Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, July 26, 2010

Legislative training includes negotiation, policy discussion

Paying $2 for a $1 bill sounds a little loopy – especially for a legislator entrusted with safeguarding taxpayer dollars.

But that is what happened during an exercise on negotiation and dispute resolution at this year's Bowhay Institute of Legislative Leadership Development held in the Fluno Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in July.

Nebraska newspaper notes senators' participation

State Sens. Mike Gloor of Grand Island, Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids and Dennis Utter of Hastings were among 37 lawmakers to complete a leadership training program that identifies and assists emerging state and provincial leaders in the Midwest. Read more …

The "auction" of the $1 bill was part of a session on learning negotiation skills and dispute resolution techniques, says Terry Shelton, outreach director of the La Follette School of Public Affairs, which has co-sponsored the institute with the Midwestern Legislative Conference of the Council of State Governments since 1995.

"The institute offers panels on emerging policy questions as well as personal and professional leadership sessions," says Shelton, noting the one on dispute resolution was taught by a former legislator with direct knowledge of the political process who exposed how values and rational thinking can be twisted and strained in debates on hot-button issues.

Thirty-seven legislators from 11 states and three Canadian provinces attended the five-day institute, the only leadership training program exclusively for Midwestern legislators. It helps newer legislators develop skills to become effective leaders, informed decision-makers and astute policy analysts.

"Many of these legislators are from term-limited states and our job is to help them learn quickly about policy initiatives underway in other states and provinces," says La Follette professor Dennis Dresang.

Wisconsin lawmakers attending this year were Sen. Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac, Rep. Keith Ripp of Lodi, and Rep. Andy Jorgensen of Fort Atkinson. They join the more than 40 current and former Wisconsin legislators as BILLD alumni.

Shelton, La Follette School director Carolyn Heinrich and outreach specialist Bridget Pirsch greeted the lawmakers at the opening reception at the governor's executive residence.

Through the program, lawmakers explore issues with nationally renowned scholars, professional development experts, and legislative leaders and colleagues from across the region. This year's agenda included policy sessions on the regional economy, corrections reform, evidence-based policymaking and government-reform initiatives. In addition, the BILLD fellows participated in a series of professional development sessions on topics such as time management, effective communications, and consensus-building and negotiation skills. In addition, a panel of current and former legislative leaders from across the region led a roundtable discussion that focused on strategies for being more effective legislators and policymakers.

One policy module, "Rules, Reforms and Results: What Goes Into the Good Government Toolbox," featured La Follette associate director Donald Moynihan. He explored strategies for realizing improved performance, accountability, and, ultimately, transformation of government. Participants also identified obstacles and opportunities for moving from acceptance of reform at the front end to actual change in the back end.

Fellows also heard from professor Walter Dickey, the Evjue-Bascom Professor of Law, on ways to ease the corrections problems many states face. Noel Radomski, director of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, discussed evidence-based policymaking. Other topics included fiscal policy, consensus building and court policy.

The political and cultural characteristics of the Midwest were the focus of a presentation by Dresang, who also discussed leadership types, legislative decision-making and legislators as change agents.