What I learned in bourbon and horse country

By state Sen. Linda Newell


Few people get to travel to Lexington, Ky., and see a behind-the-scenes view of the horse racing and bourbon country. But even fewer get to become a Henry Toll Fellow and Kentucky Colonel all in one trip. I was that lucky last week.

I was fortunate to be one of 48 policymakers (the only one from Colorado) selected as a 2013 Henry Toll Fellow by the Council of State Governments. The Toll Fellowship Program, named for CSG founder Henry Wolcott Toll, also from Colorado, is one of the nation's premier leadership development programs, bringing top state officials from all three branches for an intensive six-day “intellectual boot camp.”

And to boot, we were also bestowed with the highest honor in their state of being named a Kentucky Colonel!

During the program, with hardly any free time and working from early to late every day, it felt like I was back in session, needing to be focused every minute. But what I learned was very valuable to me, and soon to be for my constituents.

• Lesson 1: Sometimes, there's no easy way to get there, but you'll make it. On my travels to and from, I had to go through a connecting city, which is never easy. And just on my way there, I experienced a sobbing baby, snoring man and broken luggage, but I made it. Little did I know this would be foreshadowing.

At one point, we broke down into our regions to work together on an innovative solution to a daunting challenge we have in our part of the country. True to form, our Western region easily decided on our issue: the shortage of water. Then it became sticky. Working every waking minute we eventually came up with a solution and presentation about this escalating crisis before us. I was reminded once again that we are all in this together. Here we were, Western Republicans and Democrats from different states sitting side by side, proficiently brainstorming civilly, without a word of partisan ideology. It was only through our civil discourse and open-mindedness that we were able to persevere through the tough conversations and come up with a solution we thought might work in the real world.

• Lesson 2: As I would take a “view from the balcony,” an overarching theme arose of “strategy and guts.” As policymakers, we need to think strategically and futuristically as much as possible in order to see the long-term benefits as well as any potential unintended consequences of our actions. Yet without the guts of risk-taking also, nothing would get done. Candidates wouldn't run for office, legislators wouldn't act innovatively and constituents wouldn't be represented.

Knowing the road can sometimes be rough in public service, we need to remember the strategy, guts and civility that help us get to the other side. This shows only two. There were so many “ah-has” over the days I spent in Kentucky, but none more powerful than the reminder of my gratitude for being a public servant.

Linda Newell is the state senator of Senate District 26, which includes Littleton, Englewood, Sheridan, Cherry Hills Village, Greenwood Village, west Centennial and parts of Aurora. She can be reached at 303-886-4846 or linda.newell.senate@gmail.com.


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