Volume 7, Number 3, 1998

Tasting the sunshine in California produce

There hasn't been a dull moment for Kevin Herglotz since he graduated from the University with a degree in human resources in 1991. His career has been somewhat of a roller-coaster ride, punctuated by sudden changes in direction-from press assistant in George Bush's re-election campaign to hotel doorman to a prominent position in California's executive branch.

As assistant secretary for public affairs of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), Herglotz directs all media relations, public education and outreach activities for the $200 million agency. "My job is to tell everyone about our success in agriculture, so that, when they think of California, something more than Hollywood and Disneyland comes to mind," Herglotz says.

"Not only does California produce more than half of the country's fruits, nuts and vegetables, we're also the number-one dairy state, the number-two cotton state and we produce nearly 50 percent of the nation's flowers and nursery products."

When he was appointed to his position in 1995 by California Gov. Pete Wilson, Herglotz inherited a $30,000 annual operating budget. He has since increased that budget to $700,000, expanding CDFA's public outreach programs in three main areas-plant and animal pest and disease prevention, food safety and nutrition.

"To me, it seems only natural that the nation's leading producer of fruits and vegetables should promote healthy eating among its consumers," Herglotz says. To this end, he and his staff have created a marketing slogan and logo, encouraging both residents and nonresidents to "Taste the Sunshine" in California produce.

Herglotz' team is working
this year to spread its message further by staffing booths at fairs, festivals and other public forums. A traveling van will bring activities (including a children's game on making wise food choices) directly to schools, shopping centers and other community sites in major metropolitan areas, and consumers also can obtain information from CDFA's web site or a toll-free consumer helpline.

Another large part of Herglotz' job is to help California's Food and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman develop strategies for promoting California agriculture worldwide-from Mexico to the Pacific Rim nations.

Herglotz has had to educate himself on many aspects of agricultural practice. "At Delaware, I majored in consumer economics, with emphasis on business and communication," he says. "I've had a lot to learn about agriculture. But, I think not having that background has given me a better perspective on the concerns of consumers."

Herglotz, a native of Wilmington, Del., says he has Susan McLaughlin, assistant dean in the College of Human Resources, Education and Public Policy, to thank for his current position. He enrolled at Delaware in the spring of 1989 after a four-year tour of duty in the U.S. Air Force, hoping to complete his degree in just three years. By May 1991, he still needed 14 more credits to graduate, but when he demonstrated that he could complete the remaining credits during the

summer, McLaughlin agreed to let him attend the spring Commencement ceremony.

After finishing his coursework, he decided to go to Washington, D.C., where he found a job as a research analyst for the Republican National Committee. Several months later he found himself at a New Hampshire re-election rally for President George Bush, standing behind ABC-TV news correspondent Ann Compton.

"I recognized her only because she had been our Commencement speaker," Herglotz says. "I tapped her on the shoulder and told her how much I had appreciated her speech. She got very excited because it had been her first one, and she had been really nervous."

It was Compton who introduced him to Torie Clarke, Bush's campaign press secretary. Before long, Herglotz was hired as a press assistant in the Bush re-election campaign. He coordinated radio, print and television interviews, provided background information to media representatives and prepared briefing papers and talking points for senior campaign officials, including the president, vice president and first lady. It was a demanding but defining experience for Herglotz. "If Susan McLaughlin hadn't let me walk in the spring Commencement, I probably wouldn't be where I am now," he says.

Not that it was a straight path to California. His job with the Bush campaign came to an abrupt halt when Bush lost his bid for re-election. "My former boss at the Hotel du Pont [where he had worked during his college days] was then general manager at the Madison Hotel in Washington," Herglotz says. "So, I called him up and asked if he would hire me for a couple of months while I looked for another job. I worked as a doorman there for a while. It was a good reality check, and a lot of interesting people passed through my door, from movie stars to world leaders. Many of them were in town to say farewell to the Bushes or to welcome the Clintons."

Eventually, Herglotz landed a job as press secretary for Rep. Jay Dickey, a Republican from Arkansas. Then, with another election year looming, he began searching for a new challenge. One night, he received simultaneous job offers from the offices of Pete Wilson and New York gubernatorial candidate George Pataki.

Although he has continued to work with Wilson, Herglotz has changed hats several times along with the California governor's political fortunes. From an assistant press secretary specializing in crime, immigration and military issues, he became a media liaison for Wilson's 1994 re-election campaign and deputy political director for Wilson's 1996 presidential bid. When that bid failed, Herglotz was offered his current position with CDFA.

Since 1998 is an election year, Herglotz has been contacted by several candidates in search of a press secretary. However, he says he'd like to gain some experience in the private sector before considering any involvement in the presidential race in 2000.

While he says he holds no illusions about the demands of a Washington press office and the nature of politics in the nation's capital, it's an offer he probably wouldn't refuse.

-Elizabeth A. Chajes