When Rep. Russ Jones moved into his office in the Arizona House of Representatives, his predecessor, Rep. Jim Carruthers, told him to beware of the “trains” that he could see, but perhaps would not hear coming.
Carruthers was referring to lobbyists who make their living convincing legislators to vote for or against legislation that is in the interest of their clients or employers, suggesting that not all of them are straightforward and ethical.
Jones, a Yuma Republican, has certainly run into those types of lobbyists in the past, but he says that isn’t the norm.
“There are representatives of organizations who will be straight with you and give you both sides of every story. They will sell theirs as best they can, but there will be an honest dialogue,” he says.
Molly Greene, corporate lobbyist for Salt River Project, is one of those, Jones says.
“She’s a real joy to work with, thinking out of the box, looking to make every situation we work with a win-win,” says Jones, who chairs the House Agriculture and Water Committee.
Greene, 41, chief lobbyist for SRP for 11 years, bucks the media stereotype of the lobbyist who is bent on getting her way regardless of the cost to the public. Greene, who heads a four-person lobbyist team from SRP’s corporate offices in Tempe, says she prefers a more deliberative, thoughtful approach to influencing policymakers.
“I feel that my nature is not that aggressive. I’m not sure that I’m much of an extrovert,” Greene says.
Her tendency is to over-prepare, researching thoroughly the issues involving SRP so that her testimony before committees is detailed and complete, and that she has answers to all questions. That research requires technical knowledge, some knowledge of law involving SRP’s power and water obligations, assets and liabilities, environmental concerns and often commerce issues. The utility owns hydroelectric facilities, coal-fired generating stations and water delivery systems that mostly serve the Phoenix metropolitan area.
“I feel like I’m equipped with all of the tools to do my job well and I don’t need to lead in such an assertive fashion because usually the policy arguments will make the case,” Greene says.
There are approximately 3,000 corporate and contract lobbyists registered in Arizona says Secretary of State’s Office spokesman Matt Roberts. The agency doesn’t keep records based on gender, but many are women, he says, even though men likely still dominate the profession.
Rep. Lela Alston, a Phoenix Democrat, was first elected to the Arizona Senate in 1977 where she spent
18 years. After taking a break from the Legislature for
16 years, she was elected to the House in 2010. Over the years, she has seen the number of women in politics — including lobbyists — increase significantly, partly because it suits their skill sets.
“My impression is that the women are a little softer, which may be a reflection of their nature of being the compromisers and the ones who plan and orchestrate the family life, which includes organization and multi-tasking,” she says.
Alston has worked with Greene on issues before the committees on which she served, including the House Environment and House Commerce.
“Molly Greene is very, very professional,” Alston says. “She always displays the knowledge of the issues and always displays good information and timely information.”
Lobbyists have several approaches to influencing lawmakers. Some are more abrasive than others. Some are more professional and some are not so professional, Alston says.
“I am personally appreciative of her professionalism,” Alston says.
It helps that Greene has a long history working with the Legislature. After graduating from Arizona State University in 1991, she worked as a policy adviser for the Arizona Senate for 10 years. After that she went to work for SRP.
“It is amazing,” Greene says. “Twenty-one years gives you quite an exposure to all manner of public policies. Public policy is really my focus, not so much politics. I have a real passion for reading and studying concepts and theories and putting them into practice.”
Greene, a wife and mother of three children, points out that she serves a utility that reflects her natural temperament of being thorough in her research, deliberative in her approach to finding the facts and bent on providing the latest and best information to the policymakers. She says credibility is key.
“I feel in my job we take the positions that are reasonable and are sound. If they weren’t, I would go back to my clients and try to talk them out it,” Greene says.
An example of the type of issues Greene works with is HB2492, which was introduced this session by Jones. In 2010, Congress approved the White Mountain Apache Water Rights Quantification Settlement and $225 million to fund a project to supply needed drinking water to the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation near Show Low. The project includes building a dam on the White River — a tributary of the Salt River — plus a water treatment plant, pipelines and power generating facilities.
In return, the tribe waives its claim to the Salt River, which makes up 40 percent of SRP’s water supply. The deal would ensure future water supplies for SRP customers, including all the cities in the Phoenix area, Greene says.
On paper, the project will add jobs to the state’s economy while serving the public interest and appears to be positive for everyone involved. But the federal bill requires a $2 million state contribution.
Moreover, it will benefit only a portion of the state, and getting $2 million in state money in a tough economy can be difficult, she says.
“It’s a huge issue and it’s complicated,” and some legislators have no constituents in the area where SRP operates.
“So to explain the importance of this to a Lake Havasu City legislator or somebody from Yuma or somebody from Tucson or Patagonia, it takes some effort,” she adds.
While having a solid grasp of technical issues is important, cultivating and maintaining relationships with legislators is important as well, Greene says.
“It is very important for us to have very good relationships with the legislators and the staff because we want to be a source of credible information all the time and not just reacting to a crisis or issue,” she says.