By Constance Campanella, Chairman Emeritus
“If you put one foot in a bucket of boiling water and the other in a bucket of ice water – on average you would be quite comfortable.” – Charlie Cook
Well, so much for averages.
Averages, percentages, odds–those are all worthy tools in many settings–like Las Vegas!
However, in State Government Relations we avoid such artifices because we know that a world comprised of humans, issues, processes and politics cannot be managed “by the numbers.”
Nonetheless, people do try.
Have you ever been asked to provide percentages or odds on something happening or not happening with a bill?
Often, it is because someone needs to attach a neat little label to a bill–typically while deciding if they should hire a lobbyist. I understand that. Lobbying dollars are precious and you do not want to waste them. Parenthetically, one reason Stateside does not take any commissions when we refer lobbyists is that we never want our financial interest interfering with our advice to clients. All our lobbyist referrals are free to clients.
We know also that while people ASK for a numerical percentage or odds, they EXPECT that the assessment they receive will be the product of serious review by experienced professionals. They do not expect that you will–for example–divide a legislator’s enacted bills by the number of his sponsored bills last year and present that as a meaningful number to guide your treatment of the bill in question.
Cases in point.
A certain Democratic lawmaker in Colorado has been for much of his tenure a “backbencher.” He was ineffective and a bit unusual. No one’s choice to carry an important bill. But, thanks to the 2012 elections, this lawmaker now chairs a very important committee and is carrying–thus far successfully–one of the Governor’s key initiatives. If you look at his history, statistics would say he has a very low likelihood to pass his bills. But the reality is that he has been very successful so far this year.
Or, consider the New York State Senate which moved from Republican control to a coalition after the 2012 elections. What effectiveness rating would you put on Senate Democrats who are technically “in the majority” but not part of the ruling coalition?
We have just experienced the highest degree of legislative turnover in 50 years.
Over 50% of state legislators today have 2 or fewer years experience.
These facts and the intense partisanship that now defines most legislative bodies makes year over year predictions not only misleading but dangerous.
Those numbers mean also that we have to be well–informed about issues, states and politics and carry that knowledge to government and to our internal audiences. Experience, judgment, research, perspective, knowledge, political acuity, intelligent monitoring, smarts and sometimes courage are what successful SGR professionals are made of.
And, in a profession in which we labor constantly to demonstrate value, we have to make sure that we are thinking and communicating in 3D and HD. Dumbing Down (2D) of legislative assessments is insulting to SGR professionals and deserves to be rejected.