Idaho state Rep. Jeff Thompson serves as the 2016 chair of The Council of State Governments West. Thompson will host the 2016 CSG West Annual Meeting Sept. 6–9 in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He believes that states must maintain their sovereignty and that, working together, they can find shared solutions. Thompson is a 2013 CSG Toll Fellow. Read on to see his official interview in CSG's publication Capitol Ideas.
Rising Above Partisanship for Shared Solutions ‘All Points of View are Important to Consider’ by Carrie Abner for Capitol Ideas / CSG
What is the most important issue facing state policymakers in your region in 2016?
“We need to continue to build our economy not only at the state level but also at the local level. As the economy continues to recover, state policymakers will need to look at funding and decide where the best return on investment will be for the people’s money. With a robust economy, education will most likely be at the top of this list. It is vital for our students to have a quality education so they will have the skills and tools they need to be successful in life. ... We need to make sure our students are being taught to problem solve, acknowledge patterns and work with others, so that all children will have an education that will connect them to the opportunities of tomorrow.”
What is an issue that you believe your region is “getting right”? What achievements are being made on the state level?
“Energy and the issues surrounding the growing demand for its creation will continue to be one of the challenges policymakers will face in the future. On this issue Idaho is making advances and being collaborative with surrounding states, particularly with advances in nuclear energy. Idaho is home to the nation’s lead laboratory for nuclear energy research and development, the Idaho National Laboratory. On the state level, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has established the Leadership in Nuclear Energy, or LINE, Commission, which identified an expansive nuclear energy sector within Idaho.”
Partisanship in American governance often makes the headlines. How are leaders in your state and region rising above polarization to achieve the best interests of constituents?
“A good leader will focus on the heart of an issue and then determine the team that can be instrumental in creating a solution in a collaborative, nonpartisan way. As the chairman of the Environment, Energy and Technology Committee, I work to involve everyone on the committee and not distinguish between different political leanings. Good ideas are not limited to one political party and when we are looking at trying to nd a solution to a difficult issue, all points of view are important to consider.”
What initially led you to pursue elected office?
“One evening I attended a county central committee meeting just to learn more about the local political process. They asked for volunteers to be involved in elections, and I volunteered to help. The next election I was encouraged to be on the ballot as a precinct committee officer. After winning that election, the opportunity opened up to serve on the executive committee of the county central committee. After serving in these capacities, I was encouraged to serve as a state legislator. We won that election and now I have the opportunity to serve the people of Bonneville County for a fourth term. Politics is not only voting, but getting involved in making things happen that create better lives for everyone.”
Serving as a state legislator can often be a thankless job. What is it about your role that motivates you to keep moving forward, even on challenging days?
“The number one thing that encourages me to continue, even on difficult days, is my family. From the first moment that I decided to run for office, my family has been a valuable support system, encouraging me, working on my campaigns, debating dif cult issues with me and just listening when I need to vent. Second are my friends and constituents. Meeting with my constituents and hearing their concerns and ideas is also encouraging. Knowing that they are concerned enough about their future to be involved in the political process and voice their opinions can actually renew my spirit.”
States are often called the laboratories of democracy and incubators of innovation. How can states continue to demonstrate their leadership as they tackle the issues of 2016?
“States can be truly effective only if they can maintain their sovereignty. We need to seize upon our individual state’s rights and exercise them. As states continue to tackle tough issues, the first thing they need to do is have a vision for which issues are the most important. Next, leaders will have to have the tenacity to put aside their differences and work together in order to find the best solutions for their state.”
How can CSG help states in this effort?
“First, CSG needs to continue to advocate for states’ rights. That is one of the most important roles for our organization. CSG can be very instrumental in helping policymakers believe in federalism and in states’ rights. CSG should also continue to hold conferences that promote bi-partisanship. Just attending these conferences ... provides an opportunity for all state leaders to network and gather ideas for legislation. CSG can continue to provide excellent training opportunities. We as policymakers really are responsible for our state and constituents’ destiny.”
Why did you initially become involved in CSG?
“CSG creates a unique environment for innovative ideas by providing legislators the opportunity to interact with leaders from across the region and country and from different political realms. In order to be the best legislator for my constituents and state, I joined CSG so that I could learn from and interact with leaders from different states and backgrounds. It is extremely important, especially in the Western states, that policymakers communicate with one another. We face some of the same issues and CSG provides the opportunity for policymakers to share solutions.”
How can state officials get involved in CSG and maximize the opportunities they have through the organization?
“One of the best ways is by attending the regional and national meetings. Attending these meetings provides of cials an oppor- tunity to meet both those who have been veterans to CSG and provide a wealth of experience, as well as new people. This is a great way to network, learn and share new ideas. Another great way to become involved in CSG is to apply to one of the lead- ership training programs like the Western Legislative Academy, CSG West’s regional leadership development program. CSG national also offers the Henry Toll Fellowship Program. These leadership programs are amazing as they help policymakers get out of their comfort zone and think outside the box.”
What do you hope to achieve as chair of CSG West in 2016?
“I look forward to encouraging legislators to invest in themselves, their constituents and states by growing in the opportunity we have been given by our constituents. We can do this by attending CSG West and CSG national meetings, networking and building relationships with policymakers in neighboring states and working toward solutions in a collaborative effort. The WLA and the Henry Toll Fellowship Program will help all policymakers to grow, think outside the box and learn to create the best possible solutions for their states and constituents. Through CSG we can develop our skills in order to create a better tomorrow."