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Independent Voter Project Conference in Hawaii, the Inside Scoop

by Jane Susskind, published
Business and labor leaders joined with legislators from three states last week to participate in the Independent Voter Project Conference in Hawaii. Marking the fifth annual meeting, Joined by industry and labor representatives, lawmakers engaged in extended round table discussions on a broad range of subjects.

This year, the panel topics focused on 5 key issues: Public Safety, Energy, Bioscience and Innovation, Healthcare, and Economic Development.

Each panel included experts and multiple representatives with competitive interests. The 5 panels met daily with lawmakers participating in each of the panels during the 4 days of the conference.

The conference also featured presentations on specific topics such as the exponential growth in type one diabetes, the emerging science of atmospheric rivers, and the shortage of students computer coding skills. In addition, lawmakers engaged in a robust general discussion focusing on campaign finance reform and legislative reform.

The annual Conference has been criticized, in particular by Common Cause, the press, and others both because of its Maui locale and because legislators and lobbyists spend the 4 evenings socializing.

IVP Co-chairs and former legislators Steve Peace and Jeff Marston respond that getting legislators away from the partisan capitol environment is an important goal of the conference.

"I understand the criticism and there is nothing in life that is free of abuse. However, getting Republicans and Democrats together with their families is almost as important as the open, free-wheeling discussions that drive the conference each morning," said Peace.

One of the benefits of holding the conference away from the state's capitol is that legislators can engage in an exchange of ideas without the political spin and mischaracterizations that have become a lynchpin of political discourse.

"It is a blunt, honest, give and take between folks that often see things very differently," said conference organizer Dan Howle.

During panel discussions, legislators identified key issues in their districts, discussed the obstacles they face in passing meaningful legislation, and debated possible solutions.

"I wish we could do a lot more of what we're doing here, back there," California Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway said in the closing statements of the Conference. "It is a tremendous learning experience and it doesn’t hurt to have candid, open dialogue," she concluded. and IVP also held one day conferences in Sacramento and in Merced earlier in the year and have scheduled a "Water" conference for December 12 at the Maddy Center in Fresno. Conferences in Sonoma, San Diego, and LA are scheduled for the Spring.

Co-chair Jeff Marston points to the unique IVN Etiquette as the cornerstone of the conference success:

"There is nothing being said here that isn't discussed elsewhere. The difference is tone. It often gets heated in the morning. But, when legislators get to know each other, and their families, they tend to find more common ground than they thought possible."

The Independent Voter Project (IVP) is a non-profit, non-partisan (501(c)4) organization dedicated to empowering non-partisan voters in the electoral process and provide education and research on important subject matters. It is the principal funder of Learn more about IVP here.

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