#353 – Dick Bernard: The Lobbyist and the Legislator and "We, the people"
Followup to this post is here.
Recently I was at a reception at a major Minnesota agency which for its entire history has been at minimum a quasi-public agency, funded in substantial part by state and federal government. It has an outstanding reputation and a large staff and impressive Board of Directors and a very attractive headquarters building.
It has done, and still does, extraordinarily good work, though it is financially pinched.
The current President of the agency briefly spoke to our group, and one of his remarks leads to this post. When I arrived home I decided to google the agency to find out how big its budget was and how it was funded. I found the information, and it was basically incomprehensible to a novice. I found the Law that seemed to fit the agency, and it was equally incomprehensible. I am wonkish enough so that with adequate time – and interest – I could make sense of the seeming nonsense I was viewing on line. But I’m not sufficiently interested nor is it sufficiently relevant for me to take the time or expand on it.
The President was recounting, in the very guarded way folks like him speak to audiences they don’t know well, recent meetings he’d had with state legislators in his capacity as a lobbyist for his agency.
He didn’t mention any specific politicians, nor parties, and he only mentioned the word “ideology” once, but it was pretty clear what he meant by that word.
Lawmakers he knew, he said, were very anguished by the position they were in.
Without saying so specifically, he suggested that they found themselves in a box: they knew that his, and other similar programs, were very, very important, and deserved funding. On the other hand, these same people were elected by citizens who had been drummed into fever pitch – including in their own campaigns – to vote against government, specifically supposedly useless projects carried forward by groups like his own agency.
What were these legislators to do?
To vote against their base would jeopardize their reelection. And their reelection was their most important (though unstated) and understood objective.
The President/Lobbyist could not expose these people; if he did, they would no longer talk to him and, worse, would find ways to punish him through their lawmaking powers. So he said tons without actually saying anything at all. He protected the very people who were killing his agency….
Meanwhile, these same folks were likely saying to the rabble that elected them that they were following through on their campaign promises to ‘slash and burn’. The term “two-faced” comes to mind.
It all reminded me of an abortive e-mail conversation I had with a friend ten or more years ago. He had grown up in the family of a politically well connected major political appointee in a large city. From an early age, he got to know the ‘movers and shakers’ as they came to his parents home, some of one party, some of another. He learned how politics worked from early on.
On the other hand, I had grown up in a low level public servants household. We were not visited by power people, and we were only told what we were expected to do.
The gulf between my e-mail friend and I was huge, and unbridgeable. He was of the Power Class, and I was not. And so it was.
We drifted apart….
Ironically, as I was writing these words, I looked at an incoming e-mail, Just Above Sunset, where the writer dealt with essentially the same topic as I have, only on a broader level. Take a look if you have the inclination.