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SBAM and partners celebrate bi-partisan “Building Bridges” retreat for new legislators

December 13, 2016

This past weekend in Frankenmuth, an unlikely group of organizations sponsored a bi-partisan retreat for new legislators focused on building relationships and skills necessary for governing.

Dubbed “Building Bridges,” the retreat was attended by two-thirds of incoming House members from both parties, who spent the weekend hearing from former and current lawmakers and other experts on negotiations and collaborative problem solving. The event was brought together by a bi-partisan group including the Small Business Association of Michigan, Michigan Education Association, Business Leaders for Michigan, Michigan Association for Justice, and Michigan Health and Hospital Association. 

“We have more in common than separates us, and we need to focus on ways to bring people together to move our state forward,” said SBAM President Rob Fowler. “We are entrusting the future of this state to this new class of lawmakers and we wanted to be supportive of the journey they’re about to take.”

New lawmakers got to meet and get to know each other in a social setting, and then hear about tools and tips for building consensus and problem solving around issues. A lunch panel featured a conversation with former Speaker Paul Hillegonds and former Floor Leader Pat Gagliardi about the shared power arrangement of the 1993-94 legislative session. Speaker Kevin Cotter, Speaker-Elect Tom Leonard, and Democratic Leader-Elect Sam Singh were also on hand to share their thoughts with incoming freshman representatives. 

“Hearing from leaders from both parties and ensuring an open line of communication is essential,” said MEA President Steven Cook. “Most of the issues we deal with are not partisan issues and by starting the conversations and relationships at an event like this, we’re off to a good start to ensuring we have good policies for our state.”

The event also featured a discussion on failures and lessons learned as a legislator from former lawmakers Speaker Craig DeRoche, Rep. Kathy Angerer, and Sen. Bruce Caswell, and also tips on how to best work with lobbyists and interest groups in Lansing. 

“It was powerful to hear from former lawmakers who were willing to open up and speak frankly about the pitfalls and failures they experienced in Lansing, so that the incoming lawmakers could learn from their mistakes,” said Tim Sowton, vice president of government affairs and public policy for Business Leaders for Michigan.

The program also included a keynote address about the lifelong importance of relationships by MSU and Detroit Pistons great Greg Kelser, and advice about working with the administration from former Lieutenant Governor Dick Posthumus and Rick Wiener, former chief of staff to Governor Jennifer Granholm.

“The importance of relationships was raised up time and time again throughout the weekend,” said MAJ President Tom Waun. “As sponsors of the event, we’re glad to have helped beginning to forge those relationships that will be beneficial to our state in the coming years.”

With the strong response to the event, sponsors hope to repeat the Building Bridges event for future classes of lawmakers. 

“Our state depends on the ability of lawmakers to hit the ground running in Lansing. This is about governing and making decisions that affect millions of Michigan citizens every day,” said Chris Mitchell, MHA’s senior vice president of advocacy. “That’s a big responsibility and we’re committed to helping lawmakers to do the important job of solving problems we all face together.”

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