CASE STUDY: MEDIA DRIVEN POLITICAL ACTION
HOW DO YOU PASS LEGISLATION TO SETTLE A 13-YEAR-OLD POLITICAL DISPUTE IN 22 DAYS?
REFRAME THE DEBATE: FROM AN INTRODUCTORY OP-ED TO THE GOVERNOR SIGNING THE BILL INTO LAW
T MINUS 30 DAYS UNTIL EGGMAGGEDON STRIKES THE COMMONWEALTH!
As I started my second book launch for Secret Stories, first published in November 2021, I was planning with our long-time Boston based Excellent Media and Government Relations Firm O’Neill-Seven Letter to complement what I was doing with Advantage-Forbesbooks nationally.
What started-off being what we thought, just a book promotion tour, quickly became a focus on us as an expert in Consumer, Food, and Agricultural industry analysis for the media. You see, the political dispute about fixing the voter referendum passed in 2016 wasn’t settling. In 30 days the language voted on in 2016 that was due to take effect on January 1, 2022, and when it did it would be illegal in Massachusetts to sell almost all eggs not laid in state. The referendum language was out of sync with what had become a national standard for the treatment of egg-laying hens. Complicating the discussions, the Massachusetts House had passed a bill allowing the Pork Industry additional time to comply with the referendum’s requirements, while the Senate did not include that provision in its bill.
When I initially wrote the book Secret Stories I did not believe that allowing an additional one-year phase-in to allow for COVID-related construction delays to pork stalls would create an impediment to resolution. I was involved with QC Supply and there were serious issues in getting pork housing built during the pandemic and financing was affected as well. I thought that the House and Senate would simply and quickly split the difference and move on. That did not happen. You see some see compromise is a sign of weakness.
The Pork industry has not worked well with allied industry, as noted in Chapter 6 of Secret Stories, nor with Humane Groups and their duly elected friends among State and Federal Representatives. Sources told me that there was a specific State Senator who was key in the legislature’s end of year informal session in which 100% consensus—known as Unanimous Consent—is required. It appeared that Senator may have been OK with letting the matter continue into the New Year with food disruption chaos before giving the Pork industry what they asked for and that the House passed. There were also entrenched Massachusetts Farm Bureau activists who felt similarly about letting it go to a full crisis. Relationships matter.
Chapters 6 and 7 of Secret Stories, which discuss the Incubation and Acceleration of Cage Free Nation and Civil Wars Break-Out in Massachusetts became a focal primer that educated, focused, and galvanized the media towards the issue.
Further, in order to reframe and change the debate on the issue as “Exhibit T-30 A” shows, I drafted this opinion column in Bruce Mohl’s Commonwealth Magazine with the aid of Andy Paven and Ann Murphy of Seven Letter-O’Neill and Associates, which published on December 1, 2022.
It was this piece that started the mainstream media’s strong interest. According to Bill Bell, the General Manager of the New England Brown Egg Council, this was the catalyst that caused the Boston Globe to come forth with its own editorial that adopted many of the points I had made in my Commonwealth piece, as well as the reporting of one of its own reporters, Emma Platoff. Then Bill Bell characterized what came next as a “missile launch” as every major news outlet followed the Globe. We believed that best way to get the Globe’s attention was to go elsewhere first, and it worked!
During the week of December 12, 2021 as supply chain deadlines approached, and after snowstorms had briefly distracted local media, I joined Globe reporter Emma Platoff to tape an in-depth segment on the PBS Television’s WBGH’s Greater Boston program, with host Sue O’Connell providing us the airtime to explain the issue in great detail.
By that time, the question was no longer if there was going to be disruption of the food supply, but rather how much, with residents now being warned that they would have to travel to neighboring states to buy eggs and likely pork products as we were within the supply chains’ 7-15-day window of getting orders in warehouses before the January 1, 2022 deadline of the new law. Governor Charlie Baker issued a public statement asking the Legislature to compromise and quickly send him the legislation.
Another result of the disruption was that the poor, and the neighborhood breakfast places that had already suffered through COVID shutdowns, would take it on the chin without eggs and pork products. On Saturday December 18, 2021, Adrian Walker, metro columnist at the
Boston Globe, weighed in after interviewing me while I was traveling with my son see the New England Patriots play in Indianapolis.
Intelligent common sense and media scrutiny was too much as the legislature was facing a future food revolt by the citizenry fueled by the media.
ON THE LEGISLATIVE SIDE:
Since it was at the end of the year, the House and Senate were in informal session which required unanimous consent. The one representative who initially voted against the Bill, Susannah Whipps from Athol, Massachusetts, announced that she was going to vote yes and not impede the process.
I characterize this as a person perhaps being aligned with the Massachusetts Farm Bureau caving. So, the House was moving on getting the thing settled. The Senate was another matter entirely. The Senate hadn’t included the Pork Extension in its version of the Bill, and frankly a Senator that was instrumental in the efforts in getting the initial legislation and referendum passed may have been outside of the country during normal informal session and perhaps holiday vacation time. Further, the pork industry at times takes a hard line on animal rights issues as espoused in Chapter 6 of Secret Stories so Humane Advocates have a hard time cutting them any slack. I get it. Let them go to Nashua, Providence, Hartford, Brattleboro, or Albany for eggs and bacon, or eat let them eat Veggie Burgers instead of settling. That’s exactly what some interest groups wanted as well. Legislators though may have been able to operate via zoom, and all legislators that perhaps were away may have been informed about the drumbeat of media scrutiny and the will of the people was getting too much. The rationale and reasoning that espoused hashing things out in a New England way such as Town Meeting and settling issues rather than intransigence, is something that the vast majority of citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts believe in, as did the media. The Legislature was facing a likely food rebellion by the citizenry and had to address it.
One day after Adrian Walker’s column went to print in the Globe, the Senate and House came to an agreement on a Sunday night agreeing to give the pork industry 7.5 months to comply, while amended language conforming to national standards about egg-laying hens would take effect on January 1, 2022. The deal will “ensure a stable and affordable egg and pork supply in the Commonwealth that honors the will of the voters.” Said Jason M. Lewis, Senator, and Carolyn C. Dykema, Representative who led the talks between the branches according to Matt Stout’s reporting in the Boston Globe. Bill Bell the General Manager of the New England Brown Egg Council was quoted in the article as saying “it is puzzling why it took so long … but the fat lady is approaching the microphone.”
According to Chris Lisinksi of NBCBoston.com, on December 22, 2021, Governor Charlie Baker signed the Bill into Law and stated, “I signed the egg bill. I got cracking. We unscrambled all of the information in it, and it’s signed.”
And the yolks keep coming.
Author, “Secret Stories of Leadership, Growth, and Innovation-
Sustainable Transformation to a Safer, New, and Better World.”