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Story by Steve Sebelius
‘You can make 100 great moves in life, and the 101st can be deadly Sig Rogich on the lessons of a lifetime around influence
Sig Rogich is a man well-acquainted with influence. He’s counseled presidents, governors, senators and congressmen. He’s served as special assistant to President George H.W. Bush, accompanying him on foreign trips and enjoying a second-floor West Wing office. He’s been a Nevada university regent, a member of the Nevada Athletic Commission and the United States ambassador to Iceland, where he was born.
The founder of R&R Partners, the company later famous for the “What happens here, stays here” slogan, Rogich has partnered with some of Nevada’s most influential people (legendary lobbyist Jim Joyce) and their national counterparts, too (image-maker Roger Ailes). He’s counted Frank Sinatra among his clients, and he’s been solicited to run for statewide office himself.
Rogich has advised Nevada Govs. Mike O’Callaghan, Bob List and Jim Gibbons. He’s helped senators including Paul Laxalt and Harry Reid. (A longtime Republican, Rogich broke party ranks and formed Republicans for Reid in 2010 when the GOP nominated Tea Party darling Sharron Angle for Senate.) He’s a rare breed: a moderate Republican willing to stand up to libertarians and tea partiers alike.
He recently shared a few of his insights on influence with Desert Companion.
I always tell people, if you think you have influence, the first thing you do is you don’t talk about it. And the second thing you do is you never take interviews about influence.
If you’re in a position to meet decision-makers you have to have a relationship that’s trustworthy. You have to lay all the cards on the table.
I’ve almost always, that I can remember, given the other side of the story, because inevitably, they’re going to hear it from the opposition. So when I ask for assistance, I’ll say “Here’s why I think you should support this endeavor, and here’s what it means, and others are going to tell you this.”
I think it’s smart to tell both sides.
You have to have a track record of doing the right things. I think you have to have a history of reasonable accomplishment, whether in the community or beyond, to get in the door. And I think you have to have some success, built into it, so people know they’re dealing with somebody who has the ability to get things done and doesn’t have a history of any problems along the way.
The people who have the most influence with the president, I always felt, were the ones who weren’t asking him for so much all the time, and who had a track record of success in the things they had done.
The other thing is, you can make 100 great moves in life, and the 101st can be deadly and kill you, so you have to be on your feet all of the time when you’re asking for other people’s support.
In today’s world, you have to be able to talk to both sides of the aisle. They have to know you’re not such a shrill partisan.
The Internet is the essence of strength for civilization and it might be its downfall, because people never have a moment to pause and reflect.
The essence of government is consensus-building, if you look at it, and any way you cut it, you have to get there. That’s why these Tea Party guys have got it wrong.
My friend (former Pennsylvania governor and secretary of the Department of Homeland Security) Tom Ridge … said recently that Americans are more conservative than liberal, but they’re more practical than ideological.
That’s what Republicans have to understand, these Tea Party people have to know that you have to have tolerance for people who are different, gay rights and people who are born different.
I never lost my respect for the Oval Office or going into the West Wing every morning. It was a touch of history, I knew it. It’s funny, I never thought as much about the fact that I was there than I thought about all the people who’d been there before me.
I don’t think it ever went to my head. I was always afraid that someone like you would write that it went to my head, you know?
Once you become a lightning rod, you lose the ability to communicate with some of those very people. So I worked overtime to make sure that I didn’t pat myself on the back. I always tried to diminish my role as much as I could.
When you become the story instead of the guy you’re trying to get elected or the guy you helped get elected, you know that something’s haywire and there’s too much of you in it and not enough of the person who should be in it.
Jim Joyce used to say that all the time when he and I were partners, years ago. Jim would say, "What’s one basic rule that you have to live by when you’re in this business?" Jim would say, "Never lie to the press." Because if you do, you blow it forever.
The president (George W. Bush) invited me to a dinner at the White House, and I sat with him … and I think the president said, “Can you tell me a couple of things that you think we should have done differently?” We were just having a fun conversation. Well, I said, first of all I think it was a mistake to have your domestic affairs adviser be your political adviser, that was Karl Rove, I said because those two should be fighting. … And he said, “What’s the second thing?” And I said, I don’t think it’s smart to have a lame-duck vice president. A lame-duck vice president means they’re not running for president, so the political apparatus suffers.
I’ve never done (Facebook). I don’t even know how to Twitter.
I could never get through a primary, because I helped Harry Reid. I know that. If I was on a general-election ballot, I probably would win, Democrats and Republicans in the mainstream would support me. But it’s part of the price. But I don’t have any desire to run for office.
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