Education Lobbyist Sam Polito

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The education community is mourning the loss of long-time education lobbyist Sam Polito. Polito, a Tucson native, was known for having a big impact on education through his lobbying efforts and for bringing together politicians of all stripes for dinners to talk about anything but politics. Former Secretary of State Ken Bennett was at many of those dinners, and will talk about Polito’s impact at the capitol and on education.

TED SIMONS: The education community is mourning the loss of a long-time education lobbyist, Sam Polito, a Tucson native who had a big impact on Arizona schools. Here to talk about Sam Polito's legacy is State Representative Bob Robson. Good to see ya--.

BOB ROBSON: Thanks for having me.

TED SIMONS: Who was Sam Polito?

BOB ROBSON: Well, I guess if you were someone driving around town you'd probably ask that question. For those of us down at the state capitol, Sam was a gentle man with a lot of vision and a lot of passion for education in this state. You learn more about somebody sometimes after they pass away, too, it's kind of interesting. I attended his celebration of life ceremony down in Tucson on Saturday. And you sit there and you actually get an opportunity to think. I've had a thing during my political time over the many years, I always wanted to leave my imprint, not necessarily my footprint. As they were talking about Sam, I thinking there's a gentleman that left his imprint all over the educational system.

TED SIMONS: What do those prints say about him? -- He obviously got things done, how did he do it?

BOB ROBSON: At a very young age he started as a teacher at around 20-21 years of age. I found out that he saved a kid's life almost the first day he was on the job, it's amazing. Then went on to be from a teacher to an administrator, almost 60 years of service,-- elementary, K- education, as either a teacher or an administrator. Then he went more into lobbying for -- the Tucson unions high school districts -- Tucson districts down there. There was a time where if you ever wanted to know something, when I first started out in the legislature, about education, you'd call Sam. If Sam didn't know it, he'd find out for you. And he'd be able to call almost any district superintendent.

TED SIMONS: And he had a role in desegregating the Tucson unified school district, a role in implementing head start --.

BOB ROBSON: Monumental, just how many lives he's touched just by those 3 things you just mentioned. The educational system, the way we know it today, has a lot to do with Sam Polito.

TED SIMONS: His style, it's been mentioned many times, nonpartisan. Seemed like he almost killed folks with kindness. Talk about how it was. If he wanted you to do something, how would he go about doing it?

BOB ROBSON: He wouldn't come right at it right away. Sam would be funny. Always find a joke, it would sometimes be corny, and you'd laugh at the corny joke. Sometimes it would be a funny joke. But as I was saying to someone the other day, Sam with his dinners that he would hold, honestly I didn't make it to the dinners but I knew about them. Actually we had dinner as he was getting on with health issues, we'd stop and have dinner between Tucson and Phoenix. But he started it before Sandra Day O'Connor. You know Sandra Day O'Connor's dinners are famous? Sam Polito actually started it before Sandra Day. There was a relationship there, because Sandra Day O'Connor sister and Sam Polito were very good friends, as well.

TED SIMONS: Is the style he went about doing his business, is that out of favor these days? We hear about partisanship run amok. Could a young Sam Polito get the job done today?

BOB ROBSON: I think it would be difficult. A lot of the -- long term lobbyists down there have different styles, today it's the gun, get in, shoot, get out, type of situation. Sam recognized over how many years, 60 years, he realized that it took time sometimes to get things accomplished. He would nibble. A lot of the senior lobbyists know how to nibble a bit.

TED SIMONS: Was he a nibbler back when there were term limits? Or did term limits change kind of change that kind of particular formula.

BOB ROBSON: No, I think that style stayed with him throughout the process. You realize if you're going to have to get something accomplished, you're going to have to get people familiar with it, they're going to have to feel comfortable with it and they will have to work their way into it. That's what he did -- everything wasn't immediate. Sometimes it would take more than a year to get accomplished.

TED SIMONS: You mentioned lobbyists like to sometimes shoot first and ask questions earlier. They are doing it and getting the job going. They have to convince you among others. But is the legislature as a whole, is it just different now? Do you have to go in there guns blazing?

BOB ROBSON: The legislature changed, as you know I served eight years, was out for two and then came back. When I came back it was totally different from my first term in the legislature.


BOB ROBSON: A little more congenial, a little more -- people were friendlier with each other on both sides of the aisle. Those dynamics have changed a little bit, maybe because of term limits or maybe -- the fast pace that we're in at this point as a state.

TED SIMONS: As far as the legacy of Sam Polito, what is it?

BOB ROBSON: I would say a kind, gentle, well-mannered individual who kept the task in hand and got the job done. He has touched the lives of many of the citizens of Arizona through their child's education.

TED SIMONS: Do you think lobbyists down there watched this?

BOB ROBSON: Oh, yeah.

TED SIMONS: You think so?

BOB ROBSON: You talk to anybody in the lobbying community, I think they would echo the same words.

TED SIMONS: You hear the word "lobbyist," people think all of these negative connotations. This was a guy who did it right.

BOB ROBSON: A guy who tried to bring factions together, not so much as factions but as individuals and people. He tried to do it -- in a more family-type atmosphere. We become a family down there. When you go through all that we go through, you become somewhat of a family. Families argue and do what they have to do. Sam tries to keep politics out of it when he brought people together. Obviously it would turn into politics at the end anyhow, but it wasn't a battle. It was people being able to voice their opinions and just move on and say they enjoyed the night.

TED SIMONS: Died July 3rd at the age of 80 Sam Polito. Bob Robson, good to have you here.

BOB ROBSON: Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Thank you.


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