The Legis* Research Team monitors the intersection of archives issues and legislative resources and concerns, legislative bills, and individual legislators. This post, part of our Research Post series, was written by Laurel Bowen, University Archivist at Georgia State University.
This year, for my work on the Legislative Research team, I looked at the activities of Michael Turner (R-OH), Joe Crowley (D-NY), and my own representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) in the 115th Congress (2017-2018).
From work on a previous Legislative Research Team I was familiar with Michael Turner as a successful advocate of legislation that promotes historic preservation, a field that often employs archivists. As mayor of Dayton, Turner stimulated economic development by rehabilitating housing in Dayton’s historic neighborhoods–and preserved that community’s history in the process. In Congress, Turner founded (2003) and became co-chair of the Congressional Historic Preservation Caucus. His legislative efforts resulted in the bipartisan Preserve America and Save America’s Treasures Act (2007), which provides “bricks and mortar” support to preserve historic buildings and grant funds for nationally significant collections and historic properties.
I was impressed not only by the bipartisan nature of the legislation but by the pragmatic feet-in-the-clay linking of hard headed economic development with history and culture. As archivists, we often appeal to the hearts and minds of potential funders, and we join with libraries, museums, and the history profession to make our case. Those who work in historic preservation and the park service can point to the “real world” benefits of economic redevelopment and increased tourism to entice public funding. If the archives profession joined forces with historic preservation and national park service professionals (who frequently include an archives component in their projects), we might all see better funding in an often discouraging political environment.
If a Republican from a city can be a supporter of historic preservation, I wondered if more ideologically liberal representatives from cities would be even more ready to support funding for historic preservation and, by extension, archives. I chose Joe Crowley (New York City) and Hank Johnson (Atlanta) to find out.
Amid the current administration’s proposal (for another budget year) to eliminate NEH, NHPRC, IMLS, NEA, and Save America’s Treasures, and cut other historical and cultural funding sources, the lobbying group Preservation Action worked with Turner’s Historic Preservation Caucus (HPC) to advocate for the Historic Preservation Fund.
Crowley, it turns out, is a member of that group, as are Georgia Democrats John Lewis and David Scott. In March 2018 the HPC circulated a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies that called funding for the Historic Preservation Fund “an economic and historical imperative.” Crowley and Lewis were early signers. Included in the funding were continued grants to a “Civil Rights initiative that preserves, documents, and interprets the sites and stories” of that movement. Scott and Hank Johnson also signed. With continued lobbying this July, the House of Representatives passed the FY 19 Interior Appropriations Bill, with amendments that increased funding for the Historic Preservation Fund to $101.41 million.
Looking further, I discovered that Crowley is a member of the Congressional History Caucus, a group that works with the National Coalition for History. The Society of American Archivists is a member of the Coalition. Johnson’s legislative website shows he has helped provide NEH grants for libraries, scholarships for young artists, and a grant from the Historic Preservation Fund for renovating the historic West Hunter Street Church.
While it’s hard to judge what ideological bent might be more likely to predispose a legislator to support historic preservation, parks, museums, libraries, archives, and history, it seems clear that support can be bipartisan if presented in a way that engages a representative’s interests.