Tyler Blackney

DIRECTOR OR LEGISLATIVE AND REGULATORY AFFAIRS AT THE WINE INSTITUTE

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to the AgSnacc Podcast where we take a look at careers in agriculture and the journey toward those careers. I’m your host, Erin Gorter, and we hope you enjoy this tasty AgSnacc.

 

Erin Gorter:

So we are here with Tyler Blackney, director of legislative and regulatory affairs with the Wine Institute. Hello, Tyler.

 

Tyler Blackney:

Hello, Erin, how are you?

 

Erin Gorter:

I'm fantastic. So we like to start out here with you giving a description of what you do for a living and kind of what your typical day looks like at work.

 

Tyler Blackney:

So what I do for a living is not easily explainable. I am a governmental advocate or a lobbyist for an association that represents California wineries. That's the Wine Institute. Wine Institute represents about 1000 California wineries. Everything from the big guys to very small guys, everything in between. So kind of day to day, we are advocating on their behalf at the California State Legislature or at the regulatory agencies trying to affect or change or try to stop bad laws from coming into effect. And those issue areas are going from things you're going to be seeing in the vineyards to things you're going to be seeing in manufacturing, whether it's labor, whether it's environmental, water issues, land use issues, pesticide crop protection, material issues, the whole bit. And so, you know, things can kind of vary, depending on the year because the legislature is on a cycle to think things kind of change. But generally, my day is going to be either drafting materials or talking to legislators, their staff or regulatory agency heads, to try to convince them that what we want to do or what we don't want to have happen, in fact occurs. I know that's kind of confusing. The best way I like to kind of explain it is that rather than being an attorney, whose job is to try to argue to a judge what the law should be interpreted to be, I tried to actually change the law itself. And so it can vary, like I said, from day to day, There's all sorts of nuances here. But you know, that's kind of just the basis of it, talking to legislators, talking to regulators, and trying to change the law so that it benefits California wineries and so we can live and thrive in the state of California.

 

Erin Gorter:

And drink wine. 

 

Tyler Blackney:

And drink wine.

 

Erin Gorter:

Yeah. And so what was your high school experience life kind of like? Did, were you in sports? Extracurricular activities? Did you take special classes?

Tyler Blackney:

All of that. So I grew up in Woodland. Well, I say I grew up in Woodland, but I have a very complicated family life. So when my parents got a divorce, I moved from Napa, where I was born, to Orange Vale. Went there till about fifth grade then moved to Woodland. So my most impressionable time of life was in Woodland. And throughout high school, I played baseball, we had a pretty good baseball program at the time, go Wolfs. But I was also very much into school. My mother was very pressing upon me that education was first and foremost. My father was also very supportive of school, but also he was very much into the baseball aspect of it too. But I, growing up in Woodland, while it’s an agricultural community, I my, neither of my parents were in agriculture. Both my grandparents came from agricultural households, so it was an influence on my life. But I took a lot of advanced courses, I was kind of a math geek, a little bit of a science geek. But I also took classes like welding, auto shop, and an AP class. So it was a kind of a mix of everything. Throughout high school, I also did work. I had a hodgepodge of a number of jobs throughout my entire life. But in high school, I started off like a lot of people do working at a restaurant. Worked washing dishes, doing prep cook stuff at a barbecue house, pretty good. Got a lot of free food that way, which is good for a high school kid. But then I also actually worked at a shoe store, selling shoes, but they also had a cobbler shop in the back. So got to help in making shoes or fixing shoes, which is kind of an interesting experience. And then I also worked at a corn maze. So lot of interesting stuff built in there, which, I don't know, kind of shaped how I viewed life. Work hard and try to find things that are fun and you have fun doing.

 

Erin Gorter:

So while you are participating in all of these really cool jobs such as cobbling, which I don't think I've ever met a cobbler before. What did you really want to be when you grew up? Like in high school? What was your career dream? 

 

Tyler Blackney:

Oh, gosh. So this is where things get interesting for me because I had no idea really. I can tell you what I thought I wanted to do. So I did go to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. But I went as a mathematics major. My grandpa was a math teacher. And so there was kind of this expectation that you're going to be an engineer. You’re going to something in science and in tech, and I was good at math, but it was never a passion of mine. I always really liked kind of history and more political science type stuff. That's what I excelled in. But I went into college because I was the first in my direct line of family to go to college, at least my parents guess my grandpa did go to Chico State. That's why he's a math teacher. But my parents, neither of them went to college. So there's this kind of idea of what college should be. And so when I was in college, I honestly didn't do that great. And I was mainly because I was in a major that I didn't necessarily like or appreciate, which was mathematics. I did at one point, think that I wanted to move into like earth science, I started mining and geology, and took some soil science classes and some other kind of Ag related classes for the geology minor. But long story short, I had no freaking clue what I wanted to do with my life in college. I didn't even know after college, what I wanted to do with my life. While in college, I worked at restaurants as well. And I bar tended and I did that for a little while after school. And then I started working for an attorney. From there, I decided, well, law is kind of cool. To date myself, if the years 2008. So we're in the throes of the Great Recession, there weren't a lot of job opportunities and coming out of college, generally. But I decided that I was going to go to law school. So I study for the LSATs, went to law school, again, going to law school, not really knowing what I wanted to do. But knowing that seems like something that's fun, and I enjoy it. And then ended up getting into politics. And that's kind of how I ended up doing what I do now. 

 

Erin Gorter:

So after law school, did you end up directly at the wine Institute, or were there other jobs in between?

 

Tyler Blackney:

I can kind of fill in some gaps, actually. So while I was in law school, I kind of started focusing again, had this in my back of my mind, like mathematics, science, technology. That's what I have to do, because that's what people have told me I needed to do to be successful. And while I was there, I met somebody in law school, who I was friends with, they had some friends who actually worked in the White House under the current president at that time. Probably do the dates based off of when I went, but they worked in the White House. And so they did kind of advance work for the administration, which is basically they go in advance of whenever the president, vice president, First Lady, Second Lady are traveling, they go and set up all the arrangements, they basically set up all that needs to be done for the event that they're going to be there for whether it's political, or whether it's going to be a campaign event, and they're doing a big rally. Whatever it is, they go in advance and set it up. So I had the kind of fortunate ability to be able to volunteer when they came to the Bay Area, because that's whereI was going to law school. And so I got this really cool experience of being able to drive a car and a presidential motorcade, and that kind of sent me down this path of like wanting to be in politics. And so my mind kind of shifted from the tech and went, you know what, I'm just going to do what I want to do. And so when I got back from doing kind of these, one started off as volunteer, then it became kind of a paid event and I got to go to different states and do advanced work, set up political campaign rallies, I came back and there's this cool program that the law school did where you can go to Sacramento, you can work for a legislator, and you can take classes in Sacramento. And so I started working under this kind of internship program. With Assemblymember Luis Alejo. He represented Monterey, Salinas Valley, San Benito, Santa Cruz, which included kind of the more rural agricultural areas of Watsonville. And then a little bit San Mateo too, and I kind of was focused on working on agricultural issues for him. And then working with him through that and kind of rising up in the ranks in his office, I started becoming close with the folks who worked at the California Association for Wine Grape Growers. So where I now currently with the Wine Institute represent California wineries, they represented more of the grower interests and something I kind of skipped in some of the intro stuff was that I do have family who grew grapes in the Lodi area in the Delta area. And there were a couple summers in college and then even law school where I worked for them so I had an understanding of some of the things you do in the fields and you know, tending to vines and growing grapes. So I just kind of happened to blend in well with the California Association Wine Grape Growers. And so when a spot opened up there, I went there. And then about for about a year and a half their spot opened up at the Wine Institute, which is where I've now been for four years.

 

Erin Gorter:

That’s a good story. So in your job, what is like your favorite part about your day.

 

Tyler Blackney:

So I was probably the most social mathematics major at all of Cal Poly, at least I think I was. So it's the social aspect of my job. I get to talk to people, that's my job. I always like to joke. So for those of you who are Game of Thrones fans, Tyrion Lannister is like the ultimate lobbyist. He says I drink and know things. That's kind of what my job can entail. At times, I basically get to go enjoy things and have fun, but a lot of its information gathering, because I may not know how to do something, but if I know the person who does know how to do something, that's huge, that's beneficial. And I can then relay that to my members, hey, we need to get something done, we need this regulation changed. It's really making things hard for our business, I'd be like, well actually know somebody at that agency. Let's get you in contact with them and see if we can't figure out this problem that you're facing. So my favorite aspect is the social aspect of it, I get to meet a lot of really cool, interesting people. Yes, politics is a very partisan game. But you know, the position I'm in, and I have to be very bipartisan, so I get to meet people from all stripes, colors, differing views, opinions, and, you know, get to take that all in.

 

Erin Gorter:

So what's the most challenging part about it?

 

Tyler Blackney:

Also, the partisanship aspect of it. You know, it's tough. I mean, I represent California businesses. And, you know, California is heavily skewed democratic. And there are a lot of pressures on businesses to, whether it's labor or environmental practices, to do things and, you know, makes it harder and harder for businesses to operate in California. And sometimes you just feel like you're on the losing end. You know, there's a glimmer of hope and all of it, and I think we'll all survive and do well. But, you know, you worked in politics, it's gonna be frustrating at times.

 

Erin Gorter:

For sure. So I don't know, I might be able to guess the answer to this question. But I could be wrong. So we're in the business of producing, managing and marketing, the distribution of food. What is your favorite agricultural commodity?

 

Tyler Blackney:

Of course, wine.

 

Erin Gorter:

Do you have to say that as a part of your position?

 

Tyler Blackney:

I don't have to say, well, so it's really easy for me to say that. What gets really hard for me to say was when somebody asks me, what's your favorite wine? Then I have to say, all of my members are my babies. And I love them all equally. So that's, yeah.

 

Erin Gorter:

Very good. That's very, very diplomatic of you. So in thinking about other, like high school students, are there any types of internships or maybe not necessarily internships, but job shadowing opportunities, or volunteer opportunities that high school students can participate in to learn more about the type of work that you do for a living?

 

Tyler Blackney:

Absolutely, I think, I wish I would have taken some opportunities. When I was younger, I grew up in Woodland. 15, 20 minutes away from Sacramento. You know, talk to your state, or local representatives, and just ask to be able to intern. You know, even if you have no desire to go into politics, just understanding and knowing how your government works, is hugely beneficial. If anything, it'll just give you a different perspective of what it's like to be, you know, quote, unquote, public servant, and, you know, represent your community. So, you know, probably the easiest thing to do when you're high school, just because it wouldn't require much driving, you can either, you know, work for a city council member, county supervisor. You can reach out to your state assembly member, Senator, you can potentially work in their district office. District office is going to be doing mostly constituent services. So basically, if somebody in the community has a problem, they're going to call that office and you try to find ways to help them. And, you know, you can work on issue areas that are interesting to you. You know, it runs the gamut. I mean, it everything that we do in society, government's touching in some way, whether it's, you know, business interests, whether it's labor interests, whether it's civil justice, you know, whether it's, you know, water, environment. You name an issue, and it's going to be impacted by government, and people are gonna, you know, need help kind of navigating the governmental channels.

 

Erin Gorter:

Yeah, and I think that's good advice. Because sometimes we only think of government at a federal or state level when there's local opportunities that we can get involved in to learn more about the process and how it works.

 

Tyler Blackney:

Yeah. And, you know, interestingly, I think most people focus so heavily on the federal government because it's just in our face on the 24 hour news cycle. But I would want to even just argue, I would say that, you know, the more local government gets, the more of an impact it's going to have on your life. This, the federal government only has as much power as the Constitution gives it. Everything else is left to the states. So the states have so much more power to enact laws. That affects your day to day life. So, you know, if there's opportunities to intern in a state representative office, I recommend taking it. And you know, even if you have differing views, and that's, you know, politically as those individuals, you know, things can kind of change your mind, open up your, your perspective and your views, and you'll learn something,

 

Erin Gorter:

For sure. So what changes do you think are going to happen in the next 20 years that will impact the type of work you do that would kind of like point towards some skills that high school students can start working on now, work on developing now.

 

Tyler Blackney:

Other than just technical, logical changes in this zoom type interface and emailing I don't think lobbying has changed much in the last 20 years. And I don't think it'll change much in the next 20 years. Kind of the nice thing we always kind of joke about is we cannot be replaced by robots. That is a fact. So what will change clearly is the political structures and dynamics. And I mean, the best you can be at the job I do is to just be open minded. I mean, clearly, people have points of view, and they want to advocate for something, which is good. I mean, you should have, you know, strong views, and you should want to advocate for what's going to be in your best interests. But you know, just try to learn as much as you can. Know history, you know, and be open to all sides. Might learn something.

 

Erin Gorter:

All right, last question, the heavy one. If you could go back to high school Tyler, what is the number one piece of advice you would give yourself?

 

Tyler Blackney:

Don't be stupid. No, honestly, like I said, I had no clue what I really wanted to do growing up, you think you do. You think you have an idea in your mind of what your future is going to be and what you need to do to get there. And just be open minded along the way, be able to pivot and just know that things are going to work out. I think kids, especially when I was a kid, you know, you focus so much on kind of the short term, but you have this idea of what the long term should be. And just looking at the long term of if I work hard doors are gonna open. And, you know, that's what I would have probably told myself, don't think you know what the future is. Work hard, things will happen.

 

Erin Gorter:

Good advice. Good advice. Well, thank you. Once again, this is Tyler Blackney, the director of legislative and regulatory affairs with the Wine Institute. Thank you, Tyler.

 

Tyler Blackney:

Thank you, Erin.


Thank you for listening to this AgSnacc, a production of the Brock Center for Agricultural Communication at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in collaboration with the South Coast Region Agricultural Education Consortium. For more information, please visit our website at www.agsnacc.com. That’s www.a-g-s-n-a-c-c.com.