A state representative once said to me,
“In real estate it’s location, location, location…
in politics, it’s relationship, relationship, relationship.”
Relationships are critical because in the beginning, your elected official probably doesn’t know or care about your issue. But if she knows you and cares about you, then she will allocate time and energy to help you. That’s what relationship building is all about. If your association has mobilized enough people in this category in the right places up and down California, or in the nation, you can build up to fifty percent plus one.
This rule will help you: Never ask a politician for anything until you have helped her enough that she will welcome an opportunity to repay you. If you have done nothing for her, why would she help you, given that she has limited time and there are others with equally worthy goals who have already helped her?
So, a key question in determining your success is, how can you get your elected official to care about you? The answer will come as you consider these two questions: (1) What are her personal and political goals? (2) What have you done to help her achieve her goals? Following that line of thought, what goals of hers might you help get accomplished?
Of course, her first goal is to get reelected. Others might be (1) to pass legislation, either a particular piece or just any bill; (2) achieve recognition-she wants people to know what she has accomplished; (3) advance to a higher political office or to more power in the current office; (4) find new problems to solve; (5) raise money for re-election.
If you want to understand politics or a particular political event, keep in mind this hierarchy of a politician’s needs.
- Get elected.
- Stay elected.
- Get power.
- Keep power.
- Increase power.
Please don’t be turned off by the word “power.” That means the ability to do things. In the context of this book, “get power” might mean chair a committee. Then, to “keep power” you have to keep your party in majority control of the assembly or senate. That’s why so much of a politician’s time is devoted to raising money and helping others win their elections: so his party stays in power and he keeps his seat as committee chair. “Increase power” might mean moving into a leadership position on a better committee or some legislative office like majority leader.
All politicians have an “inside” agenda that you need to take into account. That is, within the legislative body, to get power, keep power and increase power. This explains why you see someone like Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco creating a farm bill that a great many of her constituents didn’t like. She was willing to offend a lot of her constituents to defend some newly elected Democrats who needed that farm bill to get re-elected. She calculated it was worth the risk to keep Democrats in power and herself as Speaker. Now she focuses on regaining a majority in the U.S. House in hopes of becoming Speaker again.
This is important to you and your issues because your elected official has to balance their desire to help you against their desire to move up in leadership. If it’s a choice between you and leadership, you may lose unless your elected official is one of the few who faces a tough re-election challenge. However, if you play your cards right, you can have a powerful friend when your elected official becomes Speaker.