Policy and Politics: A Conversation with Laura DeVivo

DPR: How long have you worked with Womble Carlyle?

LD: 3 years

DPR: As a lobbyist, how would you describe the nature of your work?

LD: What we do is inform and influence. On behalf of clients who pay us, we try to accomplish their objectives by supplying information to those we are trying to influence.

DPR: How much of your work is done with your clients versus with the legislators you are trying to influence?

LD: It’s a lot of client management. [Currently] I’m working on some issues for charter school operators who serve kids who drop out or aren’t engaged in high school. I’m on call all the time. The political sphere is constantly shifting. I’m always trying to stay on top of shifts in the political scene. I am available to clients and decision makers at all times. There is a lot of flexibility, not just my flexibility.

DPR: Does lobbying have a moral code? In your opinion, is a lobbyist obligated to follow their personal moral code or that of their organization?

LD: In 2008, we rewrote all the laws on ethics, lobbying, and gifts because of some bad behavior. We are defined by our bad actors. The basic thing is that you can’t provide a gift to a lawmaker or a covered person. The law prohibits that and prevents them from accepting gifts. We can’t have any undue influence.

Money in politics has always been and always will be an issue in politics. My colleague Jimmy Broughton is a Republican and worked as Jesse Helms’s Chief of Staff whereas I am a Democrat and worked for Joe Hackney. It works because we have the same ethical line. We both go “hmmmm” at the same place and behaviors. It’s really important for your wellbeing to work with someone who has your same moral guide [because] you can’t legislate good behavior.

It is absolutely important to follow your personal beliefs. As media expands and as interest grows in expanding accessibility to politics, we’ve watched a lot of people get in trouble and get arrested. Nobody wants to be a part of that.

DPR: Switching gears a little, what role do you see PACs playing in state politics?

LD: Legislators spend a whole lot of money getting elected to a job that pays $14,000 a year. Fundraising is the bane of their existence, but they have to do it. The ability of PACs to amass large amounts of money from many small individual donations and support a candidate who represents a common interest for these people is important.

Their growing ability to incorporate corporate donations will change the game in general. I personally and professionally think different things about this changing situation. When it comes to politics always follow the money —that’s rule number one. Not in a sorted or seedy way, the people who spend the most are simply the people who get known.

DPR: I think that’s definitely clear in national elections, but what about in state elections? Is it just as prominent?

LD: It almost always happens in state government but people don’t see it as much. Thom Tillis is a good example. The best candidates and the best lawmakers are not necessarily the same personality type. In North Carolina, redistricting to benefit Republicans or Democrats means that the primaries [have a] much [greater] impact on elections.

DPR: You have been praised for your ability to combine policy with politics. Describe the intersection you have found between the two.

LD: In my opinion policy is the idea that you want to govern…that you want to win the day. This is the idea you are trying to promote to make change. Politics is the field you are playing on. Political science is the analytical and historical look at the field. Political science and history are critical to understanding how to get things done in government.

DPR: So what do you think the state legislature needs? More policy thinkers? More political strategists? Both?

LD: I think the legislature needs something totally different than both. It needs to pay more attention to the institution. Taking short cuts gets people in trouble. And being “efficient” is counteractive to the legislative process. I don’t think you create enduring policy that way…you create angry people that way.

Moral Monday started because some people marched out a surprise substitute to a bill that dealt with women’s reproductive health. People were upset not because there was a vote but because it was a surprise. In my opinion, the votes were there either way. They could have created a more inclusive process without making people angrier. That’s just one example.

Parliamentary procedure also allows ways to end debate. One of the things Speaker Hackney tried [not] to do was cut off debate. He kept a list of all the times he ended debate. As a family lawyer he learned the best way to get people to a compromise is to exhaust them. There’s a lot of compromise in family law. He always believed that exhausting people is a good way to reach compromise. Hearing people’s arguments is also a good way for people to feel respected.

It’s all about perception. A lot of politics is perception. A lot of things would go better if the current regime would appear to listen more. They could accomplish what they want to either way, but its not the efficient way, and efficiency is a priority, which I understand.

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