Independent Voter Project Conference: Good Government Requires Nonpartisan Discussions, Not Party Politics
The Independent Voter Project (IVP) hosted its 2015 Business and Leadership Policy Conference at the Fairmont Hotel in Maui. The conference brought together California lawmakers from both political parties, industry professionals, and policy experts to discuss issues that greatly affect lawmakers, businesses, and state residents.
IVP has taken heat from the press for holding this annual conference in Hawaii, which they argue is away from the public's eye and media scrutiny. The LA Times, for example, ran a piece on November 3, which said that this "was an opportunity to spend time with representatives of special interests on the golf course and at poolside."
However, Dan Howle, co-chair of IVP and the event's organizer, says that this conference gets policymakers away from the political pressures of the California capitol and a media culture that demonizes any collaboration between lawmakers and industry leaders.These barriers, Howle argues, often prevent substantive discussions and real solutions from being found on issues that affect everyone -- ranging from energy to public safety to health care.
Howle says members of the press are not invited to the event in order to protect the privacy of the attendees, and to facilitate the candid conversations that can only happen when the press in not peeping over the shoulders of these lawmakers and industry experts.
However, this did not stop the Sacramento Bee from sending their own reporter, Alexei Koseff, who Howle says had full access to attendees as they went to and from meetings, and had full access to the IVP co-chair.
IVN, a publication of IVP, was allowed to sit in on the panel discussions under the condition that names, titles, and companies were left private unless permission was obtained from the source. Howle says Koseff was made the same offer, but the Sacramento Bee was unwilling to agree to those terms.
Howle explained that if reporters were allowed in the panel rooms, any real and honest discussion about these important topics "would stop immediately" because of the concern that the media would look only for the 'gotcha' moments instead of focusing on the substantive discussions that occur during the event.
The conversations that took place between attendees confirmed that this is a common concern among lawmakers and industry professionals alike -- that the current political and media environment is hostile toward business leaders and lawmakers discussing real problems and developing amicable solutions.
During a panel on business and economic development, for example, attendees discussed the threat of some tech giants moving more operations from California to states like Nevada and Texas. One industry expert cited a AP story published Tuesday, which reports that while current California regulations have slowed down Google's development of a self-driving car, Texas is welcoming the company to set up shop in Austin.
How businesses have responded to California regulations over the years is a growing concern for many state lawmakers. One Assembly member in attendance said she regularly attempts to contact business leaders and CEOs to get them to talk about their problems, but it was pointed out that these CEOs are reluctant to talk because if they were honest, they would be attacked by various media and special interest groups.
Similarly, during a panel on energy, lawmakers said that the political environment has made it almost impossible for them to work with industry leaders to determine which regulations are working and which regulations are ineffective and only lead to higher prices for consumers.
Instead of re-evaluating the effectiveness of current laws, the legislature simply piles on more bills. Some lawmakers in attendance said that if pressure doesn't come from certain groups, it comes from the leadership to support bills those same groups are telling the leadership to back.
The current pressure that comes from certain special interest groups, partisan politics, and even the media that will have a field day if a lawmaker meets with a representative from a major oil/energy company creates a divide between lawmakers and industry leaders that is almost impossible to bridge.
These are conversations lawmakers and industry professionals say they cannot have in Sacramento.The sentiment from many of the legislators in attendance was that the IVP policy conference offered them a nonpartisan environment where they could have open and honest discussions about major issues and forge bonds with fellow colleagues in the legislature, regardless of party.
Democratic Assemblymember Adam Gray and Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen said the conference has given them an opportunity to establish and grow what they argue is "one of the best working relationships in the state."
"It's a great setting for all members of public policy," Gray said in an interview. "The sessions are very productive."
Gray said that not only has the conference strengthened their ability to work together, but it has built a growing friendship between their families. The type of interpersonal relationships formed between lawmakers during these conferences, he argues, carries over to their work in the capitol.
"Californians want us to come together and craft solutions," Olsen added. "The conference is an opportunity to take the time necessary to really discuss these issues."
The Business and Leadership Policy Conference is one of several conferences hosted by the Independent Voter Project. The group led a nonpartisan primary summit in Sacramento in August. In the last two years, IVP has also hosted summits and conferences on privacy, hydraulic fracturing, energy, and water in Sacramento, Merced, and Fresno State University.
IVP currently plans to organize and host as many as 6 public policy summits in 2016, to which Howle says the press will be invited.