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Invest in Political Careers

Chip Thayer, a well-known antismoking advocate and volunteer for the American Cancer Society in Massachusetts, turned heads with his advocacy success.

Thayer persuaded a conservative Republican state legislator to vote for a bill that would ban smoking in the workplace in 2004. In fact, state Senator Scott Brown had voted against the smoking ban when he served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. That gave Thayer the tough challenge of asking Brown to change his vote, a request reserved for only the most intrepid underdogs.

To make it even more difficult, Brown had run in a special election to become a state senator and won by a narrow margin. Lawmakers who narrowly win their seats are typically averse to controversy and intent on ticking off the fewest number of voters possible. One way for elected officials to draw unfavorable attention is to change their minds, which was exactly what Thayer was asking Brown to do.

Thayer was not a constituent of Brown’s, so he couldn’t even vote for him, but he was able to lay the groundwork for this future request. As a town captain working on Mitt Romney’s gubernatorial campaign, Thayer met Greg Casey, the person who became Brown’s chief of staff. Casey invited Thayer to work on Brown’s campaign, and he did despite not being able to vote for him. As Thayer recalls, “I knew Senator Brown because I had worked on his campaign. I’m a well-known antismoking activist who had spoken out publicly about my battle with lung cancer. I had smoked for 30 years. I got a meeting with Senator Brown on my first try. He listened because I worked on his campaign.”

Casey reinforced the importance of their relationship in changing Brown’s mind. “The senator trusts Chip. He likes him. Chip worked hard for him in the election. When it came to talking about something he felt passionate about, the senator wanted to talk to him.

“It’s all about personal relationships,” Casey says. “We get a hundred calls a day on different issues. We have to distinguish which ones to become active with. That’s when a personal relationship stands out.”

Thayer helped Brown by investing in his political career.