Bill Mueller: For Trump, we should prove, not provoke

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Valley Vision Executive Director Bill Mueller at the 2016 California Economic Summit (Photo Credit: Skip Jones/CA Fwd)

Editor's Note: Originally published on Valley Vision, regional host of the 2016 California Economic Summit. Executive Director Bill Mueller is also co-chair of the California Stewardship Network, co-organizer of the Summit. 

Sacramento was the host region for the 5th Annual California Economic Summit in December. Serving as co-chair, I was part of a number of behind-the-scenes meetings, including a small dinner featuring a talk by Jim Brulte, the chair of the California Republican Party, and the former Senate GOP leader. In a decidedly blue state, it was a cagey move to learn from one of the smartest GOP strategists in the state – and one close to then President-elect Donald Trump – about the road ahead for economic, social, and environmental policy.

In truth, the best insights Brulte gave were not on policy (although there were plenty), but on politics. 

“I just don't get it,” he started. “You have a President-elect who has proven he is the most effective counter-punch politician in history. When provoked, his unapologetic style has crushed his most skilled and tested detractors. Knowing this, why would you provoke him? Brulte asked. Why would some California politicians go out of their way to taunt him, as has happened recently? He does not wake up thinking about California…he's thinking instead about building a team and focusing on unleashing the US economy. But, make no mistake, he will focus on California…if punched.” 

Brulte is on to something here.

What if we were to take a different approach with the new President? Experience teaches that it is hard to take issue with a person, an organization, or even an entire state if you can demonstrate that things are working and that you are making a difference in peoples' lives. Someone can try to run you down, but the truth will win out sooner or later, and rally others.

At Valley Vision we believe deeply in the power of proof. Using hard facts. Peer reviewed data. It is part of our DNA, the starting place for all our efforts, and the rudder that steers us until we achieve the desired result for our client and for our community. Hard facts, that is, and a conscious effort to leave our own bias at the door so that we can learn from the truth we uncover.  

Likewise, this region, and the 18 others in California and the state as a whole, should be measuring and documenting local, regional, or statewide efforts that demonstrate results – the success conditions for people to find their own path to upward mobility and success. We need to show why the California experiment is working – the bold experiment that values economic as well as environmental and social progress – using data and proof. Equally true, we need to be honest where this experiment is coming up short, like in the areas of affordable housing, infrastructure investment, and preparing people for life in a tech-driven economy. We are a remarkably ingenious state with a wealth of smart leaders and strong organizations. It is not a boast to say the future of the world is being built here. 

So as Mr. Trump becomes President Trump, we should not provoke for provocation’s sake. It will get us nowhere (or worse) over the long term. It's time we take deliberate steps to PROVE, using solid evidence, that California and its regions have found a better path to improving peoples' lives that is worth emulating. It starts, as all good things do, with smart work that involves hundreds if not thousands. It ends with results that can be proven. As the saying goes, it is hard to argue with success.


Bill Mueller is Chief Executive of Valley Vision, a civic leadership organization headquartered in Sacramento serving 5 million residents in Northern California.


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