From the 2021 ELA Class President: Reginald Parson
This article appears in the 2021-22 edition of Perspectives.
Since I was a child, public service was something that I knew intuitively I wanted to do. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I would memorize the names of the individuals who appeared on U.S. currency and would ask my mother to quiz me, beginning with George Washington all the way to Benjamin Franklin.
In September 2019 I began working in the Maine House Speaker’s Office, and to this day I ask myself: How did I get here? How was I so lucky to be chosen to work with such talented professionals — whether partisan or nonpartisan staff — working to make the lives of Mainers better? In my time so far, I have seen the true impact when people invest in governing and making government work. However, with any government there is always room for improvement, and this is where the Eastern Leadership Academy (ELA) comes into play.
In today’s political climate, we are divided on many issues. The ELA conference was an excellent opportunity to slow down the partisanship, collaborate, and learn from one another about how to deal with issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, social justice, the climate, the economy, education, health care, and agriculture. The 2021 ELA class also learned from experts in social media, crisis management, and legislative negotiation — just to name a few. The biggest takeaway for me from ELA was how much fun we had in one another’s presence and how the partisan walls were shattered to the point where it did not matter if we were Republicans or Democrats; we were just people who enjoyed public service. I truly wish the experience I had was replicated in our public discourse today.
This conference was a reminder that democracy, leadership, and governing are hard. Regardless of whether states are entrenched in divided government or whether one party has control, decisions have to be made, and those decisions are crucial to life and liberty. This is why elections are so important. The point of the conference was not to learn how to avoid hard conversations or how to always hold hands and sing in harmony on issues, but to learn to have an open dialogue in a more productive way than what we see in our current public discourse.
I look forward to taking much of what I learned back to Maine to make our state government better. I am so thankful to have met many other dedicated public servants and look forward to cultivating those relationships that I hope will breed lifelong friendships.
Reggie Parson is a senior legislative aide and policy analyst in the Speaker’s Office in the Maine House of Representatives.