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A Program for State Legislators Interested in Public Deliberation

SUMMARY: Hawaii State Senator Les Ihara (who has signed the Co-Intelligence Institute's Pledge to Hear the People's Common Sense) is now organizing state legislators across the country to strengthen public deliberation as a force in state governance. He is asking supporters of this initiative to call and/or email their state legislators to join this state-level citizen deliberation effort for the long haul.

This powerhouse initiative in the field of citizen deliberation was instigated by State Senator Les Ihara of Hawaii. Senator Ihara is the first politician to sign the Co-Intelligence Institute-sponsored Public Pledge to Hear the People's Common Sense. Now he is organizing state legislators across the U.S. to enhance public participation in state-level decision-making. Working through the primary national association of state legislators -- the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) -- he is identifying receptive state legislators with whom he can collaborate to develop a range of powerful examples of deliberation and, ultimately "evolve the culture of legislative bodies -- where the public is fundamental to the legislative process, and legislatures are models for the practice of democracy."

He has also brokered a 3-year agreement between NCSL and the Kettering Foundation. Kettering is a leader in the U.S. deliberative democracy movement, having sponsored widespread citizen deliberation on public issues for years. Through their new agreement with NCSL, Kettering will be supporting efforts

  • to study current and potential ways for legislators to engage the public;
  • to encourage and prepare interested legislators to participate in deliberative forums;
  • to incorporate discussion of deliberation in new legislator trainings;
  • to educate NCSL staff on public deliberation;
  • to develop ways to use deliberative activities for legislators outreach;
  • to use existing NCSL issue projects to engage citizens deliberatively; and
  • to develop a national network of deliberation-friendly legislators.

Kettering-funded, NCSL-sponsored research is expected to address questions such as:

  • What do we know about public disaffection with the legislature?
  • When do both citizens and legislators begin to recognize a need for each other?
  • What do we know about the capacity of state legislatures to hear a 'public' voice?
  • How could legislators get a better sense of how the public decides issues?
  • What happens to the legislator/public relationship when legislators listen while the public is
    working through issues in deliberative forums?
  • What is the role of an official when there is no 'public' readily visible?



ACTION STEP 1: Find the names and contact information for your state legislators. If you don't have this information, you can easily get it by typing your 9-digit ZIP code into the search box on the upper left corner of <>. That will show you all state and national elected officials and candidates for your district.

ACTION STEP 2: Call their office and say something like, "Please tell [legislator] that I'm very concerned about the lack of citizen deliberation at the state level. Several leading state legislators are organizing themselves with the help of a major non-profit, the Kettering Foundation, to learn more about public deliberation and to promote it to their constituents and their fellow legislators. This effort could make a tremendous difference and I would really like [legislator] to take a lead in this. Please ask him/her to contact the leader of this effort, Senator Les Ihara of Hawaii at <> to find out more about it. Also ask him to let me know what he thinks of it." Give them your contact information.

ACTION STEP 3: Send that legislator an email that says the same thing. It could say something like this:

Dear [legislator],
I feel very strongly that our state legislature needs to get involved in convening -- and listening to -- citizen deliberative activities. Many very sophisticated methods for public deliberation exist, which we should be using in [your state]. Hawaii State Senator Les Ihara and several other state legislators are organizing themselves with the help of a major non-profit, the Kettering Foundation, to learn more about public deliberation and to promote it to their constituents and their fellow legislators. This effort could make a tremendous difference and I would really like to see you take a leadership role in it, which I think would be quite popular with voters. Please contact Senator Les Ihara at <>, who is leading this effort, to find out more about it. Then let me know what you think of it. Thank you ahead of time for looking into this for all of us.
       [your name, address and email]

Feel free to vary the messages above -- which we've provided for your convenience -- using the information below.

Note that what you're advocating here doesn't promote one side of one issue but rather promotes better deliberation to integrate all sides of every issue. So the kind of "lobbying" you're doing for it constitutes a different kind of citizenship, a different kind of activism, a way to nudge the whole system towards wiser democracy.

States legislatures -- most of whom are reeling from budget crises and partisanship -- are fertile ground for citizen deliberation initiatives right now. So now is a great time to move this ahead.


Senator Les Ihara notes:

Public trust in government is alarmingly low and some legislators think it's time to addressthe issue head on. The National Conference of State Legislatures has been working with a group of state legislators who are highly interested in connecting with citizens in more meaningful ways. Looking at citizen forums, conflict resolution processes, improved legislative hearings, civic education programs and other options, this group is sharing best practices, advice and information on how to improve the legislator-citizen connection. NCSL has two grants to fund work in this area of citizen engagement and conflict resolution, and this group of legislators is also examining legislator and legislative staff suggestions on what kind of NCSL projects, information and assistance would help legislatures.

Group moderators include: Bruce Feustel, NCSL Legislative Management; Peggy Kerns, NCSL Center for Ethics In Government; and Hawaii Senator Les Ihara, Jr.

In the next year, we seek to involve more legislators in the project...and this is where you could help. If you know a state legislator who supports involving citizens in legislative policy making, please let me know. We plan to meet later this year with interested legislators, and probably twice in 2005. Information on all 5,400 state legislators, including email addresses, is available at and I encourage you to increase your contacts with them. [CII Note: This link lists all the legislators but doesn't help you find your own. Use <> to identify your reps.]

We've identified at least 27 legislators who might be interested in this. Their names and emails are below. Reinforcing encouragement could encourage their involvement.

I view state legislatures as a primary venue for public policy discussions in a state, and want to encourage citizens to become involved in public deliberations in their own state legislature. A first step is for us to open up conversations with interested legislators. I consider us partners in promoting open deliberation of public policy issues, and appreciate the work we have in common. Thank you.

Hawaii State Senator


R - Alabama / Representative Cam Ward /
R - Alaska / Senator Con Bunde /
D - Arkansas D / Representative Joyce Elliott /
D - Arkansas / Representative Mike Creekmore /
R - Delaware / Senator Dori Connor /
D - Hawaii / Senator Les Ihara, Jr. /
D - Indiana / Representative Dennie Oxley /
R - Maryland / Delegate Susan McComas /
D - Maryland / Delegate Adrienne A. Mandel /
D - Massachusetts / Senator Richard T. Moore /
DFL - Minnesota / Senator John Hottinger /
D - Mississippi / Representative John Mayo /
D - New Mexico / Senator Dede Feldman /
R - North Carolina / Representative Louis M. Pate, Jr. /
D - North Carolina / Representative Martha Alexander /
R - Ohio / Representative Merle Grace Kearns /
D - Ohio / Representative Larry Price /
D - Ohio / Senator Tom Roberts /
R - Pennsylvania / Representative David J. Steil /
D - Pennsylvania / Representative Harold James /
D - Tennessee / Representative Mark L. Maddox /
D - Utah / Representative Ralph Becker /
D - Vermont / Senator Ann E. Cummings /
R - Virginia / Senator Emmett Hanger /
D - Virginia / Senator R. Edward Houck /
D - Washington /Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles /
D - Washington / Representative Velma Veloriz /


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