The next generation of local officials graduating to state legislative office will need all the help they can get to deal with critical budget, water and energy issues.

To ensure these freshmen legislators get off on the right foot, the League of California Cities and League Partner hosted 22 identified local leaders for the fifth-annual California Civic Leadership Institute (CCLI).

Despite a bear encounter at Big Creek Hydroelectric facility in July, Mitch Ward, Manhattan Beach mayor pro tem, found the program welcoming and enlightening.

“It was very practical and hands-on,” Ward said.

Participants were schooled in water, transportation and energy issues by former Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Fred Keeley, Steve Schnaidt of Schnaidt & Associates and Mark Watts of Smith, Watts & Company along with Dee Zinke from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Mario Santoyo of the Friant Water Authority and the Latino Water Coalition.

At the follow-up session in Sacramento August 20 and 21, Ward said the honest brutality about the life of a legislator presented by former Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte had almost the same impact as his wildlife encounter.

“The program is designed to give local leaders a broad, in-depth understanding of these critical issues affecting the state, illuminate the invaluable tools they will need to succeed if elected to the Legislature, and provide a forum where lasting bonds can be created among California’s rising leaders,” said League Spokesperson Eva Spiegel.

Meetings included presentations from press contacts; Don Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC; Garry South, a Democratic Strategist; Marc Burgat from the California Chamber of Commerce; and Jodi Hicks from the California Medical Association. Many of the testimonials were from former CCLI graduates.

In the end, the friendships candidates made with other aspiring politicians was named as the biggest value-add. As they hugged their goodbyes, participants basked in the knowledge that they would have friends if they eventually arrive in the domed building.

Roger Hernandez, West Covina mayor and Assembly candidate was grateful for the practical advice on everything from how to introduce a bill, move it through committee and build coalitions.

Hernandez said that if he becomes one of the new class of elected officials to join the legislature in 2010, the connections he made at this and other League events will allow him to overcome the gridlock and ideological paralysis that has plagued the legislature.

“I would like to pass more centrist legislation,” Hernandez said.

Yoriko Kishimoto, a Palo Alto city council woman running for the Assembly, agreed. “With term limits, we have to hit the ground running,” Kishimoto said.

Kishimoto took former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg’s advice to focus on goals as a way to navigate the competing interests that can sidetrack new legislators. 

She pointed to the bullets on her bright orange business cards as the guiding message for her campaign.

“I am very clear on why I am running for office,” Kishimoto said.

John Fairbank, founder of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates opinion research company, warned that with 1,000 lobbyists as the consistent backdrop to a procession of electeds cycling through the capitol, that focus would be important.

“If you forget, I will be here to remind you,” Fairbank said.

Manhattan Beach-based Ward said he has a town of 35,000 people poised to keep him on track.

“I have a mandate from local electeds to protect local revenue and public safety,” Ward said.

“I see my constituents at the grocery store and the post office,” Ward said. “They tell me ‘don’t change.’” I

JT Long can be reached at