The California business community should take a page from the game plan of the state’s most powerful public employee union to build an argument for a healthy business climate. The California Teachers Association recently released a series of radio and television commercials promoting the profession. The ads do not advocate for a ballot measure or a candidate, but they build the foundation of goodwill for when the union does get involved in the political arena, which it does often.
The business community should take the same approach. However, as Tony Quinn recently wrote in a Fox and Hounds Daily commentary, “business has proven entirely tactical in their approach to politics: there is little long term strategic thinking.”
Challenge a specific business or industry in the political arena and they will respond fiercely. But suggest a long-term campaign of espousing the virtues of a better business climate and no one raises a hand. Such an education campaign would pay off at election time.
A number of years ago, in writing a memo to encourage such an effort, I noted that during his first debate with Stephen Douglas in Ottawa, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln spoke of a strategy that must be practiced in California for this state to become business friendly. “With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed,” Lincoln said. “Consequently, he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.”
The highlighted sentences in the Lincoln quote says it all – the battle for public sentiment must be won ahead of trying to succeed in the fight over legislative actions.
The business community is often a target of California’s legislative majority and others who carry great political power. Stifling regulations, burdensome requirements, threats of business taxes and fees weigh down the business community.
Changing the tone of California politics will mean enlisting public sentiment to business’s corner. Remind the public again and again of the positive aspects of a strong business world: More jobs, greater prosperity, more revenue in government coffers.
Voters must be educated on issues of the economy, business, regulations, and taxes. It’s not enough to educate the policy makers in office. Voters are the policy makers, themselves, when they vote on initiatives and candidates or when they ask their representatives to support or oppose legislation. Such an effort has to show voters that a business friendly California is good for everybody.
The CTA understands this type of public outreach. For more than a decade the union has “educated” the public with a sophisticated ongoing public information campaign. So during elections they have already built the foundation for support among the voters.
The CTA starts out with an advantage. Teachers have a good reputation with the people. Business has a mixed reputation at best. Business has obstacles to overcome. Think of popular culture, how many times is the bad guy some corporate executive? Yet, business and entrepreneurship is what is behind the phenomenal growth and high standard of living this country enjoys. Small business people, in particular, are as respected as teachers.
Business’s positive message should not be heard just during an election. The pro-business message has to be a constant drumbeat year after year. The education of public opinion is a gradual process. The business community should start such a campaign now – and keep it going.