It’s a sad and simple tale. Tennessee, and dozens of other states have repeatedly failed to wrest control of its court system from the trial lawyer lobby. In the crossfire have been literally tens of thousands of good, family-supporting jobs. Sensational lawsuits with lopsided jury awards have made doing business in an unreformed state wildly unpredictable.
The challenge to commonsense change is that trial lawyers always seemed to have the winning story. Conservatives fight with statistics, the trial lawyers held up their oversized photos of “victims” for the cameras. For decades, the courthouse had become the lawyer’s circus tent, and citizens couldn’t do much to stop them. Would our side finally find its narrative? Would we tell a better story?
Enter the 27-year-old president of the Tennessee Center for Public Policy, Justin Owen. He and his team of free-market smart guys have spent the last year trying to stir center-right coalition to back another full-frontal assault on the State Capitol. The Center zeroed in on one of the business community’s biggest targets: lawsuit abuse reform.
When Justin tapped Churchill Strategies for its brand, web and outdoor media strategy, we first wanted to know what would make the difference this year? What made the politics of 2011 ripe for this massive policy lift?
The first factor, perhaps the biggest one, is that Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, just days after taking his oath, announced support for a substantial lawsuit abuse reform package. The experts at TCPP said the bills were deep and wide enough to earn their support.
“We are excited to have played a crucial role in the passage of reform in our state. We’ve received so many compliments about our campaign, including the website, billboards, and Facebook efforts. In all, we achieved all this by out – raising our stated goal and coming in under budget. Can’t get any better than that. I want to thank you both for your work on behalf of Focus577.”
– Justin Owen, President Tennessee Center for Public Policy
Second, TCPP was committed to telling the story of lawsuit abuse, not just the statistics. The “Focus577.org” brand put the campaign in simple, believable terms. Without lawsuit abuse, 577 jobs would not be created, every single week. Instead of firing off dozens of facts, they rallied the public with this one. Instead of attacking every perceived or actual ill caused by lawsuits, they sang their one note over and over again: lawsuits kill jobs.
With Governor Haslam using the megaphone to establish the framework for reform, Justin and TCPP were providing the ground game. With radio ads and billboards strategically targeted to legislative ears and eyes and a web and social media strategy aimed at the grassroots, the movement had its moment.
The Final Score
Tennessee House of Representatives: 72-24
Tennessee Senate: 21-12
Congratulations to Justin Owen and his merry band of reformers at Tennessee Center for public policy.