July | August 2017


Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers serves as the 2015-2016 chairman of The Council of State Governments’ Southern Legislative Conference. Stivers will host the 2016 SLC meeting in Lexington, Ky., July 9-13. He believes career-readiness challenges remain a priority for the South, and states’ workforce development programs are a driving force for economic development in the region.
By CSG Staff

What is the most important issue facing state policymakers in your region in 2016?

“While the SLC member states have been at the forefront in the preparation of the 21st century workforce through our community colleges’ targeted training programs and part­nerships with major industries, we also must focus on aging infrastructure at our marine ports and inland waterways.
A highly skilled workforce will not thrive if our industries cannot get their products to market. … We can ensure that our region, and the nation as a whole, remain competitive in the global marketplace and keep domestic business running efficiently with adequate investment and attention to these large-scale infrastructure needs.”

What is an issue that you believe your region is “getting right”?
What achievements are being made on the state level?

“One of the striking features of the economies of the Southern region involves the impressive advancements in the manu­facturing arena, particularly the automotive, aeronautics and biotechnology sectors. In recent decades, the performance of these industries in the Southern region—from Toyota in Kentucky to Boeing in South Carolina to Baxter in Georgia—has generated billions of dollars in economic impact and employed tens of thousands. A driving force behind this … is the programs initiated and executed by so many Southern states targeted specifically at workforce development.”

Partisanship in American governance often makes the headlines.
How are leaders in your state and region rising above polarization to
achieve the best interests of constituents?

“I think Kentucky, as do many of our SLC member states, has a more unified vision of what objectives we, our legislative body, need to meet in order to best serve our citizens, given the resources we have. More often than not, the issues we have to tackle are ones in which both parties can find common ground. Even with a politically divided General Assembly, during our last session we were able to reach agreement on issues such as job training, anti-drug legislation and changing the gas-tax formula because we are more open to compromise and thoughtful deliberation than previously.”

What initially led you to pursue elected office?

“A group of business people and community leaders from my area, and of both parties, came to me and said they thought I would be a good candidate for the state Senate. … They talked about some work that I had done in the community and how it would be beneficial for changing the dynamics of our area for a younger generation of working families. … I saw it as an opportunity to bring a different perspective to the capitol.”

Serving as a state legislator can often be a thankless job. What is it about your role that motivates you to keep moving forward, even on challenging days?

“Recently, I was involved with the implementation of a new research center at the University of Kentucky. This research center aims to provide new treatment in areas such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It will undoubtedly help several people I know, but also many more people I will never know.
Seeing real-life examples like that has certainly driven my passion for public service. When you see something that benefits a lot of people, that is the framework of what government should be—collectively doing for the public what the individual cannot do for him or herself.”

States are often called the laboratories of democracy and incubators of innovation. How can states continue to demonstrate their leadership as they tackle the issues of 2016?

“While there are many issues pressing on states, especially as a result of the decisions being made in Washington, D.C., perhaps our biggest challenge … will be to utilize the resources we have to provide the best level of service we can to our citizens. I think the Southern region is well governed, and our state leaders recognize … that (government) cannot continue to provide the same level of services our citizens have come to expect. However, we must continue to improve our infrastructure and our workforce, and these areas are at the top of the agenda for all the states in our region.”

What role can CSG and its regional offices play to assist states in this effort?

“I have found the resources and programs available from the SLC/CSG Southern office to be particularly helpful. Their research on ports, aeronautics and the auto industry in our region has been extremely helpful in understanding our state’s position in these sectors. SLC’s committee structure is particularly important because it comprises members from our 15-state region and provides a regional perspective on issues that are so important to the advancement of our states.
Both at the national and regional level, CSG’s leadership programs—Tolls and CALS—are critical in helping our members learn to deal with the many challenges they face and to assist them in understanding their responsibilities as a member of their community and legislative body.”

Why did you initially become involved in CSG?

“It goes back to not just CSG, but all the legislative groups that meet on a regional, national and international basis. These are opportunities to gather a collection of talent … and get insight into the inner-workings of really good ideas coming from across the country, ideas that are adapted, emulated or modified to help Kentucky. We know that we don’t have the market cornered on intelligence and ideas, and there are a lot of people who can come up with solutions that may not fit perfectly, but can be adapted to work in this state.”

How can state officials get involved in CSG and its regional offices and maximize the opportunities they have through the organization?

“I think it is important for our presiding and appointing authorities to make their appointments to the respective committees of the organization. This allows our CSG/SLC staff to reach out to specific members in both the House and Senate to gauge their needs. Additionally, we have always included CSG and its regional director as part of our new legislator orientation program, and that is so critical because it allows our new members to get acquainted with additional resources that can help them in their legislative careers.”

What do you hope to achieve as chair of CSG’s Southern Legislative Conference this year?

“Naturally, to raise the status of my home state in general, and also to work with all the other states to improve conditions for all of our constituents, through economic development, job opportunities, growth, education, and general environment and opportunities for families to prosper and live.”