By Wendy Underhill
Legislative careers start with campaigns—but the skills and attitudes that help during election season don't necessarily translate to actually legislating. At least, that was the perspective of participants in "Campaigning to Legislating," a legislative effectiveness session at NCSL's Spring Forum last week.
"Especially the first time, for the first six months you keep thinking you're still on the campaign trail," said Rep. Angel Matos of Puerto Rico.
Terie Norelli, president of NCSL and speaker of the House in New Hampshire. She noted that campaigns have gotten tougher, more personal and sometimes even ugly in the last decade.
How to cross the divide between campaigning and serving? Building and developing relationships is the only route to success, she says. In her state, where party control shifted in 2006, 2010 and again in 2012, she has operating with a commitment that "we're going to work in a bipartisan manner." Her specific efforts include:
- A weekly meeting with caucus leaders from both parties.
- Occasional gatherings of small groups from her 400-member chamber, such as fifteen people from the 160-member freshman class, or a dinner with all female leaders.
- Providing committee chair training from NCSL, and including ranking members as well.
Eric Turner, speaker pro tem of the House.
And yet once in the statehouse, "you can always find something to agree on," he says. One approach he has used to get beyond partisanship is to offer to work on bills that members of the opposite party are sponsoring—even if 80 percent of issues would have him on the opposite side from the other lawmaker. He has even offered to be the lead sponsor when a bill would have a better success when it comes from his caucus.
Like Norelli, Turner sees relationships as vital: "It's okay to speak from the floor and disagree, and then have dinner together that night."