Western Legislative Academy returns to Colorado Springs
by Will Keyse
In December 2021, El Pomar Foundation hosted the annual Western Legislative Academy (WLA), a program of the Council of State Governments West. The conference gathered more than 30 state legislators from 11 states across the western United States to engage in an intensive week of training, conversation and collaboration. The delegates, all in their first four years of legislative public service, represented both political parties and all walks of life. Legislators apply to participate in WLA and are selected for demonstrating a commitment to civility and professionalism.
El Pomar Fellows had the opportunity to attend and support the program throughout the week, immersing themselves in the world of state legislatures that carry out many of the vital functions of government in our country. The conference drew presenting faculty from across the country—Georgia to California to Iowa to New York—and covered topics ranging from empathetic negotiation to the value spectrum underpinning every public policy question.
Perhaps the most striking revelation for those who attended the conference was just how different each state legislature is from one another. On one hand, a state senator from California shared challenges with managing a staff of 13 and campaigning to a constituency of more than one million people. On the other, a representative from Wyoming spoke about the barriers facing a legislature that meets only two months out of every two years and the pros and cons of a small and tight-knit legislative district.
After nearly two years of virtual governance and campaigning, the delegates all expressed a deep gratitude for the ability to gather in person to learn from colleagues across state and party lines. Faculty, staff and program alum spoke at length about the impact past conferences had on their own legislative careers. Connections made at WLA have had direct impact on interstate legislation, mentorship relationships and the formation of new institutions.
WLA is a unique program in our country’s polarized political climate. It was a breath of fresh air to witness a conservative representative from Eastern Washington and a progressive senator from Las Vegas engage in intentional and humanizing conversation. Each of the participants seemed to walk away from the conference with more faith in the strength of the world’s longest standing democracy.
Council of State Governments West was founded in 1947 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that facilitates regional cooperation, exchange of information and the strengthening of legislative institutions among its 13 member states. El Pomar Foundation has been a partner in Western Legislative Academy since 2000.