From the ELA 2019 class president: Dylan McDowell

January 9, 2020

Photo of Dylan McDowell

ELA 2019 Class President Dylan McDowell

I was fresh off the elevator, coffee in hand, shirt a little too unwrinkled as I walked around the 11th floor of the Carvel State Building on my first day working for the Delaware State Senate. I was struck, first and foremost, by how few people there were. Surely, my state’s legislature needed more than a half-empty floor of staffers to stay afloat, right?

But, just two years later, I now know that we can make a whole branch of state government run with just 62 legislators and a roughly equal number of staffers to support them. Bills are researched, drafted, debated, and passed; potholes are filled; task forces are assembled; and the business of the people gets done, year after year. The people who make that happen are some of the greatest I’ve ever met.

I arrived at this year’s Eastern Leadership Academy eager to find out if this held true for other states in our region.

Not only wasn’t I disappointed, I was really blown away. The people I met at ELA 2019 are stunningly talented and intelligent, and they taught me more in just three short days together than I could have ever expected to learn on my own. They are men and women who entered public service not for the fame (and definitely not for the money), but because they believe fervently in good government and want to do something — anything — to improve the lives of their neighbors. From the Virgin Islands to the Eastern Canadian Provinces, constituents benefit from their dedication and ability every day.

Bringing these people together is a small but powerful thing.

And that is what the ELA does so well. Our group of around 30 elected officials and staff got to share best practices, compare notes, and learn new skills. Perhaps even more importantly, we got to step out of an arena that prominently features bitter partisanship, mountains of hate mail, armies of social media trolls, and a disproportionate amount of anger and spite into a much smaller one that not only understood these struggles but shared in them.

Beyond the invaluable training and networking that ELA offers its participants lies something potentially more valuable: a few days to engage and befriend the only other people crazy enough to dive directly into the grinding gears and pistons of government and shoulder the burden of making it all work. It is a rare opportunity for the consistently overworked to hit the pause button, exchange notes, and renew faith in what we do and why we do it.

On the page opposite this one, there is, no doubt, a brief explainer on the skills sessions and opportunities offered at the Eastern Leadership Academy. But let me also add, between those lines, that the friendship and camaraderie that class after class of ELA participants find in Philadelphia every August is also important. Building a fraternity of leaders in state government is a mission that I believe can lead to better policy, more cooperation within and across state lines, higher morale, and stronger democracies. For many of us and for many of you, that journey began at the Eastern Leadership Academy, and it will continue for many years to come.

Dylan McDowell is the deputy communications director for the Delaware State Senate Democratic Caucus. He was elected class president by the ELA class of 2019.

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