Staff Profile: Elise Gurney, senior policy analyst

Elise Gurney has been around the world on her quest to find meaningful work. She studied economics at Carleton College before finding her way to Washington, D.C. to work as a researcher and consultant.

“I enjoyed the work but wanted to do something more meaningful, so I joined the Peace Corps in June of 2019,” Gurney said. “I served in Malawi as an environment and food security educator, but was unfortunately evacuated after nine months due to COVID-19.”

She moved to Kentucky and was excited to join the staff at The Council of State Governments.

“Coming back from the Peace Corps, I realized that I could combine my research skills with my desire to make a meaningful and productive contribution,” she said. “CSG ended up being the perfect fit for that. I was also excited to work in the policy space, and to come to a new-to-me state.”

At CSG, Gurney works as a senior policy analyst on the education and workforce team. In this role, she develops and implements policies centered around disability employment, telework, apprenticeships and more.

“My role entails everything from writing policy briefs on specific topic areas — such as how to address the mental health needs of workers amid and following the COVID-19 pandemic — to completing research requests for states to organizing webinars on different topics,” she said.

When she is not working, Gurney enjoys playing guitar, trying to keep her pet rabbit from eating everything in her apartment and taking dance classes.

She enjoys working with the talented team at CSG.

“Everyone is smart and dedicated, but also has interests and passions outside of the office. I also appreciate the opportunity to work with smart, dedicated policymakers; they always inspire me to do more,” she said.              

CSG Staff Profile: Dexter Horne

Dexter Horne is the kind of person who will find solutions. When he meets an obstacle, he takes his passion for helping others and turns it into action. This is evident in his role as a senior policy analyst at The Council of State Governments.

“I wanted to work for CSG because I wanted the opportunity to dive deep into the big challenges of our time and attempt to find ways to overcome them,” he said. “CSG allows me to do that. This job combines my passion for service with my desire to continually learn new things. It’s a good fit for me.”

Horne is a graduate of Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, and holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Kentucky’s Martin School of Public Policy and Administration.

“In my day-to-day work, I provide research and logistics support to CSG’s Healthy States National Task force which includes state leaders from across the three branches of government in all 50 states and six territories,” Horne said. “For me, key project tasks include conducting or assisting with data analysis, developing and conducting national scans of state policy, responding to research inquiries from state officials (and) writing research-based State Leader Policy Guides.”

Horne also works with project managers on convening partners and task force members together to discover best practices in civic health, economic and workforce health, fiscal health and human health.

Horne, a lover of doughnuts, is involved in his local community.

“A civic engagement enthusiast, I spend a lot of my time helping lead the Kentucky chapter of a nonprofit called the New Leaders Council (NLC),” he said. “Our mission is to connect and train young, progressive thought leaders across the state. As do-director, I manage a 17-member board and am responsible for ensuring that our work is aligned with our mission and values.”

Horne said his dream would be to a community organizer who could eliminate poverty.

“Were there no obstacles to me doing so, I would be an author and a philanthropist investing in grassroot efforts to eliminate poverty and homelessness in communities across the United States. I would create a fund, and actively campaign for others to invest in a fund, that would exist purely to support experiments in poverty and homelessness reduction, designed in part by people who have experienced one or the other,” he said.

Horne said his favorite part of working at CSG is being able to build relationships.

“Beyond the chance to continually learn more about the inner workings of government, policy and communities, I enjoy working with public servants who really care about their state and the people they serve. I’m often reminded in this job that there are a lot of people in the country who are working to make it better. I find that encouraging,” he said.

SCOTUS Allows New York State’s Vaccine Mandate without a Religious Exemption to Stay in Effect

New York requires all health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and includes no religious exemption. Over the objections of Justices Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch and without a written opinion, in We the Patriots USA v. Hochul, the Supreme Court allowed New York’s vaccine mandate to remain in effect while litigation over it continues in the lower federal courts.

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CSG Staff Profile: Casandra Hockenberry

Casandra Hockenberry is a pivotal member of The Council of State Governments team whose work includes apprenticeships and the Overseas Voting Initiative.

“I manage our new Registered Apprenticeship Data and Best Practices Technical Assistance Center as well as the Overseas Voting Initiative Administrative Data Project and Military Ballot Tracking Program. I spend a lot of time speaking with members about the data for our programs. Sometimes we are requesting that they provide data,” she said. “Other times we are talking about what the data is telling us and asking our members to help us understand the context of the data. I also spend time researching new, innovative programs that our members are developing to do things like improve their workforce, improve elections administration and make voting easier for military and overseas citizens.”

Hockenberry, a Case Western Reserve University School of Law graduate, has an extensive background in law, making her the perfect fit for understanding data and explaining it to members in meaningful ways— one of her favorite parts of the job.

“I love that I get to spend my days learning and helping our members. States are the laboratories of democracy, so getting to help our members innovate and help their states implement successful policies and practices is so exciting,” she said.

Hockenberry wanted to work at CSG so she could make a difference through work that matters to so many.

“I wanted a job where I was able to still make a difference in the world but with a bit less emotional baggage than the public defender’s office. I loved the idea of championing excellence in state government, which often has the most direct impact on citizens,” she said of her work at CSG. “Plus, the café snacks are delicious.”

Hockenberry and her miniature dachshund, Remington McTavish Hockenberry, live in Lexington where she is a member of the Lexington Public Library Board of Advisors. She enjoys reading, watching Pittsburgh sports, and exploring Lexington’s food scene.

Celebrating the Life, Career and Character of Sen. Bob Dole

A Statement from David Adkins, CSG executive director/CEO:

As a kid growing up in the middle of Kansas, I wasn’t an athlete or an artist, but I loved politics. My mom was an active volunteer for the Republican Party and often took me along when she was canvassing, phone banking or putting up yard signs for the candidates she supported. The town of my boyhood, Salina, wasn’t far from Russell, Kansas, the hometown of Bob Dole.

During the years Dole was on the ballot, my mom would wear a ribbon sash emblazoned with the words “Dolls for Dole.” This meant she was one of the people who would pour the Dole pineapple juice often served at Dole campaign events. During one campaign swing, Dole was scheduled to attend an event at the Saline County Republican Headquarters, but a blown fuse cancelled the event. My mom asked Dole if he wanted to visit my elementary school instead. He agreed, and they travelled together to my school in our family’s Ford Fairlane 500 station wagon. I was seated in Mr. Powell’s sixth grade math class when in walked Senator Dole and my Room Mother mom. He told the class about his work in Washington and said that he had spoken to President Nixon, who had called him from Air Force One, earlier that day. I was wearing a pair of burgundy bib overalls and sporting a button I had picked up at the county fair which said, “Proud to Be a Farmer.” Dole, one of the funniest political figures to ever live, saw the button and asked me how my crops were doing.

To grow up with a front row seat to Bob Dole’s career in public service was to have a master class in the art of legislating. Dole was a fierce partisan, but also a master at forging compromise.

In junior high, I wrote a letter to Dole asking his advice about the best path to become a politician. He wrote back a two-page letter in which he talked about what I should study and how his own life story shaped his interest in elected office.

After being left for dead on the World War II battlefields of Italy, Dole went through a grueling, nearly three-year rehabilitation. The citizens of Russell raised the funds to support him during those darkest of days.

When he was picked as President Ford’s running mate at the 1976 GOP Convention in Kansas City, the first stop for the ticket was at the courthouse in Russell — the same courthouse where Dole began his political career as the county attorney. My dad, the captain of the Kansas Highway Patrol whose division included Russell, quarterbacked security for the hastily arranged event. In the moment, recalling all that the people of Russell had done for him, Dole broke down and wept and the crowd fell silent. When it was clear he couldn’t regain his composure, President Ford stepped up and began the applause. The crowd erupted in a loud embrace of their favorite son.

Bob Dole was my hero. He inspired me to become a politician. He made me laugh. He made me see how a politician can work a room. He had that uncanny gift for remembering names and details of the Kansans he had met — the same kind of skill that allowed him to be an effective majority leader in the Senate. He knew the members of his caucus, he remembered the names of their spouses and kids and he knew exactly how far he could ask each of them to go as he forged compromises. I was in awe of Bob Dole.

The citizens of Russell elected Dole to the Kansas House of Representatives, his first foray into legislative service. I was serving in that same body when Dole returned to Topeka in 1996 to announce his bid for the presidency. I was backstage next to him at the kick-off event, originally scheduled for the state house steps by moved indoors to the Kansas Expocentre because of snow.  As he waited to go on stage, I turned to him and said, “There’s still time to change your mind. Are you sure you want to do this?” “I might as well,” he said, smiling. “It’s not like I have anything else to do.” And with that, I turned on the backstage microphone and in my best radio announcer voice said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the next President of the United States, Bob Dole.”

By Election Day, it was clear Dole wasn’t going to beat Bill Clinton. That didn’t stop Dole from making a last-minute whirlwind tour of a number of states the day before the election. Candidates who know their chances are slim often like to reassure their supporters by referencing Truman’s expected victory over Dewey in 1948. So it was with Bob Dole in 1996. I was standing in front of the courthouse in Independence, Missouri, at 3 a.m. on Election Day as Bob Dole made his final campaign stop on his way home to Kansas. I will never forget the song blaring over the loudspeakers as the candidate took the stage: “I can see clearly now the rain is gone. It’s gonna be a bright, bright, bright, bright sunshiny day.”

Bob Dole would be the last of The Greatest Generation to run for president. His war injuries rendered his right arm useless, but it never limited his reach. Because of Bob Dole, Social Security was saved from insolvency, millions of families received nutrition support because Bob Dole created the food stamp program as part of the Farm Bill, and Dole was a tireless advocate for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

While Dole’s death gives us the opportunity to recall all of the achievements of a life well lived, for me, the best of Bob Dole’s character is revealed in all the quiet, unseen ways he worked to lift others up.

In the fall of 2017, my dad celebrated his 90th birthday. On a whim, I sent Bob Dole an email asking if he might consider calling my dad and wishing him a happy birthday. I never heard back and had, frankly, forgotten I had made the request, when I got a call from my dad. “You’ll never guess who just called me to wish me a Happy Birthday!”

That’s the Bob Dole I will remember.

Godspeed, Senator Dole. Thank you for your inspiration and the enduring example of your life of service.

On another dawn, I’d like to think my mom just offered her favorite senator some pineapple juice and the thanks of a grateful nation.