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BAD POLITICS & THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS ON SOCIETY

April 2, 2022

S01 - E08

RSnake has a candid discussion with Andy, Chris and Dustin around how bills actually get written and passed, how they aim for bi-partisan support, the unintended consequences of bad legislation, the commerce clause of the US constitution, political action committees and more. Errata: RSnake said "Yams" but meant "Cucumbers", and he said "Harvard" and meant "Stanford" - whoops!

Photo of Andrew Cates, Dustin Cox, Chris Sanchez
GUEST(S): 

Andrew Cates, Dustin Cox, Chris Sanchez

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

Robert Hansen

It was a full house today on the RSNAKE Show with Andrew Cates, Chris Sanchez, and Dustin Cox of Salient Strategies. Salient is a bipartisan lobbying firm based out of Austin, Texas. We had a candid discussion around how bills actually get written and passed, how they aim for bipartisan support, the unintended consequences of bad legislation, Commerce clause of the US Constitution, political action committees, and more.


This is what teachers frustratingly failed to teach in civics class. Without additional delay, please enjoy my conversation with Andrew Cates, Chris Sanchez, and Dustin comics.


Welcome to the RSNAKE Show. I've got a very interesting episode for us today. This is the first time I brought in multiple guests. Of course, I went big and went three instead of two. I figured next time I'll just get a basketball team in here and just blow it out.


With me today, I have the Salient Strategies team. I'm not going to do my normal introductions, I'm going to let you do it so the people listening will be able to hear your voice. Would you please go?


Andrew Cates

Sure. Yeah, I'll start. My name is Andrew Cates. I go by Andy. Part of the team here at Salient Strategies, senior partner. I'm an attorney and the lone attorney of the group. I usually introduce myself as a combination of the two most hated professions in the US; lawyer and lobbyist.


Robert Hansen

Yeah, I think that might qualify.


Chris Sanchez


Chris Sanchez, I'm also one of the senior partners here at Salient. My background is coming up at the Capitol for 15-plus years, and you get to a point where you realize you gotta make some real money. So I joined up with these guys back in about 2019 and have been doing this ever since.


Dustin Cox


Dustin Cox here, the third co-founder of the firm. We've been doing this for about three years, as they all said. From a policy wonk, appreciate you having us on the show, and looking forward to getting into this.


Robert Hansen

Great. Thank you again, guys. I know it's kind of difficult to take this much time out of your day, especially for something like this. I really appreciate you coming down for a number of reasons, which we'll get into.


Before I do that, one of the things I think is most interesting is that I happen to know that you guys have different political views, which I think is really compelling. I do not want you to disclose to the camera during this episode, what you are and what your beliefs are until the very end if you're okay with that.


Because one of the things that's interesting about this is, you guys are in the heart of Texas, and it's about as blue as it gets in downtown Austin, but it's surrounded by this gigantic red ocean. So it's interesting that you guys have to play this interesting political game where you might have to be talking to one person one day and have a completely different opinion on what needs to get past from a lobbying perspective the very next day.


Am I wrong about that?


Andrew Cates

Not at all. I mean, that's kind of the job. Our political preferences, our political affiliations are mostly irrelevant because the legislature is what it is. Legislators are who they are. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if there are 11 Republicans on a committee or 11 Democrats or split down the middle, you still have to get all the votes no matter what. So you have to go and make your case to everybody. So we pretty much leave our political affiliations out of it.


Chris Sanchez


And that's certainly harder to do in this day and age in this environment.


Robert Hansen

I'm surprised that this works because oftentimes, I would just assume that someone would be putting a lot of pressure on you one way or another to say, "Go in and submarine that Bill." But you guys do have to play both sides just to make things work at all in Texas,


Dustin Cox


I think it's a point of finding commonality. I think that's really what our job is, and figuring out what motivates different legislators or these different office holders. Usually, these issues drive the narrative for themselves. It's our job to figure out how that narrative aligned with the legislature.


To Andy's point, the deck's already set by the time we're there trying to influence the legislation. And when I say deck, I mean the players. So you know what they're involved in, you know their preferences, you know what strokes them. So it's trying to align that based on what the client needs and how to push that priority forward.


Andrew Cates

And usually, we don't talk party because, in Texas, the legislature don't really make decisions most of the time off of party. That's DC.


Robert Hansen

That doesn't jive with what most people's impression of Texas is.


Andrew Cates

Yeah, I know. DC does. You do not vote for something as a Democrat that's a Republican-led Bill. You just don't know, and that's how they do it. In Texas, it's not really that way all the time. It's more of a rural versus urban and suburban fight than it is party. So we just have to go in and tailor our arguments about a Bill or a client to what they might care about. So it's going to be different if it's an urban legislator versus a rural legislator.


Robert Hansen

So for the audience, your job is to guess what these fellas believe without them telling you.


Chris Sanchez


I would say take an educated guess as to what they actually believe. There's some alignment with the parties, no doubt. But, again, to some of the points that have been brought up already, these folks, once they're in office and once they're not out on the trail, the agendas are kind of being set by our big three here in Texas — the governor, the lieutenant governor, Speaker of the House — the defacto leadership. From there, we can get a good idea, a good sense of what's coming down the pike, and what the discussion may look like.


And then everything else is just a curveball. There's a lot of the stuff that gets done on the fly, on the spot. Texas has a very unique process where we meet once every two years. So it's 140 days. It's a crash course, very dynamic, very fast-paced, but it's also by design. Some of that is to limit the type of legislation that gets passed to avoid bad policy bad legislation being passed.


Robert Hansen

Can we talk a little bit about Salient. When you guys first came to me, it was really about a very set of specific things that you wanted to tackle; big technology type things. Could you talk a little bit about the areas that you guys want to be focused, just so we're talking about the same thing at the same time?


Chris Sanchez


Sure. We work here in Austin. The Capitol is here in Austin and Austin is a very dynamic workforce and a very dynamic environment when it comes to innovation. We feel for a very long time now that those innovators at the Capitol have been, not even misrepresented, they haven't even shown up.


So we're out there trying to get the folks that are trying to be innovative in new technologies and new companies to come to us and come to the Capitol and bring their message of what they need to be successful to the folks that are making decisions without any sort of input from the folks that are being affected by these decisions.


Robert Hansen

Such as? Give me some specifics, what industries are you most interested in?


Chris Sanchez


I mean, we're looking at everything: cybersecurity, space, quantum computing. We're really starting to look at what's going to be the policy discussions that are going to happen in the next 5, 10,15 years.


Dustin Cox

Yeah, emerging technologies, the innovations that right now don't have some sort of regulatory regime, guiding them. Like they said, misrepresented, misguided, ill-informed, such cutting-edge technology that is not understood by the normal policymaker, or average citizen.


So to craft legislation and to ensure that the legislation that's being crafted is not stifling that industry is innovation, and is also being conducive to some of the priorities that these legislators are discussing. And pulling a lever around the economic workforce, as Chris mentioned.


Those are all things in this ecosystem that are very circular and 360. It's our job to make sure that all those pieces are aligned and are working in that circular ecosystem.


Andrew Cates


Well, on the other side of that, the three of us hit on the three different big pots of money at the Capitol, too. The three biggest drivers in the budget are healthcare, education, and transportation. And we have that collective background to knock out all three of those.


Robert Hansen

So even if it's not high-tech, that's still something you guys can handle. But your focus is mostly this cutting-edge stuff because no one's really touching it. So it's a blue ocean ecosystem for you.


Andrew Cates


Yeah, that's right.


Dustin Cox

It's an untapped market for us.


Robert Hansen

I could see that because I often see legislation getting passed that is just abysmal. And I can tell it has not been well lobbied. It's just someone on the back of a napkin came up with something.


Andrew Cates


Sometimes not very well informed.


Robert Hansen

Yeah. I went through a civics class, but it is exactly that bad. I feel like I was wildly misinformed about every single detail about how bills actually become real things. So I would like to spend a little time talking about... A quick story before I go into this, but I'd like to get your take on how laws really get done in Texas.


Before that, I was watching something this one time. It was this KNV2 or something coming to you straight from Oklahoma or wherever this was happening. It was this undercover thing where they had gotten these journalists to wear these wires. They went into this Hilton somewhere and they found all these senators or state congressmen just hanging out, just randomly all met up somewhere one day.


Then there was police presence there, for some reason. They weren't allowed to go in but it wasn't off-limits. They weren't going to arrest them, but they weren't allowed to come in. It was sort of this big ballroom where a bunch of people came in, I'm assuming lobbyists, but that was never made clear.


And they asked them, "What are you doing here?" And they're like, "We're just here on vacation." And like, "All of you are on vacation at the Hilton at the same time?


Then later that evening, they picked up one of the guys at the bar. They had an attractive journalist who was just hanging out by the bar randomly asking them a bunch of questions like, "What are you doing here?" They're like, "We're meeting with the lobbyists. They're the ones who write the bill and we basically make this happen."


I was talking to another friend of mine about this exact topic. He's like, that could have been Texas. It sounds like it wasn't Texas because it wasn't, but I mean, it might as well have been that way. How far off is that? Give me the steps that really happen.


Chris Sanchez


Back to your previous point, Schoolhouse Rock is a bunch of bullshit. If I wanted to tell you the real process of how to pass a bill at the Capitol, I would need a three-dimensional maybe even four-dimensional holographic display to show where all the inputs are and where every bill can fail along this process. And that is what the process is actually designed to do. It's designed to kill legislation; not pass legislation.


Where we come in as legislative professionals is to understand the inputs of that process that aren't actually on paper and aren't really spoken of. It's the things like the personal relationships between the members themselves. It's the partisanship. And by that, I don't mean Republican versus Democrat. I mean, Houston versus Dallas, or rural versus urban. Then the policy itself actually comes in maybe towards the end of these inputs of how to get a bill passed.


If you have the greatest idea in the world, and you have a member carry it who's the best member in the world carry this bill, but it goes to a committee where they've pissed off that Chairman for some reason, maybe they didn't show up to a birthday happy hour or something — that has happened before — that bill is dead.


It's none of your work that's gone into killing that bill. It's just the personal relationships that go into passing that bill are just wrong. So there's a lot of that that happens.


Dustin Cox

Another good factor about what our work does is understanding the political process, the inside baseball, and understanding the governance, the accountability.


Robert Hansen

Such as what? Give me an example.


Andrew Cates


I would say that about 10% of what you read in the news is the whole story, especially around the Capito. Everything that happens is behind the scenes. The Texas Senate, for instance, they come in, and if you're in there and you're watching it on TV, you're watching on the live stream, or you're in the gallery watching it, it looks like they're not doing anything at any given time.


Robert Hansen

They've already made up their mind.


Andrew Cates


They've already made up their mind, everything is predetermined. They go in, they vote. On rare occasions, they have the big flashpoint bills.


Robert Hansen

We're living in a simulation.


Andrew Cates


The Wendy Davis: Stand Up in filibuster for however many hours kind of moments. But generally speaking, it's all done ahead of time. And sometimes they just come in and they read off votes and nobody's even there. It's because they've all done it behind the scenes.


So you hear something, you see something, you read it on the news, you read in the newspaper, that's not the whole story. It just isn't because, like Chris said, there are flashpoints that happen behind the scenes, there are personal feelings that get hurt.


Robert Hansen

A lot of horse trading, I would imagine.


Andrew Cates


A lot of horse trading. Some people say, well, it sounds like it's high school. It's more like middle school. It's very much like middle school over there. It's a lot of people getting butthurt over things that people say, and that's just how it is.


It's our job to navigate that, to figure out the personal relationships, to figure out what makes these people tick, and make it so that it's not even an educated guess. That's more of we've done the research, we've figured out who these people are, we've figured out what makes them tick, and where we can pull on heartstrings or whatever.


Robert Hansen

So there has to be situations where there is a positive. There is the true believer, but they're actually good, solid human beings. They're not just out there trying to steal whatever they can steal. I'm imagining there's both and you probably know which ones are which.


Andrew Cates


I would say I've probably only met a few in the time that I've been around that are legitimately bad. Most of the people up there, especially the staffers, the staffers are legit.


Robert Hansen

That would make sense because they're doing it for nothing almost.


Andrew Cates


They're working their asses off. I mean, we were all former staffers so a bit biased. But most of those legislators go in there and they're there for the reasons that they say they're there for.


Shit happens along the line and they take hard votes, and they get put in bad positions and they get their statements or their votes or whatever twisted by whoever, especially people that want to do them harm. And they come out looking like a terrible person. But most of them aren't. Most of them are really good people.


Chris Sanchez


That's the thing that we don't really keep in mind for a lot of these things. These are people that we're talking about. They have the same shortcomings that I'm sure we all have in this room.


Robert Hansen

Not me, of course


Chris Sanchez


Robert excluded, but for the most part, we're human. We have the same human pitfalls that everyone falls into but that's part of the process. And it's knowing how to navigate that process and navigate those pitfalls that lends yourself to access at the Capitol.


Andrew Cates


It's a very dehumanizing process to run for office and be elected because all men do is get shit on.


Robert Hansen

Also, you have to make every promise that has to be made, and these can be really conflicting promises.


Dustin Cox

In the public eye and the age of information right now, it's a lot easier for your constituent base or someone who's in opposition of an issue to feel empowered to voice their opinion. So yeah, those bad actors exist, but I think genuinely on the whole, people are there to do good service. Legislators are making what? $600 a month. It's a nominal salary.


Robert Hansen

What?


Dustin Cox

In the Texas congress.


Andrew Cates


I do want to have a little soapbox moment as well about lobbyists and legislative staffers because it's also really dehumanizing for us.


Robert Hansen

I can imagine. It's got to be a lot like sales in general.


Andrew Cates


Yeah, it's a joke, and I do it to break the ice a lot of the time in the intro of the two most hated professions in the US. But yeah, we get shit on a lot about because everybody assumes we're all with big tobacco and big oil, we're bribing everybody and all that. And it's not.


Dustin Cox

That meme that you pull up in our presentations; one thinks that I'd beat a baby seal, one thinks that we're out just wining and dining.


Robert Hansen

So change the audience's opinion. You've got a few minutes to do it.


Andrew Cates


So imagine, and I use this a lot in my presentations, imagine you got elected tomorrow to City Council. And in the next two weeks, you had to make big decisions on the police budget, stuff going on with Black Lives Matter, the water infrastructure, and the water table, and homelessness.


You've got your expertise, and it's not in any of those things.


Robert Hansen

I'm probably a car dealer or something.


Chris Sanchez


You can literally use your background for this, to be honest.


Robert Hansen

Let's not do that.


Chris Sanchez


That might actually open more doors for you.


Andrew Cates


Obviously, you can hire staff and that staff goes a long way. We learn as staff as we go, and we learn as much as we possibly can. But there are limits. And especially in these big offices, you specialize. I'm the water person. I'm the water and the transportation person. Okay, cool. Well, but what about homelessness? What about the police force budget? What about the budget overall?


They just can't learn everything all at once at all times and have an informed opinion to make an informed.


Robert Hansen

So you're saying that that's what you provide?


Chris Sanchez


It's one of the value adds. It's not just what we provide, it's definitely a value add. Again, it's understanding that inside process, and being able to speed that up and condense it down to help you assimilate to your on-the-job training.


1000s of bills get bought before the legislature each and every session and only several 100 are passing. So there's a huge weed-out process. But those members still have to vote, either at the committee stage or at some point when it's coming up in front of them. They have to make a decision on those particular measures.


So having either a lobby team or a well-equipped staff or both, to help inform you on the issue and drive the conversation and also separate fact from fiction because there's a lot of that going around a lot of that misinformation, is an integral part of the cog in the machine, to be honest.


Robert Hansen

So devil's advocate; have you guys ever met a law that you just didn't like? Has it ever crossed your table?


Andrew Cates


I thought we weren't going to get into parties, Robert?


Robert Hansen

I didn't ask what the law was.


Chris Sanchez


It happens all the time, even as a former staffer. There were bills that my bosses would be voting for that I may not necessarily I agree on personally. But it is my job to serve the people of that district that I'm representing in that office and to think how they would think. How would they think on a bill like this?


Even though it might be different from what I'm thinking, it's my job to be professional and to provide the most relevant information to the member that I'm working for at that time. And that goes into the lobbying realm as well. Your job is to educate and provide the most relevant information to the folks who are making those decisions.


That's really a large part of what we do. It's quite frankly, just educating folks on issues they're not having any sort of experience on.


Robert Hansen

But if you ethics say that this is going to hurt a lot of people, do you get to say, "I'm not going to help you with this one."?


Chris Sanchez


No. Having said that, if the check clears and it's not something that is illegal, or something that I would feel would be absolutely morally 100% reprehensible, we can have that conversation.


Andrew Cates


And we had that conversation between the three of us of the types of clients that we would not take.


Robert Hansen

So there is some cohort.


Andrew Cates


There definitely are some that are either morally, or just political landmines that we don't want to tie ourselves to on either side.


Chris Sanchez


Yeah. Why get involved if it's going to create some sort of polarization to the Salient brand? It's easier to avoid it.


Andrew Cates


So like the big social topics, especially.


Robert Hansen

So you guys want to stay away from the far right, far left and stay more center, it sounds like?


Dustin Cox

In some ways, but in other ways, to Chris's point, we're hired gun repeat advocates. So to us, it's agnostic in that sense, and I think that's why we're professionals. We're able to separate our personal ideologies and philosophies to that of what our client's needs are, or our prospective clients, and marry ourselves to that. That's the job that we get paid to do. We're supposed to be nimble and flexible and dynamic, in that sense.


Andrew Cates


There's a lot more to be gained from economic and business interests and a lot more bills that pass on business issues than any of these fringe social issues.


Robert Hansen

That tend to hurt anybody in the process. Interesting. How does this differ from other states? Are you seeing that this is pretty much how it works everywhere? Do you talk to other lobbyists in other states?


Chris Sanchez


We do. Part of what we've done very intentionally and by design, is create a hub and spoke. Texas is our bread and butter. It is the policy area that we know the best, but we also recognize that Texas is not limited in the businesses that it's bringing in that there's transactions taking place in all sorts of markets.


A couple of years ago, we decided to start networking and creating strategic partnerships. So we've grown to about 30-plus different states right now where we've got folks just like us, strategic partners, that can help you turnkey, and give us the localized understanding of what the market is, what the factors are in that market, and how they might impact prospective clients.


What we've also seen within that network is a cross-pollinating of our own clients. Where we have a need here in Texas that resonates in Florida, and that of Minnesota and New York, we're able to triangulate that and help provide a value add for our client, again, by having a turnkey network available, by giving them access to top-level decision makers, and mitigating barriers to entry in those particular markets.


Andrew Cates


One of the interesting things that we found in our research from the 50 states is that, one, Texas is one of only two states in the nation that has a biennial legislature. So they only come in once every two years. Everybody else's either annually, or all year with some breaks, or they show up every single year for a certain amount of time.


Texas doesn't do that. Or they do a subject area session, and then they do a budget session the next time around. Taxes only comes in for six months every two years.


Dustin Cox

But I think to your point, though, in being able to understand those different markets and those different legislatures, there is a little bit of modeling that takes place. And you're able to also see some of the priorities that states that have an apple-to-apple comparison, or even an apple-to-orange comparison, that's representative of Texas, we're able to analyze that. and, again, make some better-informed decisions for our firm or our clients or the market down here in Texas.


And say; priorities that are going on in Florida right now are likely to resonate very similar here to Texas given the makeup of our legislature. So we can hone in on that and try to make...


Robert Hansen

You can make friends in other states and say, "If we band together, this might pass."


Chris Sanchez


And that's something that's really popped up in the past couple of years. Legislation that you would see on the fringes of both parties is starting to matriculate its way across the country.


So bills you would say filed in Florida that passed, you might probably see them in Texas passed because there's a bit of an inter-party rivalry, let's say, between the two governors of both states in positioning them as to who's the most conservative governor in the country, which might play itself down the road in certain presidential elections.


You're starting to see that pop up more where Texas is very unique, but the issues that we're starting to see are resonating in other states at the same time.


Robert Hansen

Very interesting. Let's walk through a sample law and walk me through how this might happen. This is something I talked to you guys about at one point.


Let's say want to have a tiny piece of legislation that says, those 36/37 placards that are outside bars, for instance, let's have something where anytime that's present, it has to go into a registry somewhere. So someone is tracking that these things exist. And you have a small charge to have that thing there and to put yourself in the registry. That money goes to police officers who have to patrol the area because, clearly, no one with a gun is there other than the police. So fund the police appropriately for however many of these bars exist in any given region.


Let's say I want to get that one passed. What do you think would be the process of making that happen?


Chris Sanchez


I'm going through the same checklist. So you've got your built-in constituency in the bill. It's going to benefit police. In this environment in Texas, that's a very hard thing to say no to. At the same time, it's also going to help gun owners in Texas, which, in a state like Texas, is a very big constituency. So you have some built-in groups that you can look to for having internal support.


You know that they're going to be there. They can contact their members. They're going to be there to show up and testify on that bill. So that puts us a little further ahead in getting a bill like that passed.


Now, I would also look and see, who would actually come out and be against a bill like this? I could probably think maybe some of the business owners who would not necessarily want the extra step of registering with the state. Some of the other anti-gun groups would be out there saying this is going to keep businesses from putting out those 36/37 signs.


I'm checking the box to see who would be out there, who are the players, where the pitfalls are going to be from a 30,000-foot level. That is a very interesting conversation to have here.


Andrew Cates


I would look at the municipal league counties to see what they would have to say about it.


Robert Hansen

So it's a bit of a fact-finding mission?


Andrew Cates


Yeah, thinking about who all the stakeholders would be in this situation on each side. Go to the cities and counties say, "We're thinking about doing this, what do you think?" "Oh, no, we can't do that." "Okay, cool. What if we cut a percentage of each fee? The big one goes to the police force and a percentage of each one goes to your city within your city limits." Well, now they're on board.


Then it's figuring out who the right sponsor is for that legislation. Who's the right person? Not just the person you know or the person that wants it? Who's the right person?


Robert Hansen

And what does that typically look like?


Andrew Cates


Somebody in seniority, somebody in power. Like on the House side, that would be somebody that is a lieutenant of the speaker, who has a chair of a relevant committee. So I would assume that would go to public safety. So you try to get the chair of that committee to carry it first.


If nothing else, then to kiss the ring. Then go from there, and then start whipping votes and make sure people are on board. But you start by pulling up research and creating one-pagers with data and facts.


Dustin Cox

A lot of educating and informing. You've gotta hit the 200 officers at the Capitol to make sure that they're well-informed.


Andrew Cates


This is going to drive crime down by X percent. And here's a bunch of research from PEW on what this is going to mean and what it's going to do. Just winning hearts and minds, essentially, at that point.


Dustin Cox

A lot of times, data that's empirically backed helps drive the conversation. It's easy to point to when you've got to support your argument. So a lot of that due diligence that Andy was talking about is on the front end. And what he's describing is how that legislation is formed in anticipation of that legislative session or during the session and ongoing


But oftentimes, when you look at the Texas cycle, it's two years. There's 18 months of developing these stakeholder relationships, creating that onramp because when they're here in January every other odd year, it's a fast-paced environment, as I was saying at the outset.


Robert Hansen

So long does it typically take? Is this an I can do it in one session, no problem?


Dustin Cox

Usually, it take two or three sessions to pass a bill to be quite honest here in Texas. Again, it's part of by design, unless... It's a very incremental change and very slow. Again, that's by design. It's intentional. It's the way it's been set up and designed and structured to do.


Robert Hansen

To limit the amount of laws in Texas.


Dustin Cox

Right.


Andrew Cates


That McCobb saying is, "Nothing happens quickly at the Texas Capitol unless a lot of people die or a lot of people go to jail." Otherwise, it's going to take a while. It's incremental change. If you move the ball forward, it may not be everything you want, but it's probably more than you deserve, and just keep chipping away at it.


Dustin Cox

There's also just luck and coincidence and happenstance that also plays out in the process. There's plenty of priorities that we've seen on the table for the last decade that did not move until a global pandemic at the Texas capitol that shook it up and flipped it upside down and really gave attention to some of these new technology innovations that we're talking about that didn't have a voice there previously.


When we all switched into this hybrid world, or this digital world, you saw learning management solution companies coming out of the woodwork and helping actually survive and keep education equitable and on the same playing field. We missed some steps, but without having to miss as many as we would have had it not been there to replace it.


There's been lobbyists, and there's been folks advocating for this technology change for decades now. It took a global pandemic to make that shift. So sometimes it's just good luck, good fortune, good timing. Other times, it's having a team like us of rockstars and experts that can get shit done.


Robert Hansen

How do you aim for bipartisan support? How do you craft your message to get that more broad appeal, as opposed to just tackling one?


Dustin Cox

One of our exercises is podcasts like this. It's a personal privilege and a selfish plug for us, you can find us on YouTube. But again, it's what Chris had mentioned earlier. We're all humans at the end of the day. There's a humanistic element to being a legislator


We personally at the firm, try and find those strokes or those elements of folks to tap into and understand them for who they are. And we find that that is very successful in creating value for our clientele.


Chris Sanchez


It's finding the commonalities that we have. We all have families. We all have kids. We all have an interest in seeing those kids grow up and be as successful as they can. And a lot of members do, too.


It's funny, when you look at them as people, they are just like any other person you see on the street. And having a conversation with them is outside, at that point, of politics. It's just having a conversation with someone that you might have an interest in and trying to find enough commonality to get something passed at the Capitol.


Robert Hansen

So it isn't a matter of crafting it to their particular political beliefs. You're just meeting them where they are as a human.


Chris Sanchez


Exactly right. There's one particular office where I can walk in and I can talk pro-wrestling with a member. That's something that most of the general public doesn't know. But it's a way to have that commonality in something that is outside the building. And, by the way, representative, while we're here, can I talk to you about this bill?


Andrew Cates


I think that there is a certain amount of not only meeting them where they are on a personal level, and getting to know them and having that... Our whole business is relationships, to begin with. So somehow we get paid to make friends with people.


But also, when the rubber really hits the road, we've still got to craft our message to what is going to resonate with that particular person. So the exact same bill, we can craft that message very differently depending on what the legislators' political point of view is.


Dustin Cox

So there's definitely some curating and some fine-tuning in articulating that language to some of what you're driving to with your question. That's also part of the work of legislative writing and crafting. That's a skill and that's an art form that is very intentional. Very few people harness or represent that type of quality.


It's a special skill set and being able to craft and create laws on your own is a value add to these clients, especially when they don't know how to navigate that realm. Legalese, in and of itself is sometimes hard for folks to understand. So having someone there to represent you in that sense goes a long way for them


Andrew Cates


For instance, if we came in with a legalizing marijuana bill, we would craft the pitch to a certain office very differently depending on what office we're talking to. Like if we went into a staunch far-right Republican office, we already know we're up against the wall on that. So we would probably craft it as business, economic impact, personal freedom, all that kind of stuff.


Dustin Cox

Farming or something that's driving their constituent base. Something that you know is hitting back into their local economy. How does that industry or this policy that you're trying to craft impact that one particular member?


Before the Farm Bill passed on cannabis in 2017, we wouldn't have been able to have that conversation with a rural conservative. But back to your point about incremental change in these laws, that placeholder was put in place in 2017 that allowed hemp to be sold in products here in Texas. That was the stepping stone.


And now that's going to seed, hopefully, more reform and more change around the medicinal space or adult use. So it took that one placeholder to get in play, to allow the conversation to further the agenda down the road.


Andrew Cates


We wouldn't take a business and personal freedom tactic to a super-liberal member either. We'd go getting people out of prison and not putting people in prison for small marijuana amounts, that sort of thing.


Robert Hansen

I actually want to talk about that as a separate point. One thing that I think is worrying to some people that I've talked to about lobbyists as a profession, is what happens when a criminal organization decides, "We need these laws passed."


Like, once upon a time, I was at a security conference, an off-the-record sort of conference. And there was like a no-joke, we should get one of us elected to an office and start passing pro-privacy bills that allow us to stay under the radar and create more botnets. And this wasn't a passing thought. This was like, "Which one of us is this going to be?"


And it started getting much further along than you might expect, to the point where campaign slogans were starting to be bandied around. It didn't end up happening, but close enough that it kind of worried me.


Then I saw something like Mitch McConnell, he had some relatives who had a ship that had like 90 pounds of cocaine on it. It makes a lot of sense that he might be pro-drug regulation because that drives up the price of cocaine. Then the 90 pounds is worth more, as opposed to less.


I'm not accusing him of having done that. But you can see how easy would be to go down that path. Are you guys hearing any wind of that? Is that an ethical issue that you've ever run up against or thought about?


Chris Sanchez


I've never personally run up against something like that. You always hear whispers or you always hear, "Here's the real reason why someone had a piece of legislation because they had a personal interest in seeing that legislation passed." That does happen.


Again, that goes back to the point of these are people that were talking about. And some people at least, when given the opportunity to benefit themselves at the expense of others will take that. It is a part of the process. It's an unfortunate part of the process but it is not a widespread issue or widespread circumstance that we've run up against. But to say that it doesn't exist would be very naive, especially on our part.


Robert Hansen

In my world, there's something called a software bill of goods. It's like, here's all the parts that make up his operating system, or this piece of code, all the libraries, who made them, where they came from.


It seems like one of the things that's missing is a legal bill of goods. Like, where did this come from? Who created this piece of legislation for real? I'm not saying who sponsored it. I'm saying, where did this really come from?


Chris Sanchez


I'd push back. It's not a bill of goods, it's the Bill of Rights in the constitution. To me, that drives a lot of how I operate as a lobbyist and my conviction in seeing how the laws are. To me, that's part of what the government's job is to do. It is to set that framework and to set that regulation in many ways.


Obviously, there's going to be pulls and takes on that in different directions. But to me, those are guiding documents, guiding principles for a reason and they help guide a lot of my principles


Robert Hansen

Yeah, but you might be wildly more ethical than the bad guy. So we have to account for both.


Chris Sanchez


But I think that bad guy is the outlier in the political process. I think there's more good than there is evil.


Robert Hansen

How do we know that without a software bill of goods for legislation? How do we know if it's this guy who's clearly cartel putting this thing forward? How do we know?


Dustin Cox

You mentioned the cartels. I'll go one step further, as far as evil organizations. There was a former state senator who managed homeowners associations, and his legislation every year was dealing with homeowners associations. Now, you could say on one hand, he has the background knowledge of how these HOAs operate and the business side of that. But they were grossly pushing the level of power towards favoring HOAs over actual homeowners.


That is, I would say, an example of people using the process for personal gain. He's no longer a state senator, but everybody knew this bill was coming from the HOAs themselves through a person they have elected to carry their legislation. And it happens across every industry you can think of.


Doctors get elected by other doctors to carry legislation for doctors' benefit and their medical practices. So it happens across every industry. Whether it's nefarious or not, remains to be seen as the process plays out. But it does happen.


Chris Sanchez


It doesn't make for good PR press either. I think that is also a natural weed-out or a mechanism that exists in the process that cuts it off before it gets too far along, or before that person seeds too much power.


Ultimately, if you're trying to come in as a legislator thinking that you're going to carry your agenda, the effect of that reality actually coming into play, very few people come in with their direct agendas and get everything accomplished. It takes years to build up that type of credibility and power within leadership to be able to say that I'm going to do that.


To say that it doesn't exist wouldn't make sense, but I think it's very minimal from what I've seen.


Andrew Cates


I would take it a step further and say that it's impossible what you're requesting here. I mean, think about what everybody calls dark money. That has been expanded and expanded since 2010. Corporations are people and they can dump money into races and and hide it and hide the eight ball.


Robert Hansen

At least we know it's a company somewhere.


Andrew Cates


Right. But the problem is when it's a particular person that then funnels it through a corporation, that then funnels it through a political action committee. I mean, I could write it and hand it to Chris, hand it to Dustin, and Dustin hands it to you, and it looks like it's from Dustin. And there's no way to know that my fingerprints were ever on it in terms of writing a bill. It's just impossible to track.


Robert Hansen

Yeah, understood. Another thing that I ran into, Richard Garriott de Cayeux invited me to an event where one of Hillary's campaign managers was in town. And I really didn't care at all about that. I was just there to meet him and hang out with him a little bit. He was sort of in the back of the room and I was in the front of the room right next to the speaker.


He spent a good like 20 minutes explaining this whole thing about backdooring cryptography was about. And he got pretty heated. There was one other technical guy in the audience, and I was not expecting anyone technical to be there. But there's one other technical guy who's like, "You can't do it. It's not possible." He was going back and forth.


And he looked at me, this campaign staffer or I guess he was one of the Chief of Staff, and he said, "You guys are the smart guys, you can figure it out." Well, I didn't believe it to be true. Then went back to my lab and I figured out a way to do it, which has got to be one of the worst ideas I've ever come up with. But it's possible. I can actually do it. I know how to do it in a way that's not absolutely terrible.


But I don't think I would ever allow that to happen. This is one of my personal ethics coming into play. The problem is when the government gets a little bit too much visibility into what's going on, back to your comment about the drug situation, it basically doesn't allow anyone to ever try to break the law for the benefit of everybody. Because there are a lot of laws that are very unjust, incredibly unjust.


I think the drug laws have ended up... My favorite is congratulations to drugs for winning the war on drugs. I really think it took a groundswell of people breaking the law for that to finally go, "Okay, there's room for change here."


The backdoor is a perfect example of where the government was trying, even Obama came to Austin and tried to pitch this as an idea, and it did not land well, by the way. The audience did not give a rousing applause to that part of the presentation.


I think this is the kind of thing where enough people are going to push anyway, that you guys are going to be asked at some point like, "We want this backdoor law." How are you going to stand in front of that free train? Are you just going to say, "Cool, let's do this."? Because what this type of law does is it freezes all laws in time.


Dustin Cox

My gut reaction is let's go for it. Let the process play itself out. Again, I believe in the design of the process, that it would be weeded out if it wasn't a good policy or it wasn't a good law in many ways. And I would trust being able to run it through that flagpole or runn it up that flagpole into that particular process.


Robert Hansen

You're saying it'll get killed en route?


Dustin Cox

Yeah, I think so.


Chris Sanchez


For an issue like that, I can think of maybe one member that would even have a passing interest in something like this. But at the same time, every member gets to vote on something like that eventually if it makes it to the respective floors. That's part of the challenge of, how do you pass legislation when the actual understanding of what they're passing doesn't exist?


Andrew Cates


Also, giving that kind of power, let's say, to the state to have a backdoor, they're not equipped.


Robert Hansen

It's a terrible idea, but they could make that happen. And here's the problem. A guy like me could write that piece of legislation and I think people would look at it and go, "Yeah, it's probably reasonably okay except for the ramifications of it." That's the part that's horrible. It's not the technical part. It's not can we make it relatively safe? I think we can get past that part.


I just don't think it's a good idea for us to freeze all laws in time. One of the beautiful parts about this, I think all laws should probably have an expiration date on them just to force everyone to renegotiate. Like, is this something we really want to rre-up? Because there are so many laws out there that are very poorly written.


And I think this is an example of that, where if I put this thing in place, and I could backdoor and watch anybody who has any minor protests that some agency believes is going to overthrow some law, and that's law. So you're saying you want to do something illegal here. I think that stifles innovation in a way that people just have not rocked. Am I correct here?


Chris Sanchez


I think you're right. Again, that goes back to my point, the government oftentimes making decisions haphazardly and not knowing what those unintended consequences are, or these ramifications that you're speaking to.


Robert Hansen

Okay, this is a great segue. What I think might be an interesting law, although I think it's very unlikely to ever pass, would be an unintended consequences law on top of every law.


What it would be is, every law has to be reviewed by sort of a dissenting party. It could be the Office of Accountability, OAG. Somebody like that, where they just say, "We believe here are the positive things that could happen, but here are all the negative things that could happen." And if any of those negative things start happening, it's a circuit breaker and says, "This law needs to go away after some time period. Let's say a year or two years or something.


That way, we would always have some way to unwind laws that just had weird, unintended consequences. What do you think about that?


Chris Sanchez


There's plenty of examples of laws getting passed that have far-reaching unintended consequences. One that I always talk about is when Illinois passed their anti-drone bill. It actually was written in a way where Google couldn't actually fly their satellites over the state of Illinois for Google map images. The way the language was written, it was way too prescriptive into what actually a drone would be.


That's kind of the balance of what we'd work on. How do you create policy that is prescriptive enough to accomplish the goals of your clients, but not so prescriptive enough that it stifles innovation, particularly in areas that we're working in?


Robert Hansen

Space being one of those as well,


Chris Sanchez


Especially for space, we can get to that a little bit further. But back to your point of how do you get around the unintended consequences? I don't think you can, quite frankly.


Dustin Cox

You can go back and redress the bill in a future session. You can go back and recognize that that was the pitfall of it, and you redress it.


Robert Hansen

But that requires somebody to have a pony in that race to bother to do that. And as you said, it might take two or three sessions. That six years.


Dustin Cox

But from what you've presented to us, to me, it screams unfunded mandate. What is the cost to the state? What is it streamlining? What is it doing? What is the value add for going down this particular wormhole?


Robert Hansen

Less legislation, ideally, or less bad legislation.


Dustin Cox

Ideally, but you're asking to unwind every legislation historically. What type of man hours and staff time is going to be dedicated to going through that? Or what type of system is it going to cost to have the software available to come through legislation that is redundant, and one that needs to be deserved? Or one that's not up for a timeline?


Robert Hansen

I would say probably retroactive laws, we can leave those on.


Dustin Cox

But you see what I'm saying. There's one person with one opinion, and there are 180 other people that are going to look at it from a different perspective. That's the uphill battle that you have of getting that legislation passed.


Chris Sanchez


We do have something that is kind of similar to what you're talking about. One of the best things the state does in Texas is we have what's called the Sunset Advisory Commission. They are a select group of five members from the house, five members from the Senate, and two members of the general public. And their goal is to look at every state agency on a rotating 12-year schedule and decide, is this state agency meeting their mission effectively and efficiently?


If they're not, they can make recommendations to reform that agency, or then go so far as to get rid of that agency completely. So we do have a little bit of a background here in Texas or backstop here in Texas to look at what are some unintended consequences for the agencies specifically.


And those are also put into play by bad actors, former agency heads, that have had missteps and forced new leadership coming up in the ranks to add more accountability. To add more governance to ensure that these bad actors are going to be removed from office and they're not going to be put back into that position.


Andrew Cates


Two things on my end. One is that this sounds very similar to something that just got put in place a handful of years ago in the governor's office where state agencies come out with rules, they pass a bill, and then it most of the time requires the state agencies that oversee whatever to make some rules to further define what this is actually going to do in practice and all that?


The governor's office now has its own little office within his office that reviews every single rule that comes out from a state agency to make sure that it's not anti-competitive. And it'll kick it back to them and say, "No, this is anti-competitive, this is anti-FTC. We're not doing it. Go back and try it again." So there's that.


The other thing is that what this sounds like to me, of what you're proposing is...


Robert Hansen

I'm just throwing it out there


Andrew Cates


I call the legislature the front end of the law, where if we don't like a law, we don't have to go and sue over it. We just go make a new one, or amend it, or change it, which I like way better than being in the courtroom. But honestly, if it's an unintended consequence, that's when you go to court. That is not a satisfactory answer to you, but that's the other branch.


Chris Sanchez


And that's where the Attorney General's Office comes in. They can provide clarification through an opinion or what have you.


Robert Hansen

Yeah, I've seen a lot of that.


Dustin Cox

The executive agency in the rulemaking side too, where there's another stop in the process to influence that change as well if you don't like that unintended consequence. Again, that's part of the checks and balances that was there by design by original intent. Is it perfect by any means? Absolutely not. But again, it's there. There's a foundation for us to follow. There's guidance. There's principles there.


Robert Hansen

Let's broaden it a little bit to the entire United States now because I think this is going to hit home to more people. Texas is interesting, but I think this is a microcosm.


I think, in general, we have this weird thing happening where we have taken this very tiny Commerce clause, and turned it into this massive wedge that allows every random thing to be called commerce, even if has nothing at all to do with commerce. Someone visiting their grandma or whatever; commerce. Who's spending money doing that? They're walking 10 feet across a border, and suddenly, that's somehow commerce.


First of all, do you guys have any opinions on this Commerce clause in this gigantic wedge? How did we go from commerce clause to the TSA?


Chris Sanchez


I'm going to give my partnership the way you're putting...


Andrew Cates


This might be the question that blows the partisanship.


Chris Sanchez


The Commerce Clause is the biggest shame perpetrated on the American public that they don't know about, or most of them don't know about it, or are not aware about how it impacts their lives on a day-to-day basis. It's bullshit, quite frankly. If that doesn't give it away to your viewers, I don't know what else.


The Commerce Clause, I would say, was one of the largest tools for government overreach that we've seen in my lifetime. What they've been able to come in and what the federal government's been able to claim as inherited power because of the Commerce Clause is shocking.


Robert Hansen

Do you know the tame that that happened where that started getting that leverage?


Chris Sanchez


Going back to the 1700s, with the initial passage of the Commerce Clause.


Robert Hansen

I mean when it started being used in this way? It seems like it's a relatively new thing.


Andrew Cates


20 years-ish?


Chris Sanchez


It's grown. But I would say, even going back to the initial passage of the Commerce Clause, it's been used to consolidate power into the federal government.


Andrew Cates


How do I do this without giving it away? I would say, aside from the Commerce Clause, specifically, I would say a lot of this goes back to what people want to call original intent of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and all that. It's like freedom of speech does not mean I can say whatever I want to you. Or that you can't stop me from saying something I want to say.


It means that the government can't tell you that you can't say it. And a lot of this stuff, I feel like, has been perverted over time.


Robert Hansen

Will Smith made his point very clear the other night. So that is a form of censorship, despite the fact that it is not government-sponsored censorship.


Andrew Cates


Right. But it's also not First Amendment. I don't want to go too far down to we're an idiocracy now.


Robert Hansen

This is the second time that's come up on this show.


Andrew Cates


I don't know. People are just not well-informed or they don't care or it's a very selfish me, me kind of thing or something. But I feel like a lot of these constitutional amendments have been blown way far off from what the original actual intent was.


Robert Hansen

Commerce Clause is just another one, is it?


Dustin Cox

Yes, cycling through the amendment at this point and figuring out what is ripe and palatable for discussion. You could pick any particular amendment or go through any particular one in the Constitution and have conversations about it. We are 400 four years removed from the original signing of that document.


Do you take into consideration the changes that have happened in our history and our society, and go back and readjust, to your point here about the legislation that you mentioned a second ago?


Robert Hansen

400 years?


Dustin Cox

300 years, I don't know. My point still stands that old antiquated laws, in some sense, maybe need to be revisited and have a debate around them again. So, in that sense, I can appreciate this sense of revisiting these topics. But I also don't want to get too far away from the foundation of what created this country and what allowed us to turn into the state that we are today, to be quite honest with you.


Chris Sanchez


Texas is the ninth largest economy in the world. And without the Commerce Clause, I personally believe that we could be a little further up. The regulations that the federal government placed on the state of Texas that we could, for internal purposes only here in the state, exploit or profit on, there's a lot of stuff out there that we could be doing. But without federal regulation we couldn't. It's a very interesting dynamic to see that the state's actually been held back a little bit.


Dustin Cox

The energy industry has pushed back against the EPA and sued them for the last decade. AG is forever just sending something back over back and forth to them because it's stifling that industry right now. And that's a huge impact here in Texas.


Robert Hansen

I've heard a couple of times that the Texas Legislature has banded around the idea of kicking the TSA out of Texas, for instance. Then the federal government says, "Well, if you do that, then no airplanes ever land in Texas." I mean, they're using this as a pretty enormous wedge to put in whatever they want, anywhere they want. Sometimes that's good. Sometimes it may not be good at all.


Andrew Cates


Sometimes it's just what happens in a globalized world. I hate to go into Russia and everything, but we're finding out very damn fast, and so is Russia, how everybody is connected through trade agreements, and reliance on exports and imports, and that sort of thing. One thing can cascade all the way across. Yeah, TSA sucks. We don't like it, but I like flying more than I hate TSA.


Robert Hansen

But they also aren't police officers, which is even the weirder thing. So we've given civilians the ability to do all kinds of terrible things.


Andrew Cates


Just 911, 911, 911.


Robert Hansen

That was interesting. I think I remember that day better than a lot of people because a lot of people are like, "Well, how did we end up here?" I'm like, well, everyone was screaming for legislation. Everyone was. I remember thinking, I don't know that what you're asking for is well thought out. But I'm just one voice a mass.


Chris Sanchez


That's how we ended up with the Patriot Act too.


Robert Hansen

That's how we ended up at the wrong kind of war in some ways.


Dustin Cox

Something that I practice at home with my family and kids, and then we practice at the office is removing the emotion from the argument. And I don't think that happens often enough in a lot of these conversations.


Robert Hansen

There's a lot of soccer moms who wanted to go to war that day. And I think that's what happened. That's how we are now having people touching your junk when we go through airport security.


Dustin Cox

We're seeing the mama bears do it in our schools right now.


Robert Hansen

Well, I'm glad you guys mentioned schools here. I have a little pop quiz for you guys.


Andrew Cates


Are you smarter than the Texas third grader?


Robert Hansen

Well, we'll see here. Feel free to take a gander and pass it around as you see fit. The USDA had a food pyramid once upon a time. You guys are probably old enough to remember that as I did. They got rid of that in 2005 and replaced it with something called My Pyramid, which I was thinking as part of this could be interesting to talk about more widespread, bizarre things coming from the federal government.


But I found it even weirder than I thought as I went down the rabbit hole, which is typically how this happens because no one ever does the research. So this is a full replacement for the food pyramid which was, as you guys probably remember, actual pyramid where there's blocks and it was on top of the blocks. This is a more like raised-to-space vibe going on for those who can't see it. Colorful thing.


I don't know if you want to go first here. Which of the rays do you believe is the largest if you were to guess?


Chris Sanchez


Is this is some optical illusion?


Robert Hansen

No, just which one do you think is the largest?


Andrew Cates


Like, which one is recommended to have the most of?


Robert Hansen

Yeah. Which one do you think you should be eating the most of per day based on that?


Chris Sanchez


I'd say vegetables or grains.


Robert Hansen

So by weight, grains are 6 ounces, veggies are 6.2 ounces, fruits are 5 ounces, milk is 24 ounces, and meat and beans are 5.5 ounces. Does that feel like the right disparity visually looking at that thing? Or does that even look close?


Chris Sanchez


I'd say that's not the scale.


Andrew Cates


I saw something on Twitter or Instagram or something the other day about this in particular, saying back in the 80s, Big Milk convinced all of our parents that we need to be drinking gallons and gallons a day or else our bones are going to turn to dust.


Robert Hansen

We'll get to milk in a second. On this, which is a supplemental document, the second half of it, which you can take a look at as you feel free, it says "Eat at least three ounces of whole grain." Then below it says, "Eat six ounces every day." So which is it? Very bizarre.


Looking at the thing, where do you think the beans are on that? Take a look. The rays from space here. Where do you see the beans on there?


Andrew Cates


In the purple stride?


Chris Sanchez


I mean, maybe that's a bean. It could be deer print or something.


Robert Hansen

Yeah, there are beans on there.


Chris Sanchez


Oh, there they are. I see them, They're in the vegetables.


Robert Hansen

Okay, great.


Andrew Cates


Wait. What? They're in the vegetables?


Robert Hansen

But they're also under the meat and beans category. Soy beans are on there twice.


Chris Sanchez


It's Morpheus, red and blue pills.


Robert Hansen

Yes, it looks like little pills like, like Tylenol or something. So how many times does milk appear on that? Things that recognizably are milk, say they are milk.


Chris Sanchez


There's like three.


Robert Hansen

Three times on a single document. How much fruit juice should you have? This thing says, "Go easy on fruit juices." So no explanation about how much, just go easy on them. It says, "About 60 minutes a day, physical activity may be needed to prevent weight gain." However, children need to gain weight, otherwise, they stay children. So there's sort of a not particularly well thought out idea on what weight is useful for as an adult.


This all got removed in 2011 and now is replaced by this thing called My Plate. Now, My Plate is a much more simplified version of the same thing. There's only five categories: meat, beans, and vegetables, fruits, and dairy. Dairy is just sitting off there to the side.


There's a supplemental document there, which I did not bother printing, which is a 164-page document that explains all the things you need to know and how to process this one icon right there. And you're thinking, okay, it's got to be better than these rays from space thing.


No. It's exactly as bad as that except it's now 164 pages filled with all kinds of bizarre things, largely about milk, about breastfeeding, and how useful milk is, and how dairy should be considered, etcetera. But there's also other things.


It never once mentions things like glycemic index. It never discusses the fact that tomatoes actually are not a vegetable. It puts them in the vegetable category instead of fruits. Same thing with yams, it messes that up as well.


So there's all kinds of very large, technical inaccuracies in this document, which has been revised at least twice in my lifetime by, theoretically, people who are supposed to do this thing for a living.


Andrew Cates


I just don't understand how you get 100 pages in and still mess up tomatoes.


Robert Hansen

And it mentions BMI many times, I think five, six times in the document. That usually is things you need to reference elsewhere outside the document, which is one of the most unbelievably terribly written pieces of technical thing.


People are still focused on weight. They're like, "I'm not losing weight." Well, that's because you're gaining muscle. Just looking at that, first of all, who do you think the audience for that document is?


Chris Sanchez


I'm assuming it's my third grader.


Robert Hansen

Okay, the 164-page document as well? Who gets to read what? Who's that for?


Chris Sanchez


I would say the infographic would be more towards children, and the actual 100-and-whatever-page document would be for the parents. But I would imagine not a lot of folks are out there and taking the time to read 160-page document.


Andrew Cates


I would say school personnel, maybe nutritionists, specifically.


Robert Hansen

So Stanford created their own version of the same document. Also a one-pager, but this time, it has things like oils on there, oils and salts. And instead of dairy, it has water. Water is hardly mentioned in the 164 document. It is a couple of times, but nowhere near as much as milk. Milk is many times, I think it's more than five times.


My opinion is this is certainly meant for teachers to teach children how to eat. The unfortunate part is this is actually being used by schools. They're saying, "Well, you have to have one of each thing." They're coming up with these dietary things.


This is a local elementary school. This is their Friday breakfast. Now, they get to choose options, but you have to choose a certain amount of options, and you only get one from each category. So it is possible for a breakfast for a young child to have a glazed doughnut, orange juice, and chocolate skimmed milk. That is the nutritious breakfast.


That, if you read their guidelines, actually makes a lot of sense. So this isn't just staying in its tiny little here's-how-teachers-are-teaching-children sort of world. This is trickling down to millions of American children. And of course, their parents being told from their kids, "I need to have this and that." And they're learning from their kids.


Or maybe occasionally, they will read this 164-page document. Or it gets translated and they get some digested version from some article somewhere. First of all, how did this thing come to be? If you were going to make this atrocity , how would you make this atrocity?


Chris Sanchez


I think this goes back to the unintended consequences conversation. It started probably with good intentions of government trying to provide some sort of guideline to folks who may not know what a nutritious meal would look like. Then from there, one of the purposes of a lot of federal agencies these days is to justify their existence and their continued existence.


So you see them coming back and providing new guidelines, "We have new information. Here's the new set of guidelines to follow." But that's a way to keep themselves in business, quite frankly. I think it started out as beneficial guidelines. From there, it morphed into its own mutant from previous what it looked like previously.


Andrew Cates


It kind of sounds like the old dumb joke of what do you get when you ask a committee to draw a horse? A camel? Just Frankenstein, crazy ass document and these weird decisions. I mean, this breakfast menu is very similar to my son's breakfast menu.


Robert Hansen

I'm sure. It probably is almost identical. Maybe some of the brands are swapped out.


Andrew Cates


Yeah. I said earlier big milk, big dairy, whatever. But that honestly might not be that far off. Dairy farms in the US or the corn industry, it very well could have been a targeted lobbying effort to ensure that the dairy industry has business going forward, to have the USDA recommend a certain amount of milk or dairy products to every kid in the US. That's a pretty damn effective and very targeted, specific way to ensure your business continues. I don't know if it's true.


Dustin Cox

I'd also walk back. You said it's been changed twice in your lifetime. And this is something that I know the three of us grew up with that food pyramid. It goes back to the age of information. That type of information wasn't disseminated readily. You couldn't get on the internet and do that fact-finding and figure out what's locally sourced and what does that mean. How to get good nutritional value?


So, as Chris said, this was probably a good attempt by government to create that guidance, that document for parents and for school systems to help guide. And there's probably some industry influence behind it as well. With that, you get what was created. And then over time, you go back and revisit it. You've got new influence and you've got new priorities, but it's still a guiding document that's going to be served there.


And that's part of what we mentioned about our firm, too. It is looking at a lot of these antiquated laws and these systems and recognizing that government lags, and trying to see how we can help bridge those gaps with policy or with technology. Because oftentimes, it's not the government that's going to be the steward of it. It's going to be industry driving it. If they're not at the table, there's going to be these crazy ass laws that are getting passed.


Robert Hansen

I just wonder where the actual experts are. Because an actual expert would take one look at any one of these documents and just shake their head and go, "Wait, hold on." I am not an actual expert. I'm just some guy who did a little research and I can find maybe 100 flaws with the three or four documents I showed you.


How do we get actual experts in the room to actually take a look at these things and provide real feedback? I'm fine with the lobbyists being in the room. That's fine, and maybe that's how the legislation gets done. But is there a way to provide some actual technical feedback from somebody who knows what they're talking about?


Andrew Cates


One of the things that I specifically tell clients and legislators is, "Look, I know you don't want to hear from me. I get that. I'm a hired gun. I'm not an expert on this. All I'm here to do is to get access to you, for this person over here who is an expert."


I don't want to be the one talking. I sure as hell don't want to be the one in a committee hearing testifying. I have no business being up there. We need the experts. I'll get my nursing client in here to talk to you about this stuff. I don't want to have a one-on-one meeting. I can shoot the shit with you and be your friend and have a relationship and all that. But when it really comes down to it, I want to get my client in there to be the one to talk about it.


Robert Hansen

But if that's the case, and it is Big Dairy, I'm not even saying you're wrong, you might even be right. Based on what I saw, dairy had a lot of influence where it doesn't make a ton of sense. But why is it always dairies lobbyists with dairies experts? Why isn't it dairies lobbyists with experts? How does that ever happen?


Chris Sanchez


Do those experts show up? Do they have their own association? Do they have their own advocacy efforts? I'll give you a quote from my favorite president of all time, it's actually a fictional president, President Bartlett from the show West Wing. He has a line in that show where he says, "Decisions are made by those who show up. If you don't show up to be part of the process, you're going to get run over by the process."


And if there are experts out there who have expertise to lend to the people making decisions, they need to be involved in the process, quite frankly. And that's not me going out there saying, "Hire a lobbyist." Just show up. Meet your local member. Become an expert and a resource for them because that is something they look for. They do look for people that, especially locally, have the expertise that they need to craft good legislation.


Dustin Cox

Big Dairy showed up to ensure that those three glasses of milk were put on there.


Robert Hansen

I think it is a bit odd that pieces of milk appear three times in a document. That's a perfect example of that. An actual expert will go, "Hey, maybe don't have that on there three times. Maybe have there just once." That is a good example of dairy that you could have, but there are many other types of dairy.


Chris Sanchez


But that yoga instructor or that nutritionist wasn't there during that committee hearing to provide that public commentary to tell you what was going on the other side of why milk is not good for you. There was no one there to push up against that argument.


So what you saw happened likely is big business came in there with their lobby team, they articulated and they crafted and they brought in their own experts to help influence that conversation and drive it in with a nail.


Andrew Cates


I mean, two examples of this. One, honestly, before we even joined up together, I tried my damnedest to create a Texas Food Truck Association. Because food trucks were on the rise, they were everywhere. But then they were also getting shoved out for zoning and they weren't able to show up.


So I tried really hard to go and get a bunch of food trucks to join together and create an association and hire me as a lobbyist and they weren't interested. So I was like, "Well, you're going to get run over."


The other example is, Robert, what we've been talking with you about on the side about cybersecurity, getting cybersecurity groups together to have a unified exponentiated voice over there at the Capitol. Those decisions are being made; the people that show up are helping to inform them. And if a certain segment of the population that are actually experts in this don't show up, it's just shitting your hand and see what you got.


At that point, it is what it is. If you don't show up, somebody's going to make that decision. Somebody's going to have that conversations.


Chris Sanchez


It's going to have adverse impact on your business or your industry, and you're going to recognize that after the fact post de facto. Then you're going to be stuck there with your dick in your hand, figuring out how to navigate the process. That's when you're calling us.


So we'll take the retainer on at that time, too, and work with that particular client. But what we try to advocate is having that run ramp, having the ability to develop a rapport, cultivating relationships with these legislators. That's what's driving the needle forward.


Without that type of relationship building, you can throw any type of priority at the Texas Legislature, but that doesn't mean it's going to stick. It doesn't mean that they're going to marry and find some attraction to your idea.


Robert Hansen

For cybersecurity, for instance, or space or anything, maybe it's not an individual expert like myself. Maybe it's a PAC. Can you guys first explain what a PAC is for the people who have no idea?


Andrew Cates


PACK is the acronym for Political Action Committee. They are set up specifically to grab individual contributions from individual people to pull together, and exponentiated your impact.


The whole point of having a PAC is to give money to legislators, to candidates, elected officials, whatever. And look, people can bitch and complain about it all they want about, well, you're buying votes, you're buying this, you're bribing, all that. It's legal bribery, whatever. Okay, fine, but it is what it is. And it exists.


Robert Hansen

And it is exactly that.


Andrew Cates


It may be, but it's legal. So I don't know what to tell you. It's a part of the process. And money is, unfortunately, a very big part of the process. You don't win a race without money. You just don't. You can have gimmicks. You can get up on an oil rig topless. Did you see that?


There's a candidate for the railroad commission that got up on an oil rig topless and sent it out everywhere and was like "I'm running for whatever." And she made the runoff and she got all of the exposure that she needed, pun not intended.


Robert Hansen

That would have been a good pun.


Andrew Cates


But that's kind of the link that she's had to go to because she is not raising money.


Robert Hansen

Did she win?


Andrew Cates


She's in the runoff.


Dustin Cox

My wife voted for her and didn't even realize it.


Andrew Cates


There is a gigantic amount of money going into these races. A State House race in Texas right now, minimum a quarter million dollars, I would guess, if not half.


Robert Hansen

And what is the lifetime of these? How long does it take to actually go through that entire process and get yourself elected or kicked out? A couple months?


Andrew Cates


It depends on the race. If it's a very solid R or D seat, it's a primary-only race. So you could be done by March. Otherwise, you go through to November and have it there when it's R versus D.


But a political action committee, you get a bunch of people that would otherwise... Dustin's running for office, Chris could give him $100, I could give him $100, you could give me $100. Or we could, three of us, get together, have a PAC, put all of our money into it together, and then give him a $300 check. And it just exponentiates the voice of that $300 versus $100.


It's not very much, but when everybody was going to give him $1,000, and then we have 20 people together, then all of a sudden, we've given them a really big check. And like it or not, that gets you access. You get FaceTime with that person with a big check.


Dustin Cox

It's so powerful brand; law numbers. It's a grassroots and grass tops advocacy component that's built into this. And it's tied back to these voters, at the end of the day. So all of it is aligned in some sort of way within our system. Again, to the point of it's an integral part of our process, they do serve a purpose in terms of effecting the change, getting folks elected, serving for marketing purposes, getting the industry involved, and bringing people to the table. That's it's a vital part of our process.


Here in Texas, again, coming back to us having a two-year cycle, 18 months of that time is spent out on the campaign trails, creating these new relationships, figuring out what the pulse is back in the market, and what those priorities may look like. That way, we can then come back to our clients and say, "Look, this is what's coming down the pike," or, "Here's what our expert opinion might be on how the deck may fall in the next coming months."


Andrew Cates


I was shitting on the First Amendment earlier, but part of it is freedom of association. And there have been challenges to say you shouldn't be able to have PACs, and we need to get rid of PACs and all that.


I can appreciate the effort and all of that. But that is 100% freedom of association. If the government came in and said, "We're going to write a new law that says you can't form together as a group and give money to people running for office," that is 100% a constitutional violation.


Robert Hansen

Interesting. A friend of mine came up with an interesting idea. He said, "What if we create a PAC, and the entire purpose of this PAC was to find people who were less extreme than the other person they're running against?


So there's a runoff, there are two people, one of them is way right or way left and the other person is slightly less. Give them money and just keep doing that, and progressively walk it back into the center. What do you guys think of that?


Chris Sanchez


You should take credit for it. That's a genius. There are a lot of political groups who survive just by keeping people pissed off. Because they know that if they can make you pissed off and keep you pissed off, they can take your money. And once they take your money, there's very little constraints on what they can actually do with that money.


They're not like a private 501(c)(3). They pretty much have carte blanche to do what they will with that money. And there are a lot of very wealthy folks in the state based purely on keeping people politically pissed off on both sides, quite frankly.


Andrew Cates


Absolutely, without a doubt. Look, I really like that idea.


Robert Hansen

I do, too. I think there's a lot of merit to it.


Andrew Cates


The whole problem with the process as it is right now is that we have different party primaries before we end up at a general election. And I don't know how you do it differently. But each party has their own primary.


If you want to win your primary, you have to be more Republican than your opponent, or more Democrat than your opponent, or more liberal than your opponent to win that primary. And then you have to scramble your ass back to the center to try and win the independence in the general election against the other side. And that's what happens in the presidential as well.


Robert Hansen

I'm not naive, but I would like to hear your take on that. Why do you have to be more extreme than the guy next to you to win? Why can't you be more centrist? Why can't you be more moderate?


Dustin Cox

It's been a game of chicken that's been playing out for the past 20 years, I would say. Maybe even further than that. Yes, you might be seen as this, and there's plenty of examples of this happening, you're coming in as the most far-right crazy person in the world. But 10 years from now, that target has shifted so far to your right that you're seen as this crack ball liberal who's going to give everybody's money away and make us all communists.


It happens all the time because you can't go further back towards the middle anymore. That bridge is burned basically. The only route for you then if you want to come in and challenge somebody is to come out as the more extreme, as the more far right or far left candidate because that's the only field that's out there.


And going back to my previous point, there are people out there who are paid to keep you pissed off to take your money. That's who's funneling and fueling those groups. They're there because they know...


Robert Hansen

Give me an example.


Dustin Cox

Without naming names, there's a certain empowering organization in Texas, who has made a very good niche for themselves of finding far-right candidates to run against folks that, for whatever reason, go against the dogma of this group. And they are well-funded by maybe a handful of four or five very wealthy oil tycoons in the state. Their names aren't seen anywhere on any of the documents except for maybe the forming documents.


But those messages being delivered are coming directly from those four or five people. So if you're a far-right group or a far-right voter in Texas, you're being influenced by a group of four or five different people that you have no idea even exist. But because they have billions dollars, they're impacting the way you vote. Because those groups are telling you, "You should be pissed off, and here's a whole list of made-up reasons why."


Andrew Cates


And they are blowing you up with social media and mail and all kinds of stuff to make sure that you are seeing that message. And they're spending so much money to do it. And honestly, it's not great success. But I think it is psychologically messing with people and implanting in them...


Chris Sanchez


Just disrupting the norm within the political landscape and creating this new form of interaction with the government or with the legislature in the campaign folks on the election.


Andrew Cates


I feel like I hear all the time pundits being hyperbolic and saying, "There is no bottom to this." And I don't know if there is. I don't know how to come back from the brink if there's some kind of seismic shift. Like I was saying the Capitol, a lot of people going to jail, or a lot of people dying, or something really bad happening, showing that we've got to come back to the middle to get real stuff done.


I mean, the edges of either party are bomb throwers. They're not working with the other side to get something done and actually pass a bill.


Robert Hansen

Fortunately, that that group is pretty small.


Andrew Cates


It's small, but they're really loud.


Dustin Cox

They're loud, but I also think there's short memory spans that also exist in the general public or the voting bases. They did forget what happened three or four years ago, even though that person is still in office.


It's in the media cycle or it's in that new cycle, and then once it's done there, it's beyond people. So they don't hold them accountable for past transgressions or votes that were ill-informed or that caused damage to their particular perspective.


Chris Sanchez


I would say it's becoming easier to take to pick off incumbent elected officials these days. Because once you have a voting record, and once you actually have something I can attack you on directly, as opposed to just saying, "You're just a random general citizen, you're just a car dealer and there's nothing to compare you against politically."


But if you have a voting record, as a car dealer, I can find maybe one or two votes you might have taken that I can then turn into saying you're now a card-carrying member of the communist party of America. That lemon you sold me is now...


Andrew Cates


Yeah, the vote that you take, the vote that you don't take. Sometimes they walk votes so that they don't have to be on the record voting for or against a certain bill. Well, then you derelict duty, and you're not even showing up to your job and blah, blah, blah. When, really, you were just standing in the back making sure you're not on record there. You can you can twist everything and anything


Dustin Cox

So you don't agree with showing up to work?


Robert Hansen

All right. For those following along at home, I think now is the time to get your votes in and what you think these three fine gentleman's political views are. Pause it if you need to, write it down. Okay, who wants to go first?


Andrew Cates


I'm a Democrat,


Chris Sanchez


Republican.


Dustin Cox

Republican, but a lean libertarian.


Robert Hansen

Interesting. Do you guys care to wager what I am?


Dustin Cox

Republican.


Andrew Cates


Libertarian.


Chris Sanchez


There's a million different ways I can see it going. If I had to put money on it, go to Vegas put money on it right now, I'd say libertarian, but more of a moderate libertarian.


Robert Hansen

I think that's pretty close. I am very centrist, but I also don't think the government is doing a particularly good job almost anywhere, at least, every time I dig in. And that's usually a good sign.


I come from the computer security world. When someone hands me something, my first gut instinct is, "This is probably fine." And then I start playing with it, and I'm like, "This is definitely not fine." And the further I go and the more I have done over my many copious years of doing this, the more I've realized everything's not fine. Everything's always very broken.


And I don't have to spend much time looking at it. I can just see a misspelling somewhere. I'm like, "Their QA is terrible. I'm going to be able to find all kinds of issues." "Copyright is out of date; this thing isn't patched." I don't even have to go very far at all.


I have a similar impression of the government. It's just so full of that kind of stuff. And from what I've actually talked to you, I've been two floors under the Pentagon. I've seen how the sausage is made. I know that it is not as sparkling clean and as great as everyone hopes it would be.


That makes me much more wary of implementing laws because I know that unintended consequences are just hiding right around the corner and I know no one's smart is even in the room. Or if they are smart, they are totally biased in one direction or another. So it forces me to be much more moderate than I might normally be, if that makes sense.


Andrew Cates


Look, I'm not going to walk it back. I am a Democrat. I've always been a Democrat. My parents are super liberal. But I'm also more apolitical, jaded a little bit from working in it. The same thing; we see the sausage made. We have been the sausage.


I don't want to say that it's a game. It's not a game because there's a lot at stake. There's a lot of lives at stake, and all of that. But there are a certain set of rules. There are a certain set of players. People say it's like 3D Chess, and it is.


And we just off with, this talking about pulling yourself out of the politics of it and everything. We take our own personal politics out of it entirely when we go up there. I honestly have gotten to a point where I'm seeing more of the person than the party. Maybe not when I vote, but when I'm up there at the Capitol because, at this point, the parties are so far apart that it's really hard to even marry who's going to do a good job based on the party anymore.


Chris Sanchez


Yeah, I hate to say this, and I certainly had to say it in a recorded setting, but I think we've passed the threshold in this country as far as partisanship. I think the actual public policy is now at the back of anybody's mind. It's not even an afterthought, quite frankly, when it comes to passing laws.


I think we've gotten to such a hyper-partisan society and not just in politics. I think everything we do in our day-to-day lives is seen through the lens of party politics. And I don't see a way to draw that back to where it used to be. I don't see a way for it not to be so hypersensitive when it comes to political issues anymore.


That's probably something in the future, but I think it's leading us toward a very dark place as a society.


Andrew Cates


I agree, and we're being exploited on that as well. We saw whatever your thoughts on Russia and the 2020 elections and all that. But there were definitely Hacks and Hackers in Russia that were feeding misinformation, specifically pushing the partisan divide in that election cycle.


Robert Hansen

That is for a different podcast.


Andrew Cates


But that hyperpartisanship is being exploited by other external factors.


Robert Hansen

I will get somebody in here to talk about that specifically, don't you worry. I know quite a bit about it.


Dustin Cox

For me, just being the eternal optimist of the group, again, believe in the process, believe that our forefathers put in some guiding documents and principles that we're here for a reason. For me, there's good people in the industry that are trying to create good value and good policy behind that. I know that us three here, that's part of our mission with our firm.


And there are plenty of politicians outside of these bad actors that really do good justice and are honestly underpaid. And for the type of servant leadership and value that they bring, I want to continue to give them the glory for what they do every day because, without them, we don't have an industry where we exist either.


To me, I'm just a firm believer that the process here is something that we can all work into, and engage and do so in a way that, as Chris said, party politics don't have to play a part in it. We're people, at the end of the day, and different strokes for different folks. But finding the way to get it all to work and bring it all together, for me, is why I show up and go to work every day. And I love what I do.


Robert Hansen

All right, gentlemen. How can people follow you or find you?


Dustin Cox

Sure. We're on Twitter @SalientStratTX and on LinkedIn as well. And January through May, every odd year, we'll be at the Capitol building.


Chris Sanchez


Personal Instagram, @thechrissanch on Instagram posts a lot.


Robert Hansen

Great.


Andrew Cates


I'm not going to put my Instagram up. No


Robert Hansen

No, you know better.


Andrew Cates


I got dragged into Instagram within the last year.


Robert Hansen

Well, technically, me too because of this podcast. It's funny because I tell people I don't have one Instagram account. I just have a million, which is not too far from the truth actually. I think it's more than that.


Anyway, guys, I really want to thank you for coming. This was great. Hopefully, we can do this again sometime.


Thank you


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