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Lobbying, a view from the inside

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - When one thinks of lobbying state lawmakers they often picture wellpaid hired hands in business suits with deep connections skulking the corridors of power making promises of campaign contributions in return for lawmaker support of pet legislation.

While there is certainly more than a grain of truth to this stereotype it is often part of a larger effort that goes hand in hand with the efforts of ordinary citizens and non-profit groups who are affected by any given legislation.

Witness the case of a group of American Indian students, educators and other interested parties who spent a day at the state capitol in Sacramento. The group was assembled for the purposes of swaying at least three lawmakers to change their votes on an anti-mascot bill that failed last year in the California Assembly by that margin.

Last year a bill known as Assembly Bill (A.B.) 858 was introduced into the state legislature that sought to erase the use of American Indian mascots in California public schools. It was the second time that the bill, authored by Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, was introduced for this purpose.

After passing through the requisite committees the first bill died a quick death on the Assembly floor in May 2002 and fell six votes shy of the required 41 votes to pass that chamber. The original bill had received, at best, tepid support from many influential corners of California Indian country because it failed to make an exception for tribal and other American Indian schools.

Goldberg vowed at the time to rewrite and reintroduce a bill for the next legislative session the following year and thus A.B. 858 was introduced last year. This time Goldberg worked in the exceptions for tribal schools and received considerably more support from tribal quarters including the endorsement of the California Indian Nations Gaming Association (CNIGA), the state's largest tribal gaming lobbying organization.

After once again going through all of the requisite committees, A.B. 858 fell short by three votes last June, in an almost surreal floor session that actually featured Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, singing his old high school fight song. However, unlike the first bill A.B. 858 was designed as a two-year bill which means that it could be reintroduced this year, which is the second year of the two-year legislative cycle.

Thus the stakes are a little higher this time around as a failure may make it much harder to revive in the future in some other form.

Though there are currently no American Indians in the state legislature, Goldberg made one of her staffers, Curtis Notsinneh, Jicarilla Apache, the point person on the bill. One of his jobs was to organize a "lobby day" at the state capitol, where he was to gather a group of the bill's supporters to schedule appointments with various legislative offices to appeal for their support.

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Notsinneh's job was to find a staging area for the group and to strategically schedule meetings with lawmakers that he felt the group had a chance of swaying. Since this particular piece of legislation had already been put to a vote, his job was fairly clear cut. One of the things that he had going in his favor was that 12 Assembly members abstained, or refused to vote on the bill last year.

Furthermore, one Assemblywoman, Bonnie Garcia, R-Cathedral City, had initially said she would support the bill but changed her mind after meeting with the Republican caucus shortly before the vote. It was rumored at the time that Garcia wanted authorship.

Goldberg made the unusual gesture of giving up her office for the day and let the group use it as a staging area. The lobbying group consisted of about 20 people that ranged from American Indian high school students who went to schools with Indian mascots to members of the UCLA staff to actress Delanna Studi, who devotes much of her free time to performing a one-woman play called "KICK" that highlights the mascot issue.

Also included in the group were members of the Alliance Against Racial Mascots (ALARM) who have been working to get this proposed legislation for several years.

Rather than bringing in the entire group to each meeting, different people were selected to attend the various meetings so as to not overwhelm each individual office. The groups almost always consisted of a few high school students and adults. All eight meetings were pre-scheduled with Notsinneh adding an additional two during the course of the day.

During the morning, the group saw their first success of the day when Los Angeles-area Democrat, Jerome Horton, who had abstained from the bill last year agreed to support it this time around. The only other success of the day was an enthusiastic response from Democratic Asssemblywoman Hannah Beth Jackson's staff but it remained unclear as to how she would ultimately vote.

The group also had an unscheduled meeting with Republican Sacramento-area Republican Dave Cox's staff. Cox has been part of a Republican effort to reach out to tribes but had given a "no" vote on the bill last year. Though members of the group engaged Cox's staffer in a spirited debate they failed to make headway. However, many members of the group actually expressed satisfaction that Cox's office at least heard them out.

One of the most interesting meetings of the day was with Garcia, who will likely face former Morongo chairwoman Mary Ann Andreas, who is attempting to be the only American Indian member of the state legislature next year. The speculation among the group of lobbyists was that Garcia thus probably would not want to alienate Indian voters in her district, which includes several tribes.

Initially the meeting began with a staffer but when Garcia passed by and saw the group she immediately entered the office and decided to handle the meeting herself. The group came with a surprise for Garcia. Apparently during a morning meeting Goldberg had told the group to tell Garcia that she would give her co-authorship credit on the bill and the shock on Garcia's normal poker face was clearly visible.

(Continued in Part Two)