By Trey Delida

Members from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, five U.S. territories and five Canadian provinces convened at The Council of State Governments National Conference from Dec. 6-9 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Each year, CSG brings together legislators, lawmakers, partnering organizations, associates and more for an informative four-day gathering to share ideas and foster partnerships that strengthen state governments.

This year’s event opened with a welcome lunch featuring state and city leaders as well as CSG National leadership, including the Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin; North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper; North Carolina Rep. Julia Howard, who served as 2023 CSG National Chair; Delaware Gov. John Carney, the 2023 CSG National President; and CSG Executive Director/CEO David Adkins.

“Welcome to Raleigh and the great state of North Carolina,” Baldwin said. “We are so happy to have all of you here from all over the country representing everyone in a bipartisan way.”

Through innovation classrooms, sessions featuring industry experts and plenary speakers, the national conference offered attendees opportunities to explore topics that affect their constituents. This year’s programming spanned a wide array of topics relating to state government, pressing policy issues and other resources to address the needs of communities across the nation.

Among those topics was childhood literacy in the states. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library joined conference attendees to lead a conversation about the inequities in resources and access to books from an early age.

Delaware’s first lady, Tracey Quillen Carney, has centered work in her state around the advancement of children through the First Chance Delaware initiative. As a champion of literacy in children, she welcomed the Imagination Library to Raleigh.

“Everyone here is at least as familiar as I am with the daunting statistics regarding child and adult literacy in the U.S., both overall and as they reflect from housing inequity,” Carney said. “But Dolly Parton is not one to be discouraged. The Imagination Library has deepened Parton’s legacy in the most meaningful way.”

Nora Briggs, executive director of The Dollywood Foundation, spoke on the organization’s growing outreach among the states.

“We started in Sevier County, Tennessee — Dolly’s hometown — with 1,500 children registered for a book a month,” Briggs said. “We are now reaching one in every eight child. In order to get to that many children, we have to focus on reaching them at the local community level, but also from a state level.”

Other plenary topics included a panel discussion on obesity in the states, featuring CSG Executive Director/CEO David Adkins as moderator, obesity medicine specialist Kajal Zalavadia, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Annually, CSG holds graduation ceremonies for two of the organization’s landmark leadership programs: The CSG Henry Toll Fellowship and the 20 Under 40 Leadership Award. Both programs recognize up-and-coming state leaders from across the nation.

Douglas Brinkley, a best-selling author and renowned presidential historian, delivered the keynote address for the 36th graduating class of Henry Toll Fellows.

Jay Chaudhary, director of the Division of Mental Health and Addiction at the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, was among the recipients of the 2023 CSG 20 Under 40 Leadership Award. He said that through the national conference, he is able to see the work of his peers from around the country.

“Working in state government for four years now, we have the scope and resources to make an impact on some of our biggest challenges,” Chaudhary said. “We are close enough to our communities that we can listen to their needs and tailor our solutions to meet those needs. Being here with CSG and seeing the work done across the country is inspiring.”

Leadership from the “First in Flight” state was not only reflected in attendees. Rufus Edmisten, one of this year’s keynote speakers, served as North Carolina attorney general from 1974-84 and as secretary of state from 1989-96. Now a Raleigh-based attorney, Edmisten famously served as the Watergate Committee deputy majority counsel.

In a collaborative effort with the host state, the final evening reception recognized some of North Carolina’s culture and products. Rep. Julia Howard welcomed state leaders to the North Carolina State Fairgrounds where local vendors were able to showcase their locally made products.

“I want to thank each of you for coming to Raleigh and being a part of this,” Howard said. “It has been a great experience for us.” With the 2023 CSG National Conference coming to a close, CSG welcomes members to next year’s annual convening in New Orleans.

Highlights from the 2023 CSG National Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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