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Use a Caucus to Advocate for Public Policies | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

Heritage and Preservation Caucuses

An Effective Tool to Advocate for Historic Preservation Public Policies

Use a Caucus to Advocate for Public Policies | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

One of the most effective ways to influence heritage or historic preservation public policy at the state and national level is through a caucus. A heritage or preservation caucus is a group of legislators who agree to join efforts in support of heritage and/or preservation issues. You can read about three successful state preservation caucuses below.

Wisconsin does not currently have a state-level preservation or heritage caucus. While your preservation group could not form a Wisconsin legislative caucus on its own, your group might encourage other Wisconsin preservation groups to speak with a common voice about the need for a state caucus. If you are interested in promoting a Wisconsin preservation caucus, see the tips at the end of this article.

What a Preservation Caucus Does

A heritage or preservation caucus provides a forum for legislators and advocates to discuss topical issues. The caucus permits heritage and preservation groups to set up briefings and educational sessions, especially when the advocacy topics overlap with current policy concerns. The caucus also offers the structure to create new programs and policies that respond to ever-changing preservation needs.

A caucus is an affinity group, so its members may or may not vote collectively to support preservation policies. However, members of a preservation caucus are highly likely to vote for preservation-friendly legislation with little prompting.

Where Preservation Caucuses Have Succeeded

Preservation caucuses have succeeded at both the national and state levels. The United States House of Representatives formed a bipartisan Historic Preservation Caucus in 2003. It has supported improvements to the federal rehabilitation tax credit program and consistently supports adequate funding for State Historic Preservation Offices. Three states currently have a preservation or heritage caucus within their state legislatures: Washington, Illinois, and Hawaii. These state caucuses are described below.

Formed in 1990, the Washington State caucus is the oldest heritage caucus. The Washington caucus has brought tremendous financial support to heritage and arts projects. It helped to start the Heritage Capital Projects program, which created a process for granting state capital budget money to non-state-governmental agencies for heritage and arts projects. Because of the caucus, $10 million in state funding goes toward heritage projects every two years. The caucus meets every Wednesday morning during legislative sessions to learn more about heritage issues throughout the state. The state historical society provides staff support.

Illinois added a preservation caucus to its state legislature in 2005. The Illinois Historic Preservation Legislative Caucus is the largest issue-based caucus in that state's legislature. The Illinois caucus creates and reviews legislation and proposals that would have an impact on historic preservation and provides a venue to build support for new preservation policies. Landmarks Illinois, a state-wide preservation organization, created a list of potential projects for the caucus. These projects include a county courthouse preservation program, a historic farm tax relief program, and additional incentives for owners of historic properties. Landmarks Illinois has helped spread the work of the caucus within the preservation community and provides the caucus with ideas for legislative improvements.

The bi-partisan Heritage Caucus formed by Hawaiian legislators in 2006 has over 35 members dedicated to cultural preservation. The Heritage Caucus seeks to identify, protect, and preserve the state's cultural resources and foster widespread appreciation of Hawaii's cultural heritage and built environment. The Hawaiian caucus has proposed very specific legislative agendas directly to their peers. The caucus's founder, Representative Corinne Ching, has been extremely vocal about the value of heritage in her home state. She has attended national preservation conferences to learn more about how the caucus could strengthen preservation policies in Hawaii. The Hawaiian caucus has partnered with the Historic Hawaii Foundation to celebrate Hawaiian Historic Preservation Awareness Day. This effort brings together dozens of Hawaiian preservation groups at the state capitol.

How to Promote a Wisconsin Caucus

All of the preservation caucus successes described above came together because one or a few elected leaders recognized the value of historic preservation and chose to use their positions to help protect their state's (or the nation's) historic resources. If your preservation group would like to promote a Wisconsin preservation caucus, consider these tips:

  • Identify preservation's biggest supporters within your state legislature and suggest the idea of a caucus
  • Cite the three other states who have preservation caucuses and their work
  • Learn more from these statewide preservation groups about state caucuses:
  • Provide more caucus information to Wisconsin legislators who express interest and continue to follow up with them regularly
  • Facilitate peer-to-peer connections between legislators in other states' caucuses and interested Wisconsin legislators

Learn More

Find more how-to articles about historic preservation advocacy.