Using Influence and Navigating the California Legislature

For today’s podcast, I sat down with Fredericka McGee (McGeorge Class of ’91). Fredericka spent an extensive part of her career working in the California Legislature as General Counsel and Deputy Chief of Staff for five Speakers of the Assembly. She is now the Vice President of California Government Affairs & Operations for the American Beverage Association.

In other podcasts, we’ve talked about the differences between the two houses in the California legislature. So we started our conversation on one of those key differences, and then went on to how to navigate the dynamics of the California legislature. The main difference Fredericka pointed out is the power dynamic in the two houses. In the Assembly, the current Speaker believes in disseminated power, whereas in the State Senate, the current Pro Tem uses the more traditional approach of concentrated power. That may change when the Senate transitions to new Pro Tem later this month.

When it comes to navigating the two houses of the California legislature, the key takeaway was that it matters less about the structure of the houses and more about the specific legislators or committees that will be helpful to you in your efforts to pass or kill a bill. That first means knowing if you are playing offense or defense – trying to pass or kill a bill – and then determining who is going to be your best advocate.

We also discussed some of the differences to approaching bills from the perspective of working in the Speaker’s office and working in the Third House. The most obvious difference is that as a part of the Speaker’s staff, people are coming to you to make the ask on a bill; whereas working in the third house, you are the one making the ask. That means that if you’re coming at legislation as someone from the third house, there is more proactive groundwork that you have to do with members of the California legislature and their staffs if you are going to be successful.