Communication Fundamentals: Know Your Audience; Use Precise Language

The other day Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that would impose a 1 percent annual fee on the sales of olive trees.

An identical fee is already levied against the sales of fruit trees, nut trees and grapevines which generates $1.4 million to conduct research into ways of improving the vine and tree crop industry.

As the market for boutique olive oil increases, a growing number of acres in California are being planted with olive trees – some 31,000 acres to date, according to the Senate Floor Analysis of SB 707 by Sen. Anthony Cannella, a Ceres Republican.

The California Olive Oil Council supported the measure.

Brown, a Democrat, signed the bill but accompanied it with the following message:

“The author vouches for this fee by stressing the need to ensure that olives are ‘healthy and viable for California farmers.’ I agree.

“Perhaps the author and his colleagues might apply the same solicitude – and revenue – to ensure the health and viability of our schools?”

This appears to be a not-so-veiled slap at Republican lawmakers who refused to embrace Brown’s proposal to extend some $11 billion in temporary taxes for an additional five years  — with voter approval.

The budget signed by Brown on June 30 kept public schools at roughly the same level as the previous year, in contrast to three previous years of reductions totaling more than $14 billion.

Cannella didn’t vote for the budget but he does come from a Central Valley district that has 18 percent more Democratic registration than Republican: 49.6 percent to 31.5 percent.

The newly drawn district lines for Cannella’s seat in 2014, should be choose to run for re-election, give Democrats a 19 percent advantage.

Logically, it would seem that a Republican senator – in the house that failed to approve Brown’s proposed tax break package during the closing hours of the legislative session — would be someone the Democratic governor should cultivate.

Not needlessly needle with a snide signing message.

This sort of gratuitous jibe might be more appropriately directed at Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, a Laguna Niguel Republican, who would never side with Brown even if the alternative were slow and excruciating execution by being forced to listen to an endless loop of her floor speeches.

The message also is sloppy penmanship.

When Brown says “the author and his colleagues” the well-informed reader infers that he means Republican lawmakers – assuming the reader knows who the author of the bill is and that he is, in fact, a Republican.

A reader coming to the signing message cold might assume the author’s colleagues are fellow lawmakers, both Republican and Democratic.

Or, potentially, supporters of the olive tree bill such as its co-author Sen. Lois Wolk, a Davis Democrat.

Strategic questions aside, the signing message is plain old bad manners.

And while politics is admittedly a brutal contact sport played in nice threads, it is one that should always be played using good manners.



1 Comment »

  1. Civility, it seems was lost when term limits came in. Knowing that you will only see a person for a set period of time has made being snide, insensitive, and crude acceptable behavior. Party politics and outside control of politicians by powerful special interest groups, has replaced character. While everyone hated Willie at least while he was running the store a person word meant something, and attempts to work together were common place.

    Comment by Management Slug — 9.28.2011 @ 9:17 am

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