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 In Coro News, News

Every year, Coro Fellows from the Fellows Program in Public Affairs (FPPA) from Northern and Southern California spend a week in Sacramento meeting with leaders from across California state government for their State Government Focus Week. While exploring the governance of California, the Fellows are tasked with governing and organizing themselves. Under the leadership of four project managers, two from each Coro center, the Fellows shape an approach to the week and their interviews. In Coro tradition, Fellows must quickly apply Coro tools to process “What is going on?” (WIGO) as they learn about California governance from dozens of interview guests and conversations. 

In early February this year, Fellows from across the state headed to Sacramento, meeting each other for the first time. During the first half of the week, the Fellows met with a variety of California’s leaders, ranging from Governor Newsom to State Treasurer Fiona Ma to State Controller Malia Cohen (and FPPA Alum) to Danny Brown, CalPERS Legislative Affairs Division Chief. The purpose of these interviews was to help them shape their understanding of who really governs California and to share their thinking on this question in a presentation at the end of the week.

Now, imagine it’s Wednesday evening, and the Fellows are huddled together in a conference room discussing their presentation. The Fellows interviewed over 20 leaders and shadowed dozens of elected officials and legislative staff. They need to solidify one cohesive narrative and point of view. There’s healthy conversation and differing points of view among the group of 19 total fellows. The voting public and special interest groups are cited as two key agents. Some Fellows feel strongly that the executive branch holds the most power; others are proponents for the legislature, even though actual policy implementation is not determined in a bill.

“While we were in the thick of trying to come to a consensus for the purpose of finishing our presentation for Thursday, I started to realize that we were a microcosm of how true governance occurs. It became really real,” Jackson Vachal, project manager from Coro Northern California reflected. This realization continued to crystalize for the group following reflection and debriefing after the week.

What They Learned

Jackson Vachal and Selena Martinez Mak, part of Coro Northern California’s 2023-2024 class share some of their key learnings from the week: 

  • It all comes back to relationships. “A humanness pervaded the institutions we studied during Sacramento Week,” Jackson reflected. “How you show up matters.” From interviews and interactions, leaders placed a great deal of emphasis on fostering individual relationships to enable their leadership. Fellows witnessed the power of relationships firsthand as they shadowed teams of legislative staff and met with persistent special interest groups who communicated frequently with the staff to earn five minutes to make their case. 

For the Fellows themselves, they felt the importance of personal relationships as they navigated through the reality that they were two distinct cohorts meeting each other for the first time only two days prior. 

  • Respect the process and be creative. The Fellows established agreed upon procedures for managing the week, including accountability mechanisms to keep them on track. Yet, as they faced a healthy debate late Wednesday evening, some of these procedures were tested. Upon reflection, Jackson and Selena noted how this mirrored what interviewees reflected in their interviews – the legislative process matters, as does the need to be creative to overcome barriers. 

As an example, an interviewee shared an example about a program that granted funding to cities to provide services to unhoused people. When initial results did not match the grant requirements, an analysis was conducted to understand gaps. This led to the creation of a team, not originally part of the program, that developed accountability mechanisms (e.g. goal setting, reporting) to support the program goals, ultimately leading to stronger results. 

  • Leaders wield formal and informal methods of influence – and know when to flex each one. Through interviews and interactions, Fellows reflected on the different ways leaders exerted their power and influence, ranging from formal authority to moral authority. Effective leaders recognize the various forms of influence they hold, flex these methods accordingly, and ultimately, come back to the power of relationships to be effective leaders. 

“The week was such an amazing opportunity and privilege. We learned so much about California governance, our leaders, and ourselves,” Selena shared.

The Fellows worked through the stalemate they found themselves confronted with Wednesday night. To close the State Government Focus Week experience, Fellows shared their presentation on Thursday to members of the Coro network, their interview guests from the week, and interested stakeholders, with a whole new appreciation for governing and how our elected officials advance legislative priorities.