July | August 2017


The Crippling Effects of the Dysfunction in D.C.




Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris

Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris is the 2014 national chair of The Council of State Governments. He was elected to the Tennessee Senate in 2000 after serving six years as a county commissioner; he’s served as majority leader since 2007. Norris was heavily involved in CSG’s Southern Legislative Conference, he said, as a result of his CSG Toll Fellows experience. He’s a 2002 graduate of the program. Norris served as SLC chair in 2011 and has served on various CSG committees, including chairing the national organization’s Transportation Committee for several years. He was the 2013 vice chair and co-chairs CSG’s Federalism Task Force with 2013 chair Alaska Sen. Gary Stevens. Norris also serves as chair of the CSG 21st Century Foundation.
1 | What do you see as the most pressing issue facing the nation as a whole in 2014?
“The first thing that comes to my mind is federalism, the dysfunction in D.C. and how that affects us. … The bottom line is the dysfunction in D.C. has adversely affected our national economy. … States are functioning very well from a governmental standpoint, by and large, but we’re all being hobbled by the crippling effects of the dysfunction in D.C. It’s hobbling our economies. It’s having a chilling effect on our prosperity. In terms of a specific problem, it emanates from that dysfunction, but the focus has got to be on economics.”
2 | What will state leaders need to do to address those issues in the most effective way?
“I’m going to make workforce development and education the focus of my year as chairman, sort of taking the baton from (Oklahoma) Gov. (Mary) Fallin, who’s working on this issue at (the National Governors Association). … State legislators need to look at their educational systems, both high school and postsecondary, to see whether the educations provided match the employment sector’s needs. Make sure that those are properly aligned ... We all talk about STEM initiatives—science, technology, engineering and math—make sure that you have the market for those disciplines. Make sure you have disciplines to develop the market. You have to be smart about allocating your resources in education and in labor and workforce development to have the desired effect on economic development.”
3 | How can CSG help state leaders with those efforts?
“I’m hopeful that CSG will be able to serve as a clearinghouse for information and be able to provide an inventory of best practices that can be used. … There’s an awful lot of work being done in this arena already. Part of what I’ve been engaged in is taking an inventory of all the good programs at work that actually do work, that actually produce a more productive populace and then to find ways to connect those programs without interfering with them. It’s very important that government not intrude on what’s already working, but to provide connectors that help them leverage what they’re doing into bigger and better programs that serve more people.”
4 | How can state policymakers get involved with CSG and make the most of that involvement?
“If you just attend one meeting per year, it’s not easy. We do have great committees that you can read about. Members can access our website for starters, csg.org, and go to the Knowledge Center or look at the committee structure and figure out what’s available that’s of interest. …. As budgets have shrunk, it’s become more difficult for people to travel. Term limits have become an impediment to involvement in organizations like ours at the very time when the services and instructions that organizations like CSG make available—there’s a premium on that. You need the knowledge we have to impart because your terms are shorter, you don’t have much time, the learning curve is a lot steeper. What I hope CSG will do is more outreach in terms of providing legislators training at home, back in their states, rather than them having to travel to us, to continue our robust webinars program and demonstrate value added through Internet access.”