April 7, 2017

A day in the life: ICC director offers inside look at helping shape public policy for common good

Snow falls as Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, leaves the Indiana Statehouse after a day representing the voice of the Indiana Catholic bishops during the General Assembly on Feb. 8. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Snow falls as Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, leaves the Indiana Statehouse after a day representing the voice of the Indiana Catholic bishops during the General Assembly on Feb. 8. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

(Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Indiana Catholic Conference, the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana regarding state and national matters.)

By Natalie Hoefer

For three to four months at the beginning of each year, the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis buzzes with activity.

In the thick of all the flurry for the last 50 years has been a person who sees to it that the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana is expressed. That person is the executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), and for the last 13 years that person has been Glenn Tebbe.

“Sometimes, I’m just making sure no fire starts,” he says of the three to four days he spends in the statehouse each week during the General Assembly. “Sometimes, I’m working with others to put fires out, and sometimes I’m working with others to make sure things get ablaze. It’s just always moving to stay abreast of what’s happening, and to make sure we’re doing our part to achieve whatever goal we want.”

As the ICC celebrates its 50th anniversary, The Criterion followed Tebbe for a glimpse into “a day in the life” of an ICC executive director while the legislature is in session.

Follow along on this journey to understand the important role of the ICC in helping shape public policies that correspond to Catholic Christian values for the betterment of society.

‘Running traps’

It’s 8:15 a.m. on Feb. 8 as Tebbe drives the mile-and-a-half from the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in downtown Indianapolis to the Indiana Statehouse.

“There’s some routine, but to say there’s a ‘typical’ day [at the statehouse], no,” he says.

“Today there are about 12 hearings. I’m only interested in four of them.”

The first one, at which Tebbe will offer testimony, starts at 9 a.m.

Tebbe leads the way through the labyrinth of halls, opting for the stairs over the elevator “because you can run into more people that way. In the halls is where a lot of the work happens.”

By 8:30 a.m., he is signed up to testify in support of House Bill (HB) 1128, which would require abortion facilities to notify chemical abortion recipients about the availability of abortion reversal methods. HB 1128 is one of three bills to be discussed in the committee meeting.

While waiting for the session to begin, Tebbe sheds insight on the tasks of the ICC executive director during the General Assembly months.

“A lot of my time is spent just talking to people, making connections,” he says. He checks with colleagues both who share and oppose his position on a bill, gets updates on hearings and talks with legislators.

“It’s called ‘running traps’ and making sure you know what people are thinking, expecting and predicting,” he explains.

He also explains that it takes certain skills to work as a lobbyist for the ICC.

“You’ve got to be able to jump from one thing to another very fast, and be able to engage with it immediately. I don’t know if it’s a skill or just crazy,” he says with a grin.

More specifically, says Tebbe, the ICC executive director has to “be good at relationship building, building rapport with people, not only legislators but other lobbyists, the experts within your own community. It’s knowing how far to push, knowing when to fall back, knowing how to be a partner in working with an alliance.”

He says communication skills and the ability to be persuasive are critical, as well as being “trustworthy, not only so that your Catholic community and your bishops trust that you’re going to be able to do things well, but that your colleagues and the legislators know that you’re not going to undercut them. … And, of course, the other thing is knowing Church teaching.”

At this point, someone taps him on the shoulder. Tebbe smiles, they shake hands and talk for a bit.

“See, just now I learned something about another bill I’m working with him on,” says Tebbe when the man moves on. “You have to be here to do things like that. I could listen to this [hearing] online if I want to know what happens and what people are saying, but I can’t make those connections without being present, whether it’s with legislators or lobbyists.”

Finally the hearing starts. HB 1128 is second on the agenda. The testimony runs long—it’s a hot-button issue, and people feel strongly on both sides. Tebbe is one of the last to give his testimony in support of the bill.

Bringing ‘the moral perspective’

It is now a little after 11 a.m. The meeting has overlapped with the 10:30 a.m. hearing Tebbe is interested in attending, not to testify but to keep a finger on the pulse of an issue.

If he knows ahead of time about an overlap of two important hearings, he could ask Charles “Chuck” Schisla, his temporary helper during the General Assembly, to attend one hearing while Tebbe attends another.

It all depends on the priority of the issues, he says. To determine priority, he refers to a set of criteria that focuses on impacts. Issues impacting the dignity and sanctity of human life, the well-being of groups or individuals, social equality, and the mission and ministries of the Church take top priority.

With the bill in the 10:30 a.m. hearing being of lower priority and with the meeting already 30 minutes underway, Tebbe uses the opportunity to catch up in the halls with a representative and some colleagues he is working in alliance with on a payday lending bill.

Erin Macey of the Indiana Institute for Working Families says it is “critically important” for the Church’s voice to be represented, “particularly for issues affecting low-income families.”

“[The ICC] can bring the moral perspective,” she says. “We bring the data on how this affects a family’s budget, what families need in order to thrive, but I think also having that moral perspective behind us is really important and helpful.”

Bishop Charles C. Thompson of Evansville, one of five bishops represented by the ICC, agrees.

“The Indiana Catholic Conference provides indispensable advocacy and service to the people of God throughout all five dioceses in the state of Indiana,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Criterion. “[Their] incredible leadership … has been a tremendous blessing for the Catholic Church, to have a voice in so many issues impacting the lives and well-being of both individuals and families.”

Hardest part is ‘keeping up with the bills’

Around 11:45 a.m., Tebbe leads the way through the tunnels beneath the streets of Indianapolis to Circle Center Mall’s food court for a quick lunch.

Between bites, he shares more on the mission of the ICC and the role of the executive director.

In addition to helping influence public policy, he says, the ICC keeps the public aware of the position of the Church on matters affecting the common good, and seeks to educate Catholics on the public mission and role of the Church, the political and democratic processes, and issues and developments in public policy.

Such information—as well as notifications of the need for Catholics to contact their legislators about critical issues—is disseminated through the Indiana Catholic Action Network (I-CAN) updates Tebbe writes for distribution by e-mail.

When the legislature is not in session, says Tebbe, work is “a lot less frantic.” In addition to overseeing the day in, day out running of the office, Tebbe meets with the bishops and other diocesan officials, including Catholic school superintendents, charity directors, pro-life directors, principals and others “building support for issues [and] what’s going on in public policy,” he explains.

Additionally, public speaking engagements are part of his job, he says, noting that he gets “invited because I’m executive director [of ICC], or the Church has taken a position and therefore they want to know more about what the Church’s perspective is.”

As an example, he cites his participation a few nights earlier at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., as part of an immigration discussion panel triggered by President Donald J. Trump’s executive order on immigrants and refugees.

The hardest part of the job, says Tebbe, is “keeping up with all the bills, and knowing exactly which bills to speak to and which ones I need to let play out.

“For this session, there are probably about 200 bills I’ve flagged. Many I know are dead—not going to be heard—and others I’m just monitoring. They’re related to abortion or health care or social well-being issues. … I’m working pretty strongly on probably about 20 bills right now, and about 12-15 that I’m actively engaged with.”

Sitting and waiting

By 1 p.m., Tebbe is sitting in a conference room waiting for a 1:30 p.m. hearing at which he will testify on Senate Bill (SB) 467, which would allow local governing boards to assess fees for use of fire department services.

“This would replace a tax for this protection and allow government units to charge all properties, including churches and other religious entities” that are tax‑exempt, Tebbe explains. “Obviously, we’d be opposed to that.”

After testimony was heard on two other bills, Tebbe is ready for his turn to testify against SB 467. He never had the chance—there was so much vehement testimony in opposition that the hearing was cut short.

“That’s fine,” says Tebbe about not testifying after sitting for nearly three hours in the meeting. “[The bill is] going to be shut down, I think, and that’s all that matters. [The senator who authored the bill] knew that there were 100 other people ready to testify that it was a bad thing.”

It’s now 4:15 p.m. The fourth hearing that Tebbe hoped to sit in on started 45 minutes prior. With testimony being heard on five bills and not knowing if the bill in question had already been addressed, Tebbe decides he can talk with others for an update later, or listen to testimony online in his office.

After checking in with a colleague, Tebbe decides at 4:30 p.m. that he’s done as much as he can do for the day at the statehouse. It’s time to head back to the office and finish a few tasks.

‘I’m just one voice’

And so ends a day in the life of an ICC executive director. It started with plans to testify at two hearings and sit in on two others. But testimony was only given at one hearing, and the two other hearings went unobserved. So was the day a success?

“Yeah, it was,” says Tebbe. “The abortion bill was successfully defended. It looks like the bill this afternoon is going to die, even though I didn’t have a direct hand in it.

“It was successful in that I got to see one of the representatives, and he said he’s not going to hear the bill that I don’t want heard. [I] coordinated some with colleagues and alliances in regard to … the bills we’re working. [I] got confirmation that we are going to have a hearing next week on a death penalty bill.

“I have a saying that ‘I stirred the pot.’ Things kept moving. Yeah, we’ve got to wait until the end to see how things turn out, but it’s as much about getting things stopped, too, as well as keeping things going. When I have a successful day, I stirred the pot, and things are moving along.”

Tebbe says that the presence of the ICC at the statehouse is important, but that each Catholic’s role is “even more critical.

“I can represent the bishops, and I do. I represent what the Church teaches. And sometimes that’s persuasive.

“But a lot of these people are more persuaded when their constituents contact them. They’re elected to represent. They feel better when they hear people say they want something. It’s very important that Catholics do reach out. I’m just one voice.”

(For more information on the Indiana Catholic Conference, to read legislative updates or to join the I-CAN network, log on to www.indianacc.org. To follow specific bills, log on to iga.in.gov.)

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