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Laura LeeteLaura Leete

Talking Across the Divide

Having the state Capitol across the street often creates meaningful opportunities for engagement. In early January the Senate President's Office and the Willamette Public Policy Research Center collaborated on a forum for senators to refresh communication and negotiation skills and bone up on the policies of governance.

The 2007 Senate Leadership Institute, a two-day workshop for old and new hands on the Senate deck, was formal in name only. Senators from around the state attended in slacks or jeans, dress shirts or sweaters, and got to know each other in a non-partisan setting. Friendly rivalry was interspersed with collaboration and team building exercises as 30 senators learned about government ethics, negotiation skills and budgets, and worked through fictitious political scenarios ("Senator Jones and Senator Green need to get X bill passed. How will they negotiate a compromise?").

"You and I do not have the luxury of not getting along," said Senate President Peter Courtney in closing this year's institute. "If we do not figure out a way to get along -- and we're not always going to agree -- then we fail in our mission." He said communicating and negotiating are as important as the mastery of issues.

"The intent is to build skills toward a collaborative rather than a competitive approach," says Laura Leete, Public Policy Research Center director. Leete headed up the organization of Willamette's second annual institute.

Susan Glaser, who co-presented a communications course, said people are tired of gridlock. "Citizens want to believe in government again. They want to hope. It's important to talk across the divide, to find consensus in spite of divergent viewpoints."

The Public Policy Research Center concentrates on community-based research and outreach, with a recent focus on poverty and hunger in Oregon, state forest management, environmental justice and "green" investment markets.