Kansas Senate President Stephen Morris and
Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler
National Leaders of CSG and NCSL Hail from the Heartland
By Krista Rinehart, CSG Toll Fellows Program Director
Kansas Senate President Stephen Morris and his colleague, Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler are no strangers to leadership.
Both have served on The Council of State Governments’ Governing Board, while Morris is a 1993 graduate of the Toll Fellowship Program and Emler completed the Bowhay Institute in 2002. Similarly, both are poised to assume leadership of national organizations in 2012; Emler will be the 2012 CSG chair, while Morris will become president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“Both organizations have great staffs that are more than willing to come to states and share expertise,” said Morris. “Having members go to meetings held by NCSL and CSG and visit with their counterparts from around the country is vital. States have limited resources so whenever we can learn from others rather than reinvent the wheel, it’s been worthwhile.”
Emler, who has served in the legislature since 2000, recognizes the same benefits of interaction and hopes to help CSG continue to expand its influence as the only national organization serving all three branches of state government.
“I think the benefit of CSG has always been to help state officials reach their full potential,” said Emler. “CSG is able to listen to what states are concerned about and to express those concerns at the national level. I think they’ve done a good job in the past and can continue to do that, especially in these difficult times where we see very difficult situations developing at a national level that will have tremendous impacts on the states.”
The similarities between these two men don’t end with their impending leadership positions and goals. Both were drawn to run for office by a perceived lack of leadership and beneficial representation for their district. They each believed they had something to offer their constituents and the state at large. Once in office, both have relied on the same foundation of good leadership—listening skills—to help them serve effectively, especially when faced with tough decisions.
“A good leader is a good listener; they are fair,” said Morris, who has been practicing his listening skills in the legislature since 1992. “And leaders certainly need to be able to motivate people to go in a direction they may not be too crazy about, but that is ultimately in their best interest.”
Emler echoed these sentiments saying, “Leaders and officials have to listen to our constituents and colleagues. You also need to be willing to make tough decisions and take responsibility for making those tough decisions.”
Emler said he finds grooming future leaders as an important responsibility. “From a leader’s perspective, you need to be grooming people to take your place,” he said. “You, the leader, are not what is important; it’s the institution of the legislature that is important.”
As he seeks to mentor new legislators and shape future leaders, Emler often shares what he considers the best advice he ever received. “Don’t think that you know it all, and just because you were elected don’t think your constituents agree with all your positions,” said Emler.
Emler comes back to the listening skills he holds central to good leadership when trying to follow this advice. He begins every day responding to constituent concerns and emails—even the negative ones—so that he can stay tuned in to their opinions and needs.
“I have passed this advice on to new legislators as well,” said Emler. “Listen to your constituents—all of them, not just the few that are very vocal. They may be vocal, but that doesn’t mean they represent the majority. Listen to everyone before you decide what action to take.”
Morris agrees with the importance of listening to constituents and responding to their concerns, but also warns new legislators to stay true to themselves and not let vocal citizens or special interest groups lead them to compromise their principles.
“I would say my biggest piece of advice to new legislators would be to always keep your word and never sacrifice your principles to get re-elected,” said Morris. “Specifically, when it comes to a special interest groups or other organizations who pressure you to sign a certain pledge—don’t do it! You will end up painting yourself into a corner. Leave yourself room to govern effectively and according to your personal principles.”