Blaise Caudill (2014)
Public Affairs Analyst
Southwest Gas Corporation
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1. Can you please describe your work and how public policy impacts how you manage your organization?
Working public affairs/government relations is like the perfect mix of going on endless first dates, being a walking encyclopedia and phonebook, and hosting a really large party where no one knows each other. Luckily, I really love first dates and parties.
As a lobbyist, I am really thankful to have the opportunity to solve real problems that directly impact our community by closing the loop with elected officials, decision makers, and key stakeholders. I serve as a problem-solving catalyst for your every day Southwest Gas customer to not only navigate our internal service systems, but the systems of government and public policy that can be wildly confusing and disenfranchising. Likewise, I have the privilege of being able to connect our internal staff with outside stakeholders to problem solve. More, I provide education on what Southwest Gas is doing on key emerging issues within energy like renewable natural gas and carbon-negative energy.
By far, though, my favorite aspect of what I do is being able to genuinely engage with and meet people from all walks of life. People are fascinating to me and being able to meet with so many people, hear their stories, and learn from their lived experiences is what drives me and gives me joy.
As a utility, public policy has a profound impact on how Southwest Gas operates. Every policy that touches the domains of energy, sustainability, labor, infrastructure, and as of this past session, the Arizona Corporation Commission, has a direct impact on how we are able to supply homes and businesses with energy.
2. How has the Fellows Network been useful to you?
The Fellows Network has been the gateway of opportunity for all of my post-graduate school jobs. Through the Network, I either was introduced to individuals involved with hiring for a position, heard about a position, or was offered a position. And now, in my current role, the Network serves as the first place I go to when I have a question about a particular policy or am looking to connect with someone within another organization.
More importantly, though, the Fellows Network has given me the space to meet people and build life-long relationships that have fostered my maturity, fueled my confidence, and inspired my joy. I have met people and built relationships I would have never otherwise met through the Network—from completely different walks of life, parts of the state, and opposite end of the political spectrum, all because of our shared love of Arizona and public service.
My very first session, I felt completely lost. I felt like a huge mistake had been made, that I was way out of my water, and that there was no way I should have been in that room. Over the years, through the relationships built and the opportunities from the Network, I came to own my confidence and own my vision. Now, when I walk into a room, I know I belong. In a very real way, I am the person I am today because of the relationships forged out of this Network.
3. What do you see as potential opportunities strengthening civic health in Arizona?
Just yesterday, I was at the dog park and overheard a group of young professionals talking about their first impressions of Arizona. It seemed that all five of them had recently moved to the state and were each in the process of managing their first day above 110 degrees. The group, made of apparent strangers, were building a community around their new, hot, home. As they left, they exchanged numbers and planned a forthcoming happy hour.
Whereas it can be easy to write this off as young professionals just networking, this actually demonstrates so much about strengthening civic health. According to multiple reports from the Center for Active Design, the Knight Foundation, the William Penn Foundation, and the JPB Foundation, fostering community through shared public spaces that promote accidental, yet essential, meetings is key to improving civic health. In those shared spaces, people build community, learn to understand each other, and ultimately care for each other, despite potential differences, because of a shared love and ownership of community.
Yes, we must continue with traditional civic health initiatives like increasing voter registration and citizen forums. In a state like Arizona, though, where to be born and raised in the state is considered a rarity, we must focus on building these shared public spaces first. We cannot expect a new Arizonan to be automatically engaged and passionate about voting in their city council district or volunteering with a local nonprofit without first providing opportunities for them to know their neighbors and fall in love with the same sunsets, the same mountains, and the same state that we all in the Network have, too.
f you missed a Fellows’ Spotlight, you can view them on the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership website now.