By Alex Fitzsimmons
Speaking at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ 2012 Legislative Summit on Wednesday, prominent state legislators discussed what it means to be a leader. The speakers agreed the keys to successful legislative leadership include working with the minority party and mentoring the next generation of leaders.
“Even when you have a large majority, you need to let the minority feel it has a voice,” said Florida Senate President Michael Haridopolos. As a sign of respect for his colleagues across the aisle, Haridopolos said he took the door to his office off its hinges, literally creating an open-door—or maybe no-door--policy.
All of the speakers, including Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, New Hampshire House Minority Leader Terie T. Norelli and Tennessee Lt. Governor and Speaker of the Senate Ron Ramsey, agreed working across the aisle is an important part of the job.
But working with the other party isn’t the only challenge facing legislative leaders. Sometimes the fiercest political opponents come from within a leader’s own party. Oliver learned this lesson the hard way after a faction of legislators within her own party tried--and failed--to oust her from the speakership. Instead of ostracizing her opponents, Oliver tried to accommodate their concerns.
Stressing the importance of training future legislative leaders, Rhode Island Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed said one of the first things a new leader should do is get to know the freshman legislators. Over time, she said the legislators with leadership potential will “come to the surface.”
Haridopolos, quoting the Pixar film “A Bug’s Life,” offered the audience a short and sweet lesson in leadership. Just remember, he said, “Everything is your fault.”