Big Daddy

Dear Big Daddy

Dear Big Daddy,

I'm a young Democratic staffer and my boss has a couple bills on the
governor's desk. I want to impress my boss, so what can I possibly do for
the governor to get those bills signed?

–Hopeful

Dear Hopeful,

Ah yes, it's that magical time of year when eager beaver young staffers
scurry to send carefully-crafted nine-page letters down to the governor,
earnestly believing their explanation of why the well-being and happiness of
35 million Californians rests entirely on whether the governor signs or
vetoes their bill to: (A) study something, (B) create a task force, or (C)
move the ball forward by an inch or two in one of any number of
public-policy areas.

In a family newspaper, only one word can describe that belief: poppycock.
Do you think Frank Lanterman got his bills to set up regional centers and to
change the way services are provided to the mentally retarded signed into
law just by having some staffer draft a "Dear Governor Reagan" letter and
drop it into the governor's inbox on their way over to the El Mirador? Not
on your life. That took months of personal, one-on-one, painful negotiations
with the governor.

Now, certainly not every bill falls into that category of month-long
personal discussions between your boss and the governor. That's why it may
be helpful to first determine what class of bills your measures fit into:

  • If A Tree Falls In The Forest & No One Is Around To Hear It, Does It
    Make A Sound? Or, put another way, really, truly, in your heart of hearts,
    do you think anyone will notice if your bill that passed through on the
    consent calendar with no support or opposition is signed or vetoed? This is
    a case where probably the standard one-page "please sign my bill, I need it
    to help my batting average and/or to appeal to some constituent or
    special-interest group" letter is all you need to concern yourself with.
  • I Have Supporters Who Are Annoying Me And Need A Task I Can Focus Them
    On. Turn these folks into letter writing and phone calling machines. They
    can write letters to the governor, they can call other groups and get them
    to write letters to the governor, they can all write letters to the
    newspapers, and they can bombard the governor's office with phone calls.
    The danger of this strategy is that if you bill isn't all that important and
    there's no "downside" to vetoing it, the poor gubernatorial staffers who
    have to answer all those letters and field all of those phone calls may
    recommend a veto just out of spite.
  • I'll Be Elected Pope Before The Governor Signs This Bill, But I Want
    People To Know About It. There are any number of bills that wind up on the
    governor's desk that everyone knows he's never going to sign, but it's
    important to put them there just the same. Take universal health care, the
    bill the Senate put on the governor's desk this year. Everyone knew from the
    moment it was introduced that it would be vetoed, but that doesn't mean it
    shouldn't have been introduced or it shouldn't have been sent downstairs.
    The Legislature should never bow to the wishes of a governor, any governor,
    simply because he asks it to. The moment legislators start behaving like
    star-struck teenagers and sitting on bills and ideas because the governor
    told them to is the moment we've lost the heart and sole of our democracy.
    That's why it's important to make a big splash and use the press to help you
    get public opinion on your side. Even if you don't win the battle, some day
    you might win the war.
  • It's Big, It's Important, And With Enough Scotch, It Might Get Signed.
    This category is generally reserved for big bills, controversial measures
    where the governor is on the fence but that he might sign for political,
    policy or other reasons. Ideally, you and your boss would have started
    working with the governor on this bill months ago, but now you're down to
    nut-cutting time, meaning it's time for your boss to pick up the phone. You
    have a governor who prides himself on his personal relationships and you're
    never going to bully him into anything. No, if you want to get your bill
    signed, get your boss to set up camp in the governor's lobby and make sure
    to pack his knapsack with two glasses and a bottle of scotch, because
    nothing shows love and respect like an appropriately-aged bottle of scotch.
    Bills are a lot like babies–you can't expect to make a good one simply by
    limiting yourself to the 30-day bill signing and vetoing period. If you want
    to increase your odds of success next year, make sure you use the full nine
    months you have available to you.
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