Dion Aroner
Dion Aroner (Photo by Charlotte Cusack)
Tell me about your journey to your current profession.

I was born in San Francisco, moved to Los Angeles for high school, and returned to the Bay Area to attend University of California-Berkeley, where I majored in Political Science. I graduated in 1966 and chose to work at the Alameda County Welfare Department in Hayward, where I provided services to elderly women and families with severe economic and family issues. It was an experience that impacted me for the rest of my life, and these particular populations of people are who I have continued to advocate for over the years.

It was in the 70s that the Bay Area's political landscape began to change. Nationally, the Civil Rights Movements was going on, the Women's Movement was just starting, and public employees were beginning to organize for the first time. I became president of the California Social Workers Union Local 535, affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. We helped Ken Meade get elected to the California State Assembly in our first political effort. It was during this time that I met Tom Bates, the current mayor of Berkeley, who was managing Meade's campaign, and who later ran for the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. I left the welfare department and went to work for Tom as a campaign aide. Tom won a seat on the Board in 1972, and I joined his staff.

We were at the Board for four years, and then Tom decided to run for Meade's Assembly seat. Tom got elected, and I joined him on his staff, eventually becoming as Chief of Staff. We worked together for 20 years in Sacramento. When Tom was termed out, I ran for his seat and won, and I served for six years in the legislature. My current business partners, Elisabeth Jewel and Barbara Ellis, both worked for me when I was an Assemblywoman, and together we founded AJE Partners in 2003 after I left the legislature. We formed the firm with the idea that we could continue to have an impact on the very systems we had impacted from inside, only now from the outside.

What are your duties?

AJE Partners assists clients in the legislative and regulatory arenas by providing information and consultation on specific bills or a broad legislative strategy. The firm provides local government lobbying, community outreach, media relations and relationship building. Our client base in the health and human service arena ranges from multi-national corporations to community based non-profits. The reason they might come to someone like me is because of my expertise in the area of social services. Also, what they're looking for is not only my intellectual property, but my long-time relationships and how those connections might benefit them.

What's your advice to pursing a career as a lobbyist?

A college degree is always helpful, but it's not a requirement to get into this industry or politics. In the lobbying world, internships are hugely beneficial; understanding how government works and working within that realm is excellent training. As a lobbyist, you need a capacity to understand systems quickly, sift through lots of information at once and decide how to help your client change policy in the best possible way. Strong communication skills are essential; plus, when writing and speaking, you need to be clear and succinct when getting your point across.

As a paid professional lobbyist, we're required to register with the state of California, and we are regulated by the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Why do you love your work?

Having been involved in policy development for a very long time, I can see my fingerprints over a large body of work. For example, I was privileged to be a major force in developing welfare reform here in California as well as improving child welfare policies. I think what's kept me going all this time was that we were going forward; we were making significant changes in order to change people's lives. That makes you feel good - knowing you're doing the right thing. In my work today in the "third house," a.k.a lobbying, you don't win all the battles on behalf of your clients, but I feel like I am still helping the state make progress. I genuinely believe that what I am fighting for on behalf of my clients is right. While I can't promise a desired result, I can do the very best job for them every day and make a difference.

If you would like to be considered for a career profile or want to nominate someone, e-mail Charlotte Cusack at ccusack@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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