Compromise in the California Legislative Process


By Thomas Nussbaum and Chris Micheli

Compromise is often difficult to achieve when it comes to high-profile, controversial legislation being considered by the California Legislature. This is generally due to a myriad of different factors.

Under the traditional approach used most often by policymakers, elected officials build alliances from within their political party, along with selected legislative colleagues, selected interest groups, and selected government agencies. These efforts usually produce a policy that promotes and protects the interests of those within their alliance, while usually working to the detriment of those outside of their alliance.

Generally there is collaboration within the alliance and competition outside of it. Under the alternative approach used less often in the legislative process, policymakers systematically identify and consider all of the legitimate interests at play in a given policy issue. In this approach, despite major policy differences, all or most of the parties representing legitimate interests work together in a process that is dominated by collaboration, cooperation, and efforts to secure agreement, or at least acceptance or tolerance, by all of the parties.

The traditional method of compromise typically produces policies that further the positions and/or interests of the dominant policymakers or political parties, the dominant special interests, and allies of these parties. On the other hand, those working outside the alliance end up either having the policy passed against their will or being able to prevent the policy from being adopted in the first place.

Typically, the positions and interests of these dominant parties are cobbled together in such a way as to hold the alliance together. Thus, the resulting policies sometimes lack coherence. In addition, because the policies have been passed over the objections and resistance of those outside the alliance, there is little reason for these parties to accept and abide by the result. The losing parties often attack and undermine the new policy causing it to lack durability.

The alternative method of compromise is an integration of legitimate interests of a broad variety of parties into a coherent and durable policy that serves broader public needs. This is policy that goes beyond an agreement among those with power and influence on what they will allow or tolerate being done. Rather, it is policy that addresses interests of all or most parties affected by the policy, whether or not they have power or influence.

The alternative method of compromise, accompanied by the use of “win/win” negotiation, often leads to more durable public policy. Parties who are excluded from negotiations, or who are ignored or abused in the process of negotiations, usually do not just stop fighting and accept the result. Instead, it is frequently the case that losing parties continue to criticize and undermine the winning parties, often looking for ways to undo or limit the policy that has been forced upon them. While not a panacea, compromise using win/win negotiation methods can bring parties together in a synergistic way. Over the long haul, their agreements enhance and protect the interests of all parties far more than each party continuing to act alone.



Thomas Nussbaum is the former Chancellor of the California Community Colleges. Chris Micheli is a lobbyist with Aprea & Micheli, Inc. Both are Adjunct Professors of Law at McGeorge School of Law.


One thought on “Compromise in the California Legislative Process

  1. there isn’t any compromise in this One Party Soviet style legislature.. It’s the Dem’s way or the highway.. There’s your one party compromise in a few words.


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