During my last two years in the Department of Education (1979-80), I served as Chief of the Department's Legislative Office. When I went in to interview for that position with Wilson Riles, he was seated behind his large wooden desk. Upon my entering, he gave me one of his big, relaxed smiles and extended his hand. His next comment was "Everybody tells me you're the right person for the job, so don't worry, you've got it. I just want to spend some time talking about how you approach legislation and about some of the issues".
The story is vintage Wilson Riles for several reasons. First, he immediately rejected any temptation to emphasize his power to offer or withhold the job. He clearly was not on a "power trip". Second, he immediately chose to focus on a discussion of content and process. The policy objectives and the means to achieve them were not separate; they were part of the same agenda. During the last part of 1979 and through all of 1980, our top priority was to obtain funding and legislative approval for statewide implementation of the Master Plan for Special Education. Throughout this legislative campaign, Wilson Riles saw process and policy as part of one effort. My marching orders were clear:
Many times I heard Wilson Riles say, "A society is measured by how it treats its less fortunate members". Thanks to his leadership, our society measures up a little better.
PETER BIRDSALL is a lobbyist and consultant for K-12 education agencies and organizations. From 1976-1980, he worked in the California State Department of Education under Dr. Riles. While in the Department, Mr. Birdsall served as Chief of Staff for the Program Branch, and from 1979-80, as Chief of the Department's Legislative Office. Since 1981, Mr. Birdsall has owned and managed his own consulting and legislative advocacy firm, Peter Birdsall & Associate