Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership Style: Building Political Relationships

BOND: Now, do you have a different leadership style when you're dealing with an all-black group, a mixed group, or a white group? Are you different on these occasions?

LEE: I don't think so. I think the cultural aspects may come out a little bit more when I'm with an African American group. I mean, you know, there's certain kinds of dynamics that operate there that African Americans — because of who we are as African people — get and understand, but I think in terms of what I say and what I do and my agenda, part of this is about building coalitions so you've got to be kind of —

BOND: You mentioned working with Jim Leach, the Republican from Iowa.

LEE: Oh, yeah, and Chris Smith, who's a Republican from New Jersey. I have very good relationships with a lot of Republicans. When I was in the California legislature, Governor Wilson, Pete Wilson, Republican, signed at least seventy-some of my bills into law. I think I was probably one of the few Democrats that got so many really substantive bills signed into California state law. And that, I think, is because —

BOND: It's a good feeling, isn't it, when the governor signs your bill?

LEE: Oh, God, I love it. I even have the pens.

BOND: When I was in the Georgia legislature, oh —

LEE: It is a good feeling.

BOND: Let's not digress, let's not digress.

LEE: No, especially when you have to work so hard. I mean, with Pete Wilson it was really hard to get him to sign my bills, but, you know what the key was, I was an African American and so I came with some legitimacy and a woman so I had a certain perspective that he didn't have and I convinced the legislature of it, on whatever issue it was, and I was progressive, which meant that I started way out there to the left. Pete Wilson was way to the right, and so he had to negotiate with me. I didn't start here in the center. There was no place to go if I had started I the center and so that again, being black, being progressive, being a woman, can have its advantages when you're trying to get something done.