By Thom Little, Ph.D.

As we wrap up another successful year here at the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, it seems like a good time to review our 2023 activities and impact they had. It has been a whirlwind trip beginning with the New Speakers Orientation in the nation’s capital where ten new Speakers joined four of their senior colleagues to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the job, have dinner at The University Club and take an “After Hours Tour of the US Capitol.”

From Washinhgton, DC, we ventured next to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri to explore how President Truman made some of the most significant decisions of the 20th century. Under the watchful eye of President Truman’s grandson Clifton Truman Daniel, participants explored the newly renovated museum, the Truman home and the World War I Museum. Attendees also took part in “The Presidential Decision Making Center” program where they relived the history of the Berlin blockade and airlift. According to South Dakota Speaker Pro Tempore Mike Stephens, the program was a “great opportunity to learn real life skills as well as a tremendous experience seeing how great leaders made decisions.”

Two months later, SLLF took a delegation of fourteen state legislators and twelve members of SLLF’s Advisory Council to Norway to explore the nation and discuss energy policy. In addition to learning about the unique energy resources in the nation, participants also toured the national legislature, visited the US Embassy and enjoyed the majestic scenery that defines this beautiful country.

In early July, we returned again to the University of Virginia for one of my favorite programs, our annual Emerging Legislative Leaders Program, where recently elected legislators from more than 40 states gathered at “Mr. Jefferson’s university” to build relationships across party lines and explore their own leadership skills. This program is always  a big hit as exemplified in the words of one participant, “I learned so much and found all of the discussions very valuable. It was wonderful to be in a room having a discussion where people genuinely wanted to think and learn and grow.”

Later in July, we ventured to “The Big Apple” for the Conference of State Majority Leaders, hosted by Senator Andrea Strewart-Cousins. In addition to discussions about the unique role of majority leaders in state legislatures, the majority leaders explored various aspects of communications with presentations by Chuck Todd, former host of Meet the Press; political consultant and author Frank Luntz; and Steven Rubenstein, President of a strategic communications and reputation management firm. On top of that, participants toured NBC studios (including my favorite part, the SNL set!) and enjoyed dinner at Gracie Mansion, the historic home of New York City’s mayor. According to Arizona Majority Leader Leo Biasiucci, “This program provides you with the opportunity to interact with fellow majority leaders across the country. The goal is to make you a better majority leader and this conference provides all the tools to make that happen.”

Horace Greeley once recommended that people “Go West” and that is just what we did in August, venturing to Salt Lake City for the 31st annual meeting of the National Speakers Conference hosted by Speaker Brad Wilson. More than half of the speakers from across the nation came together to share thoughts about the role of Speaker and discuss critical issues like economic development, women’s health and artificial intelligence. Outside the classroom, participants visited the State Capitol, toured Rice Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah, and enjoyed dinner and activities at the US Olympic Park where the brave ones rode a bobsled and the rest of us watched from a safe distance!

In November, we headed to beautiful Newport, Rhode Island, for our Fall Leadership Summit “America’s Clean Energy Future: Finding the Right Balance for Your State.” More than thirty legislative leaders from across the nation gathered to discuss the changing energy environment and explore the right balance of fossil fuels, solar, wind and wind energy sources for their state. Further, we looked at what states are currently doing and the impact of recent federal policies. In describing the value of the program, Wisconsin Assembly Majority Leader Kevin Peterson offered perhaps the best quote I have heard describing an SLLF program, “This program was balanced. Even if I didn’t always agree with the presenters on a topic, the presenters gave both pros and cons so that there were issues and ideals I could still learn from each presenter.”

Finally, we wrapped up the year with our annual Board Meeting and Leadership Roundtable in beautiful Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, where we learned about the culture, economy and politics of Puerto Rico as well as looking back at what we did in 2023 and where we are going in 2024.

In addition to these outstanding programs, SLLF made the most of its partnership with the National Institute for Civil Discourse, teaming up to offer civility workshops in Delaware, Georgia and Boston, as well as civility presentations in four more states (Idaho, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia) and four national organizations. So, there you have it – from Give’em Hell Harry in Independence, Missouri, to windmills in Newport, Rhode Island. During the year, we reached more than 400 state legislators representing all fifty states and Puerto Rico! Here’s to a great 2023 and an even better 2024!