UT played host to majority leaders from states across the nation this weekend, offering them lessons and seminars aimed to help them lead at home.
Fifteen of the United States’ 23 first-time state speakers attended the session at UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs, which started Thursday and continued into the early afternoon Saturday. The State Legislative Leaders Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 1972, intends to help state legislators do their jobs more effectively. This organization arranged the 2013 New Speakers Orientation hosted by Speaker of the House, Joe Straus. The foundation works by assessing which issues are most important to speakers and bringing in experts for them to talk to, including professors, researchers and former speakers.
“We try to bring some seasoned speakers in,” Stephen Lakis, president of the SLLF, said. “We create a few panels, and I will direct the questions and ask them, ‘If you were sitting where these guys are sitting, what do you wish you were told when you first became speaker?’”
Ray Merrick, the Majority Leader of Kansas’ House of Representatives, said the program was also helpful because of the networking opportunities it provides to speakers who are dealing with long-term issues like education and balancing state budgets.
“You get to interface with speakers from around the country and hear about their problems,” Merrick said. “We all have the same problems probably, it’s just how we address them.”
Thomas Little, who is in charge of curriculum development and research for the foundation, said these problems are the type his organization hopes to equip these leaders to deal with.
“[We’re saying] ‘Here’s how to lead strategically instead of on a day-to-day basis of putting out fires,’” Little said. “If you haven’t made things better for your constituents you haven’t really led.”
The Speakers were put up in the Driskill Hotel — a luxury hotel on Sixth Street — by the foundation, which is funded by Wal-Mart, Verizon and other businesses. In return for their funding, Little said businesses are allowed to attend meetings with the speakers, but must agree that they will have no input in the foundation’s curriculum.
Scott Bedke, the speaker of the house for the Idaho House of Representatives, believes he took valuable lessons from the orientation.
“Any legislative body is an arena of ideas, and individual legislators rarely get their own way,” Bedke said. “Any legislation is a product of collaboration, negotiation and compromise. This conference is about perfecting those skills to allow that to happen.”