February 14, 2016

Taylor Guitars: A Perpetual Approach to Embracing Change

I wrote this post originally as a part of one of my graduate class discussions after I was tasked to explore and examine a successful organization that has embraced change. I'm reposting here because I had originally planned to write about a nonprofit or organization providing services or self-advocacy for individuals with disabilities. However, I was reading about guitars (another passion of mine) and I simply could not write about another organization once I started reading more about Taylor-Listug, Inc. I found a news article from 2014, which included some beautiful discussions on the value of pursuing innovation and change even if something "isn't broken". I found the company's philosophy to really resonate with another book I love, Theory U (Schamer, 2009).

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Taylor Guitars:  A perpetual approach to embracing change

For this discussion I chose a business that stuck out because
of how much it embraces change compared with the other main players within this established industry, which is manufacturing guitars. The organization I chose as an example, is Taylor Guitars. Taylor is a guitar manufacturer started in 1974 by Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug in San Diego, California (Sanford, 2011). 

On the right is a Taylor T5z,  a unique and innovative guitar. After learning about it and watching videos of this acoustic/electric hybrid, I was so curious about this guitar that I went to many stores just asking if they stocked one so I could try playing it and simply feel it in my hands. It's an amazing instrument.

An Industry Stuck in Time

A leader in the guitar business, Gibson still relies on resisting change as much as possible. One of it’s biggest selling guitars, the Les Paul, was introduced in 1952 and most of the innovations and changes were introduced during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

While much of the guitar industry is moving to recreate or replicate classic versions of guitars and scrambling to find limited supplies of endangered wood. Gibson guitars was raided in 2011 by federal agents for importing poached wood from Madagascar in violation of the Lacey Act (Schelzig, 2014). After Gibson reached a settlement, they were able to get the seized wood back from the federal government and used the story to create the Government Series Gibson 335 using words from the constitution, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as a sales pitch for this limited edition, calling the Government Series“ An American original now an American icon of freedom” (Gibson.com, 2015).

Here Gibson brags about 20 years of doing things like it was 70 years ago.Even today one of the most sought after guitar models is the 1959 Gibson Les Paul. Since the 1959 models are hard to find and incredibly expensive, Gibson currently produces modern replicas of the exact guitars from years naming them a “reissue” (Musician’s Friend, 2014). For example, the 1959 Les Paul Standard Reissue is a very popular guitar model sold by Gibson, and a new ‘59 reissue retails at a starting price of $6,499 (Gibson.com, n.d.). If you visit Gibson’s website to look at the Les Paul Reissue guitars you will notice that what they are promoting is a 20-year celebration of putting out replicas of these old guitars, and working to make them as old and realistic as possible. This represents the ingrained resistance to change within the company and the broader industry that typifies the guitar industry. Despite the preconceived notions we might have about musicians or the rock music industry being progressive, the guitar industry as a whole is generally still operating in the past.

What Taylor does differently

Bob Taylor has been continually moving his company in the direction of exploring the possibilities of design, sustainability, better practices, and changing the way his guitars are made. Taylor Guitars is continually trying new design changes and working to improve and challenge different aspects of the guitar-making process and how they source their materials (Reverb, 2016). Taylor guitars are made from 100% sustainably harvested wood, and the company has taken an active role in either owning or managing the supply chain to ensure things are done in a sustainable way. Bob Taylor is frequently in the cooperatives in Honduras and Belize where workers are harvesting rosewood and Taylor strives to listen to the people in those areas, adapt to their needs, improve wages and to improve environmental standards at the same time. The company has been utilizing a GPS-based technology with their foresters to identify the source coordinates of every tree. The technology provides a supply chain management tracking system to ensure compliance with environmental laws (Kirlin, 2011). Bob Taylor embraces change and is continually looking to adapt and think about the future. Despite owning a company with a vested interest in being able to use and sell all wood-based products, Bob Taylor is focused on educating consumers on these issues and changing the consumers think and act.

Watch: The State of Ebony

In his video, The State of Ebony, Taylor describes the global scale of what we are doing to the rainforests, and areas of the world where these woods are sourced and he talks about the modern use of palm oil, mass deforestation, and guitar industry are wreaking havoc on the people and communities in those areas. Taylor says:  “Ebony has been a wood where we go into a country and we use the ebony until is is gone, literally. Then we move into another country and we take their ebony until it is all gone. Why do I say ‘we’? Because ebony isn’t cut in Africa for use by Africans, it’s being cut to be sold to people like us [speaking as an American] to make things like guitars out of. That’s the simple truth of the matter” (TaylorGuitars, 2012). Taylor Guitars was recognized in 2014 by Secretary of State John Kerry with the Award for Corporate Excellence because of the company’s positive changes in sustainable and ethical business practices in Cameroon (Middleton, 2015).

I really recommend watching this video because Bob Taylor tells the story of how he spent a year living in Cameroon, after buying a wood mill along with a Spanish company and this business acquisition changed his life. He also shares a compelling story about how western consumer expectations were creating horrible waste and environmental damage. On this story and the powerful change created by implementing a new practice, Taylor says: “We no longer live in a world of new frontiers and wasteful use of our natural resources. The people of Cameroon can’t afford the luxury for us to be this picky and so things are going to change. The nature of what we thought was beautiful for 100 years is simply going to change” (TaylorGuitars, 2012). Bob Taylor then asks the viewers of the video to also embrace this change.

Pursuing change beyond one owner

In 2014, and Bob Taylor decided begin the process of finding a successor to keep pushing Taylor Guitars far into the future. Taylor listed many specific qualities he’d seek in a candidate and found Andy Powers, a luthier with his own line of custom acoustic instruments. In his brief time at Taylor, Powers has significantly improved the iconic 600 and 800 series guitars. Powers is taking on more responsibility at the company, freeing Bob Taylor to devote more of his attention to his passionate concern about wood and forest conservationism (Reverb, 2016).

Why it works

I think what makes Taylor Guitars so successful is that the willingness to experiment and desire to innovate from the beginning. In the article “Why Large Companies Struggle with Business Model Innovations” by Girotra and Netessine (2013), the authors talk about the importance of having top management invested in the process of change. Taylor Guitars has an owner who is so fully-invested that he spends a year at at time living in the places where the wood is forested and he is passionate about looking into the future as he works towards change (2013). He is also open-minded and frequently talks about experimenting with new designs, new types of wood that are typically discarded and he collaborates with other people who bring skills and innovation to the company. I believe that the passion for experimentation, the desire to do things a better way and the fact that Bob Taylor has maintained enough control of the company in order to implement the progressive approaches have all been crucial to the company’s success. 

Lastly, by experimenting and working to improve the process, Taylor Guitars play differently and are differentiated from the other competitors in the saturated market of acoustic and electric guitars. Like my own journey learning about the T5z, consuming videos and articles only provides partial information on the essence of what Taylor does. In order to really know what the differences are and what they mean, you need personal experience. What makes the Taylor T5z come alive is to hold it in your own hands and try playing it.

Photo from Wood & Steel Magazine, Kirlin, J. (2011)


Gibson.com (2015) ES-335 Government Series. An American original now an American icon of freedom. Retrieved from:  

Gibson.com (n.d.) 1959 Les Paul Standard Reissue. Gibson Guitars. Retrieved from: http://www.gibson.com/Products/Electric-Guitars/Les-Paul/Gibson-Custom/1959-Les-Paul-Standard-VOS.aspx

Girotra, K. and Netessine, S. (2013, September 27) Why Large Companies Struggle with Business Model Innovations. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from​: https://hbr.org/2013/09/why-large-companies-struggle-with-business-model-innovation/

Kirlin, J. (2011) Forest Friends. A decade after a pioneering mahogany harvesting program paired Taylor with a community in Honduras, a model of sustainable social forestry is thriving and spreading. Wood & Steel Magazine. Retrieved from: https://www.taylorguitars.com/sites/default/files/ws_summer_2011.pd​f 
Middleton, A. (2015, July 1) Fine-tuning sustainable buildings at Taylor Guitars headquarters. Sustainability Matters. Retrieved from: http://sustainabilitymatters.us/2015/07/fine-tuning-sustainable-buildings-at-taylor-guitar-headquarters/

Musician’s Friend (2014, January 8) The Les Paul Buying Guide. Musician’s Friend.com. The Hub. Retrieved from: http://thehub.musiciansfriend.com/guitar-buying-guides/the-les-paul-buying-guide
Sanford, J. (2011, May 16) Taylor Guitars: The Inside Story. The San Diego Reader. Retrieved from: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/jam-session/2011/may/16/taylor-guitars-the-inside-story/# 
Scharmer, O. (2009). Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges. San Francisco.​ Barrett-Koehler.

Schelzig, E. (2014, October 2) Gibson Guitar Settles Exotic Wood Violation With Federal Government. Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/06/gibson-guitars-exotic-wood_n_1747507.html

Taylor Guitars (2012, May 12) Taylor Guitars "The State of Ebony"- Bob Taylor ​[​Video​].​ YouTube.com Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/anCGvfsBoFY

Thompson, C. (2016, January 27) A Brief History of Taylor Guitar Innovations. Reverb.com.​ Retrieved from: https://reverb.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-taylor-guitar-innovations 
Varga, G. (2014, January 22) Taylor Guitars Turns 40 with a Bang. San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved from: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2014/jan/22/taylor-guitars-bold-move-for-fortieth-anniversary/

November 17, 2015

Improving the Democratic Process with Open Dialogue, 140 Characters at a Time

Exploring Social Change Through Public Policy

While working in the legislation and public affairs office of a state program, I regularly monitored thousands of social media accounts of public officials, government and nonprofit organizations. While managing the agency’s social media accounts, I also saw state policy develop on a daily basis. One voice emerged through Twitter that was continually surprising: A California legislator was using the platform to engage constituents, media and other leaders with personal and reciprocal dialogue.

I wanted to know why his approach was so reasonable and why his level of was able to maintain a remarkable level of dedication. His dedication is underscored by his attendance; in fact the Contra Costa Times reported that Assemblymember Gatto was present to cast a yes or no vote in all 5,897 roll calls last year. He was the only member of the legislature to not miss a vote. (Orlov, 2014) If an innovative approach to the legislative process was possible then there might be hope for genuine transformation of public policy. I had to talk to Mike Gatto.

Gatto's work spans LA county and the state capitol.

I called Gatto’s Capitol office and then sent a follow-up email to ask if there was any chance I could schedule time with the Assemblyman. I then sent Mike a short request via Twitter to ask if he would be willing to talk with me. In less than two minutes the Assemblyman replied personally through Twitter and within two hours of my phone call to the office, Gatto’s staff responded with a scheduled for a face-to-face interview. This level of responsiveness is unparalleled within a government office: I’m not a constituent, registered lobbyist, member of the media, or a public official yet I received an immediate response to my inquiry and the Assemblyman generously gave up his during the busy part of a legislative season is generous to accommodate an academic project.

A Basic Background on California Assemblymember Mike Gatto

Mike Gatto is a native and lifelong resident of California’s 43rd assembly district, which includes Glendale and Burbank and surrounding areas. Education played an important role in Gatto’s life, his father Joseph Gatto, was a revered arts educator, who taught for many years at the school he co-founded, the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA). Mike Gatto describes his father as an Army veteran, beloved arts educator, craftsman, author, and grandfather (Bloom et al., 2014). After attending schools in Glendale, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake, Mike graduated with a degree in History from the University California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and Loyola Law. He left a flourishing career as a small business attorney after successfully running for a vacant assembly seat in his district in June of 2010. He has been serving in the California Assembly for nearly five years has been an integral force in fiscal policy and protecting consumer privacy.

Why Public Service?

When I sat down to talk with Mike Gatto, we connected right away on the commonality of raising two young daughters, the photos of his family are prominent in his office and I carry photos of my daughters in the covers of my notebooks and legislative binder. I shared how my children underlie my passion for enacting social change and how I became familiar with Gatto’s legislative work and communication through my prior work. I then asked him why he was driven to serve in the assembly, and what led him to public service. Gatto answered that he had been frustrated for a long time with the status quo and felt there was a better way for the government to operate, he eventually had a shift in his thinking and he felt it was wrong to criticize the system from the sidelines. Instead, Gatto says “if you really care about something, you care about changing the system, it’s best to get involved” (Gatto, 2015). He left a good job to run for office because he felt to focus on laws that benefit the public at large, as opposed to special interest groups.

I asked what issues evoked passion from the Assemblymember. I was surprised by the source of Gatto’s passion; a topic he admitted that usually makes people’s eyes glaze over: financial reform. Mike Gatto is passionate about budget reform and has a “love for all things fiscal” (Gatto, 2015). Why would budgetary matter invoke this much fervor? Gatto describes the relationship this way: “I think the biggest that way a society expresses its values is what it chooses to spend money on” (Gatto, 2015) This idea is pivotal for those of us who tend view economic forces as separate from social ones. Economist Richard Steinberg echoes a similar sentiment when he defines economics as: “The study of choices under scarcity” and insists that allocating funding (a scare resource) is an exercise in choice, denoting what is valuable (Steinberg, 2006).

Gatto further stressed the implications of managing public funds; “we must never forget it’s our money, it’s everybody’s money. It’s not the government’s money, it belongs to all the taxpayers, all the people in the state and so I think reforming the process and making sure we don’t spend it foolishly is the biggest thing I think we could do to leave a better government for the next generation” (Gatto, 2015). This process reformation is similar to the broader social aspect of economic thinking and creating “bottom-up policy” that author David Colander says is changing the current landscape of economics (Colander, 2012).

What is Getting in the Way?

I wanted to know how serving in the assembly for five years had changed Gatto’s outlook on the ability to affect change. The inequities of power held by special interest groups stands out as a depressing reality. Gatto says that there are positive initiatives he has taken on and that his colleagues and pursued that have been stifled by special interests: “You get and education very fast on how powerful certain special interest groups are and people. You’re always going to be affected by money and power and things like that, but when it gets too profound in one direction, then you have to say “something’s wrong” (Gatto, 2015).

There seems to be increasing evidence something is, indeed, wrong. Ordinary citizens are being shut out of the democratic process due to the power and manipulation used by special interest groups is. As economist Lester Salamon points out, it becoming increasingly difficult for citizens and nonprofits to have a voice advocacy, in view of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which removed all restrictions on corporate financing of election campaigns (2012, p. 38).

Shifting Power to the People

Engaging members of the public is to participate and be heard is a key Mike Gatto’s approach to shifting the balance of power. Gatto’s approach is not just symbolic; he has implemented changes suggested by people responding to legislation proposals. Gatto says that allowing people to truly be heard is mutually beneficial: “A lot of good ideas come to you from members of the public. A lot of people propose changes to my bills and they’re actually good changes, so I like to think that I’m better for it” (Gatto, 2015)
Gatto’s legislative work has made headlines as he drafted the United States' first bill drafted by the public on a wiki-style Web page (KPCC, 2014). Gatto is again utilizing this new approach of crowdsourcing to shape and increase the level of transparency in the legislative process. Gatto described the reasoning behind using this methodology to create AB 83, a bill that would increase security requirements and accountability for businesses that collect personal information from consumers:
“Too often, legislation is drafted with little or no input from the everyday Californian. In contrast, ‘crowdsourcing’ a bill on the Wiki platform allows for a fully transparent brainstorming, drafting, and editing process that incorporates ideas, experiences, and concerns from a large group of people. The collective wisdom of the public determines the final product.” (Simmons, 2015)

A Case for Optimism and Action

The philosopher Paulo Freire differentiates how dialogue requires an equal dynamic, he says that dialogue “is and act of creation; it must not serve as a crafty instrument from the domination of one person by another. Dialogue cannot exist without humility. “ (Freire, 2000, p. 89). I am inspired by the power of dialogue (even dialogue in 140-character increments). Assemblymember Mike Gatto has been able to use the Twitter as a platform to communicate personally and truly listen to others’ ideas with intention and to engage in reciprocal dialogue, not just to further a specific political agenda.

As someone who feels called to enact social change, I asked Mike what wisdom he had for change agents and I recognized the power of passion combined with truth: “If there’s an issue you care about, people will see that. They will see it by your passion, by the tone of your voice and the look in your eye. They will see all of those things that you care about it. People who care about issues are very powerful spokespeople for them” (Gatto, 2015).

My conversation with Mike Gatto left me with added optimism on the possibility to enact social change. Reflecting on his terms in the assembly, Gatto says “With a lot of things I’ve been just profoundly impressed with the ability to do good.” He mentioned the positive impact that one legislative initiative had, a bill he passed that reduced the red tape for certain kinds of small businesses in the food industry. When talking about this bill, Gatto says “I still get stopped on the street by people saying ‘You changed my life. I’m a single mother and I wanted to create a baking business and I was never able to do it and there was all this red tape and bureaucracy, but you changed my life’.” (Gatto, 2015).


KPCC. (2014, September 14). California's first wiki bill vetoed, but Assemblyman Mike Gatto says he plans to organize more. Retrieved May 24, 2015, from KPCC: http://www.scpr.org/news/2014/09/20/46857/california-s-first-wiki-bill-vetoed-but-assemblyma/
Bloom, T., Wynter, K., Pamer, M., Wynter, K., & McDade, M. (2014, November 12). As Memorial Highway Is Named for Joseph Gatto, LAPD Asks for Tips in Unsolved Killing. Retrieved May 23, 2015, from KTLA: http://ktla.com/2014/11/12/joseph-gatto-lapd-to-re-offer-50k-reward-in-unsolved-killing-of-assemblymans-father/
Colander, D. (2012, January-February). Solving Society's Problems from the Bottom Up. Challenge , 55 (1), pp. 69-85.
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York , NY: Bloomsbury Academic.
Salamon, L. M. (2012). The Resilient Sector: The Future of Nonprofit America. Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.
Yeates, K. (Interviewer) & Gatto, M. (Interviewee). (2015, May 13). Improving the Democratic Process with Open Dialogue, 140 Characters at a Time [Interview transcript]. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1d0-e9X6FfSF7f5o13qq34zUQuwK3Ba9r2WjytSIVwkg/edit?usp=sharing

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INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT with Assemblymember Mike Gatto

May 13, 2015

K: What inspires your dedication, your approach—why civil service?
M:  Well, you know, the reason why I ran for office initially is because I found myself waking up every morning and shaking my fist at the newspaper, feeling like there was a better way to do things. And then at some point I kind of had a shift, I thought, If I am going to criticize something then I’m not really a good human being unless I get involved myself. It’s very easy to ‘Monday morning quarterback’, or whatever they call it, to sit there and criticize something from the sidelines. But if you really care about something, you care about changing the system, it’s best to get involved. So that’s what made me run for office. I left a much…..I left a very good job and I, but I did it because I really feel like we need more sensible laws and things. We need lawmakers who are going to focus on laws that benefit the public at large, as opposed to special interest groups.
K: Is there anything in your background or different sorts of policies that ( M: gets you excited? ), yeah your passion:
M: Oh gosh, things that probably bore a lot of other people. I mean, I am very much into budget reform, I love all things fiscal, and you know—I know a lot of people’s eyes glaze over when you start talking about things like this. But; If you think about it, I think the biggest that way a society expresses its values is what it chooses to spend money on. And we in California, we’ve chosen a lot of things over the years that are probably not that wise to spend our money on, and we must never forget it’s our money, it’s everybody’s money. It’s not the government’s money, it belongs to all the taxpayers, all the people in the state and so I think reforming the process and making sure we don’t spend it foolishly is the biggest thing I think we could do to leave a better government for the next generation.
K: How has it been for you balancing the committee for consumer privacy, how has it been for you to balance the amount of transparency and engagement and you’ve put forth personally while also being so aware of protecting people’s privacy?
M:   Sure, you know it's a very fair question. You know I think the key thing with privacy, just like much else, it’s consent, right? it’s freedom. If people choose to go on Twitter or Facebook and say “I’m at this wonderful event” or gosh, I mean there’s people on Twitter and Facebook who tell us what they had for dinner that night, then they are consenting to give up their privacy. But none of us would ever say that you have to do that, right? None of us would ever say that it’s right to get into someone’s personal data that they don’t want out there, or to force people to have to disclose things that they don’t want  disclosed. So that’s where I draw the line, it just comes down to consent and freedom.
K:  Has it been difficult, at all, with having that much engagement or sustaining it?
M:  Sometimes, I mean— I think there’s a of people who don’t understand various media. Twitter for example, is something that because it’s 140 characters at a time, it’s very rapid. For example I could compose a tweet right now while we’re talking and it would probably be very rude, but it wouldn’t necessarily detract from our interview. If that makes sense? It’s a good, quick way to stay engaged with the people who voted for me. That’s the way that I view it.
K: Yes, and I think it’s amazing the way that you’ve used it. You’ve leveraged it to respond to, even,  people with small criticisms on proposed legislation, to say: “oh ok, well maybe we’ll consider folding that in”. It’s almost as if you’re so reasonable, there is just this cognitive dissonance—does that make sense? [M: Yeah, sure, I understand].
K: Is there anything else about you, from your background that has shaped how you’re able to have such a unique delivery or methodology with the way you approach things?
M:  I made a promise to myself when I got elected that I would never forget the perspective of the voter. There’s a lot of people, that the minute they go from being a voter, to being somebody who is voted on, or voted for, they lose that perspective. They forget what it’s like to be someone who wants your tree trimmed and you call the service and you’re on hold for 45 minutes, and then they give you some answer that it will be trimmed in 30 years. Or, you want a pothole filled. That experience stinks. That type of lack of responsiveness, when you write an elected official, when you call an elected official, when you call your government and they don’t respond to you and they’re not reasonable; it drives us crazy. Right? It’s like, I’m paying for this person’s salary, they talk about efficiency, and they’re supposed to listen to my viewpoint- and yet they’re not listening to me. So I promised myself I would never be that person, that I would never forget what it’s like to be that person who was calling about something that really bothered me or was really engaging somebody somehow. So I just want to be responsive, I just want to respond to people.
By the way a lot of good ideas come to you from members of the public. A lot of people propose changes to my bills and they’re actually good changes, so I like to think that i’m better for it. and I hope that I’m also making people...I like to surprise people and make them realize that not all of us ignore people. If hope that makes sense.
K: Yes, I think it really is thoroughly surprising and I probably haven’t bugged your office before because many of my issues just don’t happen to be the overlapping, on the specific committees that you work on.
M: I did sign the letter in support of the Lanterman Act.
K: Yes, and I called your office to thank you for your support, though my reps still haven't signed on to support it yet. That is a conversation I would like to have. I had brought both my girls out several weekends to volunteer for our local campaigns and place lawn signs and they grumbled about “why are we doing this?” and I tried to approach a conversation about civic duty and engagement.
M: That sounds like a good mother.
K: How do you define or prioritize the issues or forces that are happening within your district?​
M: Geez. Well one way to prioritize it, of course, is sheer numbers. To see how many people write in on an issue. Another other way to prioritize it is the passion of the few people who write in. You could occasionally have a problem that is very vast but only a few people care enough to write about it. And then the converse is also true. You could also have a problem where 70% or 80% of the population feels one way but then 20% is very vocal. So you really have to have a good compass. You have to be in touch with a lot of people in your district to have a sense of how the district really feels. And, you know, sometimes you also have to say the district, in effect, elected me to be their voice, and I might not have taken a poll on this, or even an informal survey, but I’m going to do what I feel is right for the people in my district. And It’s kind of easy because I grew up in my district. I was born and raised there so  I feel like I’m still in touch with all the people who populate it.
K: Was your family originally from there? [your district]
M: My dad moved to LA when he was about 10. My mom did when she was about 20. But I was actually both born and raised in my district. And my dad had lived there, my dad lived in the district from 1968 to 2013, he passed away so… yeah, I’ve got some pretty deep roots there which is good.

K: How has your outlook on public service or the ability to make change—how has that been influenced in your terms in the Assembly? What has it been now? (five years) [said simultaneously].
M: Yeah, five years, well it will be five years in June. With a lot of things I’ve been just profoundly impressed with the ability to do good. For example there was a bill a few years ago that I wrote to affect the red tape for a certain kind of small businesses in the food industry, it sounds so random  (no, it was incredibly helpful, I have a friend who was helped immensely) Well there you go.
So we went through our bills that year and we probably had 50 ideas and we ranked this 21at out of 20 bills we were going to carry, but by some reason we ended up carrying it. And I still get stopped on the street by people saying “You changed my life. I’m a single mother and I wanted to create a baking business and I was never able to do it and there was all this red tape and bureaucracy, but you changed my life”. And then Forbes magazine, did a story about how it created 1,000 new small businesses. But there are also things where you keep fighting and fighting and fighting and you get very depressed by the power that special interest groups have here. There are other things that I’ve tried to do, that I know my colleagues have tried where you get and education very fast on how powerful certain special interest groups are and people. And there’s interest groups up here who feel totally comfortable to threaten you with your reelection. They feel very comfortably to imply very strongly that if you don’t vote a certain way they’re going to affect your future career, and that’s depressing because you like to think that we live in a society where elected officials could feel comfortable to vote their conscience and do what they think is right. You’re always going to be affected, you’re always going to be affected by blocks of vote in your district. You’re always going to be affected by money and power and things like that, but when it gets too profound in one direction, then you have to say “something’s wrong”. And so, I guess what I’m saying is there have been profound opportunities to do good but it’s also depressing sometimes by how many good ideas can get stifled by special interest groups.
K: Do you have any wisdom about your approach on how to find your avenue, for people to make social change? Because that is what I feel compelled to do, and in my last job I felt I wasn’t able to do enough to change policy.
M: The best way is to, if there’s an issue you care about, people will see that. They will see it by your passion, by the tone of your voice and the look in your eye. They will see all of those things, that you care about it. People who care about issues are very powerful spokespeople for them. If you can get other people to join you, to contribute small amounts of money to fund a professional lobbying effort, to contribute small amounts of money to a PAC, to lobby legislators, to give their time. Because time has a value, just like money, to come testify, to write letters, to engage the media; all these things are very, very powerful ways to affect change.  One of the most powerful ways is that there are a lot of newspapers right now that are just dying for content, [yes] and people still read newspapers, and if you can write compelling Op-Eds and submit them to newspapers. You know, I write Op-Eds that aren’t even my issues, in my privy, I write Op-Eds on Federal monetary policy and newspapers sometimes take them because sometimes {they need content}. But that’s a really powerful way to kick-off a movement.
K: You talked about the good opportunities for making measurable and positive change for people through your legislative work, but you also talked about the reality of special interest groups and how they have a paralyzing effect on the legislative process and representing people in a genuine way—What would progress or positive change look like to you (dreaming big), in the way the state legislature functions and serves its citizens?
M: Progress and positive change can best be brought through a more engaged citizenry, participating actively in the legislative process.  Reducing voter apathy and increasing voter turnout is an extremely important first step towards achieving this goal.  Additionally, I have taken strides to allow the public to have a direct impact on the state’s legislative process in an unprecedented manner.  For the second year in a row I have invited the public to draft their own legislation online. Citizens can visit the "Wiki bill's" website, and by using an interface similar to Wikipedia's, they can propose, draft, and edit a bill.  Many people have ideas about what they like and don’t like about their government, so providing them this forum to create legislation and directly impact the process is one of the best ways we can serve citizens as a legislature.
K: Do you feel that most legislative policy is created from a negative and reactionary viewpoint, only looking at the biggest failures and problems in society and fixing those? Or do we have policies that develop from looking at our community's assets, existing strengths and asking how we can utilize those assets, empower them and have them function more efficiently? Should both approaches be used?
M: Legislative policy in California comes from a combination of proactive and reactive viewpoints.  We should be using whatever makes the most sense.  I am a strong proponent of common sense, practical solutions, whether proactive or reactive, that can best benefit our state.  California’s legislative process can be long and drawn out which is frustrating. However, this process is necessary to ensure that bills are thoroughly vetted.  This means that, whether negative and reactive or positive and proactive, we do what is in the best interest of Californians.
K: What influenced your decision to support the Lanterman Coalition's budget position, to increase funding across-the-board for developmental services?
M: It was simply the right thing to do. The system that was previously in place was in crisis and it was time for the legislature to act.  Although the Developmental Services Task Force had been working on budget recommendations, it was unclear if it would be available in time for the budget debate.  I stood with other legislators in asking the Chairs of the Subcommittees on Health and Human Services in both houses to consider a 10 percent increase in the regional center operations and purchase of services budget for developmental services.

September 11, 2015

When My Child Asked Me About 9/11

This was the day that I saw Manhattan as it used to be. This photo is almost 15 years old. We were super young teens driving through the city and the very next year we would have plane tickets to be in NYC on 9/11/11 - but ultimately those tickets got switched and a subsequent flight to New York on 9/12/11 never happened either. A lot has changed and it feels quick in that amount of time, and yet sometimes it seems as if our nation has lost sight of what we could do together out of the pain in this circumstance. There's loud debate on immigration so much use of slanderous terms to further divide and dehumanize people from almost any sector, culture and background. 

Earlier this week my older daughter began to ask me some explicit questions about the 9/11 memorial in town. She's seen it in prior years and was satisfied by being told they were American flags. But now she has read books with me about other flags, part of a book about how we all have a heritage. She picked out several flags that were her favorites (Qatar, Brazil, and Iran). So this time she asked me why the flags were there now. I leveled with her saying it was to commemorate a very sad thing that happened and so many people died because of it, a lot of it happened in New York. But, she wanted to know....what was EACH flag was for? (There's a flag for every single person killed that day, it's quite sobering visually). I told her that each of those flags represents an American who died during that very sad event. 

I didn't go into any more details, or use any other descriptors, but I told her that I believe it's important that we not hold hatred in our hearts for other people because they are different. That because of this sad day, it's important to work to understand others and learn what shapes their view rather than giving them a label. 

I am not prepared to talk about these complex realities that defy logic, but I think we owe our kids a world in which we engage in thoughtful talks with other cultures, nations, and people all sides of political debates and religions before we go out and label anyone not "with us" as a "terrorist". 

14 years ago our country lost so many things and moms, dads, sons and daughters that were irreplaceable and we found a uniting vision to help one another and see past the superficial differences and utilize the Internet as a tool for fundraising to help people we don't even know in their darkest hour. I hope we can feel the connection with others and use this day to work together, have the difficult discussions in a responsible way and keep our perspectives grounded. Our kids deserve to know a nation and world where we can view others with empathy, open hearts and open minds. There's so much at stake. Never forget.

September 8, 2015

Why Girls with Autism May Often be Overlooked

A new study by Stanford Medicine supports what parents have long known. Autism manifests differently in boys and girls. It's important to note that this study found that girls were 3 times less likely to display clinically significant repetitive behaviors than boys.

Unfortunately under DSM5, this means many of these girls will not get properly diagnosed and may be labeled as having "social communication disorder"—a new diagnosis, for which there is no validating science or services. Conversely, the same gender differences suggest many boys may be over-diagnosed. I believe that fully understanding these subtitles is imperative to closing the gender gap and providing all our children with accurate information and access to appropriate services for skill development and self empowerment.

Girls and boys with autism differ in behavior, brain structure

September 3, 2015

By Erin Digitale                   

A new study from the Stanford School of Medicine shows
that there are gender differences in the 
displayed by children with autism.

"... Clinicians may want to focus diagnosis and treatments for autistic girls differently than boys."