by Ron Fong/president and CEO, California Grocers Association
Success in government relations often is rooted in the connections developed with legislators over the years. While politics, and lobbying specifically, is by its nature an adversarial pursuit, good government relations separate the conflict from the person you conflict with.
Legislation comes and goes, but legislators stay the same (unless one is termed out of office and either leaves politics or is elected to a higher office)‚ and your adversary one year can be an ally the next. A good relationship can transcend all and reap rewards years down the line. I was reminded of this during our recent Grocer Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and National Grocers Association (NGA).
It is not uncommon for congressional members to be former state legislators. In fact, nearly half of California’s congressional delegation started their political career at the Sacramento Capitol. It is during this time that CGA was able to establish relationships with many of these former Assembly members and senators who remain despite the change of scenery.
Now, when these relationships were first being developed, it was impossible to know that some of these legislators would eventually make a move from Sacramento to D.C. These relationships came about from mutual respect that grew as we worked together on legislation, and making connections between these legislators and CGA member companies in their districts. We take pride in these relationships, whether a legislator is termed out and returns to private life or continues to Washington, D.C.
This year’s Lobby Day felt more like a reunion than anything as I, along with others on CGA’s government relations team, was able to reconnect with those congressional members who once roamed the halls of our state capitol. Our meetings were much more fruitful because there was a pre-existing relationship.
These congressional members were able to be more frank during our policy discussions because a level of trust already existed. Conversely, we, too, were able to be honest in our discussions‚ more so than would have been possible if a history didn’t exist.
Politics can be a tough sport that breeds conflict. Through it all, though, we should always remember the adage about disagreeing without being disagreeable. The relationships you build are far more valuable than any legislation you may work to pass or fail. And you never know when you may need to call a friend sitting on a higher perch.
Fong became President and CEO of CGA in March 2008. A native Californian and a lawyer, he joined CGA after 12 years with the California Credit Union League (CCUL). At CGA, Fong serves as the association’s chief legislative and political advocate and oversees government relations, member services, convention and communication programs. He also is president of the California Grocers Association Educational Foundation (CGAEF). His grandfather started Carmichael Supermarket, the first grocery market in Carmichael, California, in 1941, and Fong worked in the grocery business as he grew up.