In a two-day event at the State Capitol, Cox Communications and the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University will gather about 40 executive MBA students to learn about policy-making and budget decisions from some of the state’s top lawmakers, staff and advocates. The students, acting as lawmakers and advocates, will then pass their own budget in a mock legislative session. It’s an exercise to help students learn how business and the political process intersect. Gerry Keim, professor of management at the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU, and Michelle Bolton, director of public affairs for Cox Communications, will discuss the event and concepts used by the students.
In a two-day event at the state capitol, Cox communications and ASU's W.P. Carey school of business gathered about 40 executive MBA students to learn about policy making and budget decisions from some of the state's top lawmakers and advocates. The students then passed their own budget in a mock legislative session. The goal -- to show how business and the political process intersect. Here to talk about all that is Gerry Keim, professor of management at the W.P. Carey school of business, and Michelle bolton, director of public affairs for Cox communications. Good to have you both here.
Gerry Keim: Thank you.
Ted Simons: This thing just wrapped up.
Gerry Keim: It did.
Ted Simons: Wrapped up today.
Gerry Keim: Finished about an hour ago.
Ted Simons: Talk about this. Give me a better definition of what happened down there.
Gerry Keim: We had sessions where we met legislators, we met advocates, we met representatives of governor's office and then we played the simulation, where everyone of our exec MBS students had a role. Some were lobbyists, some were members of the house, some were members of the Senate, one was the governor. We went through a number of rounds where each one had goals they were trying to advance. They got a really good hands-on understanding of how the public policy process actually works.
Ted Simons: Cox communications is involved in this because?
Michelle Bolton: We think it's really important for business and non-profit leaders to be involved in the process and know how easy it is to be involved in the process. Arizona has one of the most accessible legislatures in the country, and, so, why not take that opportunity to influence public policy matters that impact our business, or non-profit.
Ted Simons: These were MBA students, they went down there and learned about policy, learned about -- was it initially a classroom setting or was it feet on the ground and go from there?
Gerry Keim: Initially it's a classroom setting. We started at the campus in Tempe. They do some reading, they write -- do analysis on their own, teach them tools for thinking about how the public policy process works. And then we come down here. This is a course we've had for a long time, but it exclusively focused on the federal level process. Cox came to us around 2004 and said could we help you develop a state analog for this course? I said wonderful, we would love to do that. They have connected us with all of our speakers. They get access to the Senate for us. We couldn't do it without Cox. It is a great partnership.
Ted Simons: How do you get access to all of those folks? How do you get them to say ok, I will do this for a couple of days in the summer?
Michelle Bolton: Long time relationships with us being down at the capital. We have been lobbying for decades down at the state legislature, we built great relationships with republicans, democrats, regulators, other lobbyists and they, too, want folks to be involved at the capitol. There is a fantastic enthusiasm by our lawmakers and our lobbyists, our advocates to say we'll show you how it's done because people do want to hear from you.
Ted Simons: Describe the atmosphere down there. I guess once the budget game starts, even before and after the budget game, what is it like down there? Is it a lot of running around? What does it look like?
Michelle Bolton: It is a little chaotic, of course. Most of the students haven't really done this before. So this is brand new to them. You know, we're lifting the veil of mystery, so to speak. They're learning that process. We help them dip the toe in the pool and gradually get them involved. Once they get that taste and they get that knowledge, they're hitting the ground running. In fact, we started to really hit the ground running last night with the elections. They elected their leaders last night.
Ted Simons: Oh, my goodness.
Michelle Bolton: Yeah.
Ted Simons: When you see these students, obviously you go from a classroom setting to down there at the capitol to electing leadership and such. Do you see things changing? Does it start clicking or is there a little bit of intimidation involved?
Gerry Keim: A little of both. It definitely clicks. These are executive MBAs, these are 35 to 55 years of age and it is about learning to think strategically. The point we try to make a lot of threats and opportunities come from the public policy process, our tag line for the course is democracy should not be a spectator sport. Democracy works better when more people are involved. These folks develop the understanding and the capability then to help their organizations become more involved in the public policy process. I think that's good for our state and quite frankly at the federal level for our country.
Ted Simons: When the budget game begins and then folks are trying to pass this and trying to lobby for that, I mean, are they -- are they getting the gist of what really needs to be done? I know it is a mock setting. But do they understand just how sensitive and -- the political -- this -- a lot of politics going on with this.
Gerry Keim: Well, the game is structured thanks to the Cox team, structured in a way that they have very specific goals. Some of them win or lose points if they can get funding for body armor, for DPS officers. Others focusing on the high-tech industry. Others focusing on poor families and children. And they win or lose basically on how effective they are at pushing for their programs. Most of these folks are type A. They're pretty excited.
Ted Simons: I would imagine so. I want to get response from them, but what is the response from lawmakers and lobbyists? It is done now. What did you hear from them?
Michelle Bolton: First off, it is interesting how art imitates life. We had a very tenuous budget session. A vetoed budget as well. We had a Senate president that was rolled. So, it was quite interesting. No one could have anticipated any of that. That's just how it worked. But, you know, the key things I think they learned out of this is relationships are important. They mean everything. Your current seat at the capitol is your word, your reputation, and if you don't have that, then you start to get isolated. So, everything that we have in the real world they saw it there in the game. And tried to be very strategic in how they moved things through the process.
Ted Simons: What kind of response did you get from the students now that it is done? It's not really done. You've got a federal thing back in D.C.
Gerry Keim: Exactly. And they're chomping at the bit to go. They're very enthusiastic. Nothing quite like an experience like this. Also, the fact that we can be in the Senate, something about smelling it, tasting the environment, we couldn't do this on campus.
Ted Simons: So the response that you've gotten so far?
Gerry Keim: Universally positive.
Ted Simons: Students as well.
Michelle Bolton: Yes.
Michelle Bolton: And we may even have recruits to run for office. There certainly were three or four students that said I might be interested in taking a whack at that. I love it.
Ted Simons: As far as the intersection of business and politics, is the message getting across?
Gerry Keim: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. They clearly understand. What -- and most people in business understand that the political process is important, but a lot of them just don't know what to do about it. Our students after this experience, they know how to participate.
Ted Simons: Is that what you're seeing as well?
Michelle Bolton: Oh, absolutely. And the comments back after we finished our session was, wow, this was an eye-opening experience. It's tough. I have a greater respect for our lawmakers. I didn't realize it was this tough. How to actually build coalition and, you know, there are all kinds of outside forces that can change dynamics. You think you're on one track but then a curve ball is thrown and now there is something new.
Ted Simons: It sounds like a lot of fun if nothing else and it sounds like a lot of things were learned as well. Good to have you both here.
Gerry Keim: Thanks very much. Appreciate it.
Gerry Keim:Professor of Management, W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University; Michelle Bolton:Director of Public Affairs, Cox Communications;