Written by The Business Journal Staff
Connie Conway, Principal Consultant
Conway Consulting Group
• Development Director at the P.L.A.N.T Foundation, a non-profit ag
education technology online classroom
• Member, Board of Governors, California Community Colleges
Education: San Joaquin Memorial High School, Fresno State
Family: Married, 2 sons, 2 grandchildren
What was the best advice you ever received, Connie?
Never give up! When life hands you a roadblock, find a detour. Go around and keep moving! That’s from my high school swim coach.
Who or what was the biggest influence on your career?
Have to say that would be my father, the late John R. Conway. After a 30-plus-year career with the phone company, he ran successfully for the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, where he served until his death in 1991. It was ten years later that I was proudly elected to serve on that same board. Although I still tell my mom it’s her “fault,” as she used to say, “you are just like your father!” After my first election, I told her “you always told me I’m just like my father. Now I turned into him!” Just part of our family’s Irish humor outlook on life.
What are your roots in the Central Valley, Connie?
I’m definitely a Central Valley girl. My parents were both born in Kern County and met in high school in Bakersfield. After high school, my dad served two years in the Navy and came home and began working for the phone company. I was born in Bakersfield. When I was 2-years-old my dad was transferred to Tulare. I attended high school and college in Fresno, so I’m a real “Centrena” as I like to tell people.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it, Connie?
My first real job was lifeguard/swim instructor. I still love to swim and embarrass my kids and grandkids when we travel by telling young swimmers “no running on the deck” at hotel pools! I think the best lesson learned was how to have a direct one-on-one conversation that is meaningful without being mean-spirited or critical.
Are you considering another run at public office, Connie?
I have a campaign account open right now for a planned run for the state Senate in 2018 when the seat is open. Running again is not something I need to do but something I want to do. After 14 years as an elected official (eight years on the board of supervisors, six years in the Assembly) I feel I have learned to collaborate with others to try to create an environment that gets work done but tries to respect what I like to call my “special interest group” — the taxpayers that fund government who don’t get the respect they deserve for making life better for all Californians. Overbearing government isn’t anyone’s idea of a perfect world, that’s for sure.
What prompted you to run for public office in the first place, Connie?
My father’s public service after retirement inspired me. He had such a hands-on approach that truly made a difference.
What was the most important piece of legislation you were a part of?
I have many legislative accomplishments that I’m proud of. As leader I was privileged to be able to negotiate many things. Certainly high on my list was one of my last bills, AB 13, which kept in-state tuition rates for veterans attending community colleges and state universities. Others that come to mind were AB 1438 from my first term that created the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund benefiting Valley communities; AB 628 creating the Inyo Trails connecting recreation and businesses while preserving the environment; and AB 1687, giving the developmentally disabled a Bill of Rights.
How would you compare the leadership styles of Governors Brown and Schwarzenegger, Connie?
I had the opportunity to work with two governors with very different styles. Arnold was very much a collaborative governor who liked to work in a group setting atmosphere. He once told me “sometimes you just have to get everyone to the table — but you don’t let them leave until the problem is solved.” He was very good at putting people on “lockdown” no matter how long it took. He called a special session right after my first swearing-in ceremony. We got the feeling we weren’t leaving until we got it done. Jerry is very much an experienced governor. Not just from his first two terms, but other elected offices he has held. He gathers information himself and then after his own assessment he is ready to move on his agenda. He is very much a student of history. I didn’t always agree with them, but their styles seemed to work for them individually.
What’s your take on today’s Republican Party, Connie?
Republicans believe in individual rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. This “independent” streak sometimes makes people feel there is a lot of conflict within the party. As with any group there is “posturing” and “struggle” for power and/or agreement on any given subject. Fiscal conservancy is certainly a fundamental belief and is the issue I believe that can keep people focused on keeping our state strong.
What’s your biggest frustration with the legislative process, Connie?
I can’t tell you how frustrating the bill volume is while working in Sacramento. So much time (and money) is wasted on trivial legislation or on inane bills just to get an elected official’s name on something. I used to tell people if I were “queen” of California, I would limit bill production. Currently every legislator can propose 40 bills per session, plus committee bills and special session legislation. That’s 4,800-plus — way too much! It leaves little time for real discussion of issues and little if any for thoughtful solutions. It almost feels purposeful to keep electeds running around from one committee to another with very little public input. Witnesses are few and “select” so that most people are left out of the process. I used to caution my caucus not to forget those at home that elected them and sent them to Sacramento.
What advice would you give to young people interested in a career in politics, Connie?
There are many opportunities today for young folks who might be interested in a career in politics. There are volunteer opportunities, internships, even a Legislative Fellow program that provides college credits as well as hands-on job experience. Many of these programs will give you a feel for what really happens and can really help you see first hand whether or not “politics” is for you.