OP-ED: Sen. Brownsberger Reflects on the Recently Completed Legislative Session

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The following piece was provided by State Sen. Will Brownsberger:

When the going gets tough, you see what people are made of. I liked a lot of what I saw this year in the legislature and I got closer to my colleagues as we shared difficult choices.

I will never forget the day-long meeting we had in December to grapple with the first news of the tragic scandal involving former Senate President Rosenberg and his husband. Every senator was vocal, emotional and forthright.  We had different instincts on how to handle the situation.  Some put their foot down for immediate action. Others favored investigation before drawing conclusions. Yet everyone stayed civil — we kept talking until we made a decision.

We ordered an expedited and independent investigation. I served on the Ethics Committee that oversaw the investigation. While the investigation was truly independent, we had many difficult decisions to make — choosing the investigator, defining the scope of the investigation, determining how to balance the confidentiality of the victims with fairness and the public’s need to know.

Our committee chair ran the committee like a jury — he insisted that every decision be unanimous, so we spent the time it took to harmonize our differing views at each stage. Over the four-month course of the investigation, the six of us spent endless hours together, but we looked forward to each meeting. Through it all, I gained a deeper respect for the wisdom of my colleagues — my first instinct was not always right.

After former President Rosenberg stepped down, Harriette Chandler presided with grace until near the end of the session. Given what we had all been through, no one was disposed to defer to leadership and Senator Chandler is by nature and philosophy someone who shares power.

Under her leadership, there was a flowering of independence and initiative among senators. As we came down to the wire in June and July, I looked around and was stunned to realize how many different senators were carrying important negotiations.

Often, just a few key legislators and a few experienced staffers are at the center of all the big issues. In the Senate this year, people who had never participated in a legislative conference committee were on point on marquee issues — opioid addiction, economic development, health care. And they rose to the occasion.

In the final weeks of late nights and high pressure negotiations, the transition from Senator Chandler to our new President, Senator Karen Spilka was underway. President Spilka was formally installed with 5 days to go in the session.

A legislative leader faces an enormous volume of urgent questions and critical decisions year round, but in the waning days of the session the volume goes up dramatically and emotions run high.

I was really pleased to see how President Spilka handled the challenges — emotionally responsive but never flustered, deliberative but never paralyzed, respectful enough to allow others to do their job but confident enough to jump in and settle disputes when others asked for help, warm and willing to reach out personally to bridge differences but tough enough to draw a line and stick to it.

She is going to be a great Senate President over the years to come and she will be leading a deep team of legislators who know and trust each other better than ever.  I’m optimistic about our capacity — working with our colleagues in the House — to face the legislative challenges to come.

I’ll be writing less through the fall, but I’m very eager to hear from people with new ideas as we sort through our priorities and prepare for the next session.

See a summary of the legislative on Sen. Brownsberger’s website session by clicking here.

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