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James Lewis Visits the MPP

Evaluation Lab News

Posted: Mar 01, 2018 - 12:00am

On March 1st James Lewis came to speak with the UNM policy seminar. Mr. Lewis has a wealth of experience from his extensive career in public service, beginning in 1970 as a Military Police Officer for the U.S. Army and including, among many other positions, working for former Governor Bill King  as Chief of Staff from 1990-1994, serving as State Treasurer in two separate terms from 1985-1990 and again from 2006-2014, serving as Director/Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy from 1999-2001, and currently, co-chairing the Transition Team for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.

Mr. Lewis shared his insights on policy and the political environment, including the importance of knowing the players in a legislative process, the “movers and shakers” that can help or hinder a policy’s path to becoming law. Sitting in on committee meetings and understanding the details of the legislative process are important, so that one can understand which committees can be difficult for a bill to pass through, and how to interpret a legislator’s actions in support or opposition to a bill. For example, a bill could contain popular provisions a legislator doesn’t want to be seen opposing in addition to proposals they feel are bad policy, and so that legislator may use his or her position to hold the bill up in committee as a way to quietly oppose and prevent the bill becoming law. Being able to understand which legislators are able and willing to use that tactic, and others, is a crucial part of guiding a policy proposal through the legislative process.  

Mr. Lewis also emphasized the need to build public support for policy, since “the law alone doesn’t change the hearts and minds of people.” Mr. Lewis outlined five major arenas that affect policy: the legislators, the executive branch, the media, lobbyists, and policy experts. Understanding the interactions between these sectors is an important part of crafting and advocating for a policy.

Mr. Lewis also discussed working on the transition team for Mayor Keller. Transition teams often face challenges resulting from the outgoing administration providing or not providing information, and the realities of governing as opposed to the ideals of a campaign. “When you get into government you don’t know the magnitude of the issues that will hit you in the face,” he said, speaking to the challenges of finding funding and working with other branches of state and local government to accomplish policy goals.  A current challenge is finding a way to balance the city’s budget while also increasing the number of Albuquerque police officers.  Mr. Lewis’ broad experience in city, state, and federal government gave the Policy Seminar another perspective on the policy process.