Thomas H. Little, Ph.D., SLLF Director of Curriculum and Research

On Monday, July 10, we kicked off our annual Emerging Legislative Leaders Program on the beautiful campus of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. For three days, more than fifty recently elected state legislators from across the nation came together, under the tutelage of the internationally recognized Darden faculty, to explore the challenges and opportunities of legislative leadership in today’s chaotic environment. Participants explored what it means to lead and examine their own leadership skills, but more importantly, they discussed the significance of working across the aisle and seeing beyond partisan or ideological labels. For these three days, we ask them to do something unusual and for many of them–  put aside their partisan and ideological identities that often define them back in their state legislatures and to be open to new ideas, various philosophical approaches, and different perspectives.

As we welcome a new class of participants each year, I remind them that we are giving them a very special gift: the gift of time to think. To think about what really matters. To think about the obligations placed on them by the voters. To think about how they interact with others. To think about the example and policies they are setting for future generations. Back in their state legislatures, pressed by lobbyists, constituents, media, and party leaders, most are too busy just trying to make it from meeting to meeting and vote to vote to think about “big questions.” At the Emerging Legislative Leaders Program, away from the daily pressures of legislative life and with no cameras or recorders, they get a chance to reflect and explore what they really want to accomplish for the people of their state. That is indeed a gift.

However, we don’t just offer this program to make them (or us) feel good. We offer it because we truly believe that this time together, guided by the Darden team, will make these young legislators more effective legislators. We believe that what they discover in Charlottesville will help them rise in the ranks of leadership in their states and enable them to do great things for their legislature and the people they represent. That is our goal.

To see how we are doing, I asked our legislative intern, Anna Lloyd (1) to research the Darden Class of 2022 and see if they are moving into leadership, and the results were beyond my expectations. Of the 52 legislators who participated in the program last summer, four are no longer in the legislature (two resigned to take administrative posts, one lost in the 2022 primary and one resigned due to legal trouble). Of the remaining 48 participants, more than seven out of ten (75%) hold either a partisan/institutional leadership position (floor leader, assistant floor leader or whip) or committee leadership (chair, co-chair or vice-chair of a standing committee). More than a quarter (27%) hold an institutional or partisan post, with two pro tempores, five assistant floor leaders and four whips or assistant whips. On the committee side, almost sixty percent (59%) of the 48 still in the legislature hold a position as committee chair or vice chair of a standing committee. These positions include leadership on key committees like Judiciary, Appropriations, Finance, Education and Rules. That is quite impressive for a group who are entering only their second or third terms!

Now I can’t say for sure that their participation in the Emerging Legislative Leaders Program helped propel them up the leadership ladder, but I would like to think so.  Based on these numbers, I would say we are definitely doing something right, and I expect just as many great things from the Emerging Legislative Leaders Class of 2023. We will keep an eye on their progress and keep you posted.

(1) Anna is a rising senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a double major in Global Studies (concentration in International Relations) and Political Science and a minor in Conflict Management – Peace, War, and Defense Department.