paul got his start in the political arena by volunteering his time and efforts to grassroots operations as a local precinct chair for 15 years, and he served on his state party’s executive committee for seven years prior to seeking office. Over the years, he has learned that professional engineers can be effective with the legislative process by getting to know their legislators, speaking out about their concerns and, if possible, working on campaigns.

Paul also offers three pieces of advice to engineers interested in seeking public office:

  1. If you believe in the legislative process and want to be a part of [improving] your community and state for the betterment of citizens, go for it.
  2. Criticism and insults come with the position. It is hard to put your family through this, but it’s worth the effort.
  3. Problem-identification and -solving [skills] are traits that help engineers in the legislative process.

How to Effectively Advocate for PEs

Woman speaking to an audienceProfessional engineers can be tremendous advocates for their cause, functioning both as experts and constituents. In the upcoming year, PEs across the nation can effectively promote the interests of the engineering community with their members of Congress and state legislators alike. Consider the following tips to promote the interests of professional engineers:

Be prepared. Just as a client meeting necessitates preparation, a meeting with your elected official requires some work in advance. Know the issues you want to discuss before your meeting and research the legislator’s position on the issues. Also know the opposition’s key points and be ready to counter them. It’s not always just about presenting your own positions, but being able to demonstrate why opposing views are flawed.

Stay on message. Federal and state legislators have very busy and often rushed schedules. In advance of your meeting, select the top issues you want to discuss. Address no more than three and, if at all possible, focus on one specific “ask,” or legislative request. Be brief and stick to the topics you want to discuss. The legislator may go off topic, and it can be valuable to discuss other issues and common local interests (local sports teams are always a great topic). However, always be certain to steer the conversation back to your original message.

Provide legislators with what they really want to know. Professional engineers can provide expertise and data to bolster their positions on a variety of issues. However, scientific conclusions, while extremely valuable, may not be sufficient to convince all legislators. There are two other key components to a truly strong message: First, provide personal stories to show the real-life impacts of the important work you are doing. Second, and most important, always demonstrate how a given policy or program will directly affect a member’s district and constituents. This is the legislator’s top interest.

Always follow up. After a successful meeting with your legislator, there is still work to be done! At the close of your meeting, ask the legislator what follow-up would best serve his or her needs. Would a briefing sheet or an article on a particular issue be helpful? Also consider inviting your elected official for a visit to your facilities to show what PEs are doing for the district. If you are advocating for a particular piece of legislation or appropriations, be sure to touch base on a regular basis to provide updates. Last, but certainly not least, remember to always send a thank-you e-mail covering the topics addressed within a few days after the meeting.


Additional Resources

> Be an Effective Policy Advocate for PEs (December 2014, PE)