Originally published in the Louisville Builder
After a nationwide search, the Home Builders Association of Kentucky (HBAK) named a Bluegrass native executive vice president of the organization — but it was no ordinary Kentuckian. A familiar face to many, Anetha Sanford will replace Bob Weiss, who retired from the position after 35 years. Sanford, also named CEO of HBAK, has served as the association’s vice president of government affairs for more than six years and brings 20 years of real estate industry and government relations experience to the role.
Sanford grew up in Bowling Green and is a Western Kentucky Hilltopper. She now lives in Lexington with her husband, Eric, and their three daughters. She told me it was while she was in college that she was first exposed to the association world. “I worked part time for, at the time it was called the Realtor Association of Southern Kentucky, and I just did anything extra they needed done in the office, including working on their lock box systems,” she explained. “I cleaned those and then programmed the keys. After graduation, I applied for a job with the state association … Kentucky Realtors.
”It didn’t take long for Sanford to move up in the ranks. Starting out working with the organization’s continuing education program, Sanford was next introduced to government affairs, “which was basically working with legislators and working with our grassroots program, connecting our members to a legislator, and supporting or opposing any issues regarding the real estate industry,” she explained. Then, she went to work at HBAK.
In addition to following legislation impacting the industry, connecting members directly with legislators and lobbying, Sanford also noted workforce development initiatives she worked on at HBAK to streamline communication, increasing the communications reach from 300 to 2,000 members. Last year, HBAK offered a new leadership initiative program and graduated its first class. In Votervoice, a system used by government affairs professionals that simplifies the constituent letter-writing process, the government affairs team can draft a letter and link it to the corresponding House bill. “Votervoice is our grassroots advocacy system that helps HBAK implement a proactive approach to online government affairs,” Sanford explained. “We can build and launch advocacy campaigns, track progress with real-time activity reports, mobilize members with targeted messages and provide value with newsletters and surveys.” When a member clicks on a bill number using Votervoice, the system will automatically write and address an email to the legislator(s) without the member having to look them up.
Primarily, though, Sanford focuses on advocacy. One of the concepts she hopes to bring to her new role is a statement of policy, which would outline HBAK’s positions on key issues like land development, homeowners’ associations, etc. “This would be a guiding document not only for our members to use, but for Juva to use when she’s talking to a legislator,” she said. “I’d also like to develop a process for determining what our issues and priorities are. I think we’ve gotten away from that, and I think that’s something that we need to bring back — almost like doing a strategic plan for an organization, but … for advocacy issues and priority.
“We believe in building a strong culture of political advocacy, and we want to be a part of shaping the housing and building industry here in Kentucky,” said Sanford. “It’s that saying: You want to have a seat at the table and not be on the menu. That’s part of what we do here.”
Normally, Sanford would be out at the Capitol lobbying every day on behalf of the industry, but in 2021 things look a little different. “We’re not able to go there unless you’re testifying in front of a committee or have an appointment with the Legislature,” she said. “Even toward the end of last year, we had to learn how to lobby via our phones, so that’s been new.”
Sanford makes up for social distancing restrictions by focusing on HBAK’s grassroots outreach initiatives by connecting key legislators with members. “It’s great that I’m there every day lobbying on behalf of the industry, but it’s even more important that our members have those relationships with legislators,” she said. Sanford told me one of the things she’s most looking forward to is the opportunity to connect with members and legislators in person, and she is specifically excited to attend local association Board and committee meetings again.
She also plans to reach out to association executives from each local organization to hear their thoughts, concerns and suggestions. “Their feedback is vital to the organization,” she said. “They have a day-to-day touch with the membership [and] we don’t, and it’s important that we listen to them and the issues that they are dealing with daily, from their local advocacy issues to membership, membership retention and recruitment in general.”
As far as what’s in store for the industry, Sanford doesn’t want to make any predictions, but remains cautiously optimistic that business will stay steady. Between the long-term issues the industry has faced for years, including the labor, lumber and, in some places, land shortages, Sanford said none of these supply issues can be solved until the pandemic is behind us.
“Although our members have continued working through COVID, and construction is good, there is that possibility for a change,” she said. “We really and truly haven’t seen all of the after-effects of COVID, so that is a cause for concern, but we’re going to continue to do what we can to advocate and make sure our members can continue working.”
50 NOTABLE WOMEN IN KENTUCKY POLITICS
The Kentucky Gazette released its 2020 list of 50 Notable Women in Kentucky Politics and Government, and Anetha Sanford was among them. “The world of politics and public affairs is still very much a male-dominated realm, and the inroads women are making in the field are getting wider, albeit more slowly in some places than others,” writes Laura Cullen Glasscock, editor and publisher of the Kentucky Gazette.
I asked Sanford what this recognition means for her, for other women, young professionals and people of color, and here is what she had to say:
“I was honored and excited to be recognized; this is the second time they’ve done this. It makes me feel respected among my peers, other association execs and other people who work [in] government. Whether through a state agency or being a legislative agent, you work with so many people in different capacities. For women, it’s an example of how women are great leaders. I have three girls, so that’s even more important to me: to show them that they can become the exec of a very male-dominant industry and organization. I’m proud of myself, I’m proud of the leaders of this organization who I feel chose the best person for the job, and I believe that’s what they were searching for. I am a woman, and I am a minority, and I hope that it’s an example for people of color and for young women. I feel that it’s my responsibility in this capacity to empower them as well. If I see a door opening, showing them, or opening the door myself for someone else. It’s even more of an honor that your peers respect you and the work that you do on behalf of your organization.”
Women account for about a third of the 600-plus registered lobbyists in Frankfort, representing a range of clients and causes.