Wherever Mark Brown goes, there’s a water cooler.
You may not see it. But 66-year-old Brown has been a city lobbyist for more than 40 years and has been tracking bills for Longview for 10 years. Everywhere he goes at the capital, he finds someone to talk to, whether it’s in the hallways or doorways after meetings with state legislators, the sandwich shop he frequents for lunch or walking from one building to the next. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Brown shook hands with Chris Reykdal, state superintendent of public instruction, without a word exchanged as they passed each other. Reykdal was on the phone.
“Great guy,” Brown said.
Like most others in Olympia, Brown and Brian Enslow — a Longview lobbyist Brown subcontracts — have their days planned out in 15-minute increments. No two days are the same, Brown says. And they come prepared for close contact with other political insiders, close enough to smell their breath. On Wednesday Brown carried a toothbrush in his sports coat. Enslow had a tin box of Altoids.
“Mint or gum,” the 6-foot-2 Enslow said. “It comes with the job. You can’t be a registered lobbyist without mint or gum.”
Longview pays Brown $4,000 a month during the legislative session and $2,000 a month the rest of the year, according to the Public Disclosure Commission. Brown subcontracts two other lobbyists for the city: Enslow ($600 a month) and Jennifer Ziegler for transportation matters ($330 a month).
Brown has been in been in politics since age 22, when he was elected mayor of Lacey. He sums up his lobbying job in one word: “Advocate.” He tracks legislation that affects cities, such as those that take away local control of revenues or that create local financial obligations without paying for them.
Lobbyists sometimes draft legislation. This year, Brown and Ziegler were instrumental in creating Senate Bill 5458 with Longview attorney Jim McNamara, which would allow more time for cities to respond to a Department of Corrections notice of transitional housing for sex offenders.
“I joke about it all the time. I’m a damn dirty lobbyist, right?” Enslow said. “Honestly, I still think of myself as a public servant. ... I feel really good about the people we represent. I feel really good about the issues we take, and I feel really good about the way we do our job.”
Brown’s stream of meetings began at 7 a.m. on Wednesday. Mornings at the Capitol often start in the Pritchard Building cafeteria, where the core group of permanent lobbyists prepare for their day. At the coffee stand next to the cash register are the essentials — a basket of tea bags and a container of Advil.
After a 10-minute meeting with state Sen. Judy Warnick, Enslow waited two minutes as Brown pulled his car to the front of the building. A few minutes later, Enslow waited in line at a restaurant with Brown’s sandwich order memorized while Brown parked his car again.
Enslow said it’s a lifestyle and a mentality he takes on during the session, to always anticipate the next step. And it exasperates his wife.
“My wife hates the legislative session,” he said with a laugh.
Brown began as an active Democrat and became a lobbyist shortly after his nine years as an elected official. But he plans to retire next year. He says this will be his last legislative session. He expects the session to run until June. And, with a court mandate to fully fund basic education and record-breaking bond requests for school capital projects, it’s a challenging one.
“It’s just one of the most competitive climates in my time here,” Brown said.
And over the span of decades, Brown says he witnessed increasingly polarized politics — state legislators developing “very different world reviews on the role of government.”
“I remember when it didn’t used to be this way. ... Things were better then,” he said. “It manifests itself here in ways that increase partisanship and make it difficult for them to find common ground, at least without a months-long arduous process. I think that’s what lies ahead of us here.”
Brown is a contracted lobbyist for five cities and two nonprofits. He works closely with 19th District state legislators and regularly meets with state Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview, and state Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen.
They won’t always agree though. Blake was a prime sponsor of a bill that would allow cities the option of enforcing proper licenses and permits during electrical inspections. City lobbyists fought the bill, and on Wednesday the bill failed to make it out of the Senate committee.
During lunch Brown took a call from Matt Hepner, a representative from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who wanted to meet to find a middle ground with the bill. Brown said no — though he and Enslow admitted that ensuring oversight on electrical licenses was important. Cities listed a number of reasons they were against it, including a lack of funds or expertise to ensure the licenses were done correctly.
“That happens a lot,” Enslow said. “Everyone can see there’s a problem. The solution is a lot harder to agree on.”
On Wednesday, Brown and Enslow met with Warnick to discuss their concerns with the Senate budget released a day earlier. Brown said cities were largely relieved — they were expecting to see much less local control over shared revenues like liquor taxes.
But he still saw “two red flags,” eliminating financial support for certain local government employees and the Public Works Assistance Account loan repayments. Brown estimated that Longview would lose $300,000 a year by removing support for LEOFF II employees, and the Senate budget would only permit $200 million for loans to cities like Longview for the next four years. Brown and Enslow met with Dave Williams, government relations director for the Washington Association of Cities, to strategize.
Brown said a lobbyist is just about ensuring the clients get “their fair share.” But he said he doesn’t run the risk of overexposure with lawmakers. Instead, he wants to be known as someone who works with integrity.
“We’re not hanging out every day on their doorsteps,” Brown said. “As a result of that, I’ve never had a legislator say, ‘No, I won’t meet with you.’ “