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Western state governments convene in Big Sky

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Panelists Wyoming Rep. Cathy Connolly, Washington Sen. Randi Becker and Hawai’i Rep. Joy San Buenventura discuss their experiences as women in politics. The all-women’s panel is one example of CSG West Chair Rep. Kimberly Dudik’s effort to get more women in leadership roles for CSG’s annual meeting. PHOTO BY BELLA BUTLER

By Bella Butler EBS EDITORIAL ASSISTANT

BIG SKY – For the 72nd year in a row, members of Western state legislatures gathered for the annual meeting of the Council of State Governments West. This year Montana hosted the meeting at Big Sky Resort from July 16-20, an event that included government representatives from 13 states, four territories and two Canadian provinces.

The nonpartisan national CSG is divided into four geographic areas to allow regions to create space to focus on issues that are specific to them. In the Western region, founded in 1947, these topics are focused via committees such as the Agriculture, Public Safety and Water and Environment committees.

“[The annual meeting] is an opportunity for legislators and other elected officials throughout the West to come together and share best practices and learn about issues that are keenly relevant to the West,” said CSG West Chair and Montana Rep. Kimberly Dudik, who is the first woman from Montana to serve in the position and is running for Montana Attorney General.

The event featured keynote speakers, committee meetings and breakout sessions as well as other opportunities for different state governments to interact. Breakout sessions covered issues ranging from daylight savings to foster care. At a session on women in politics, Dr. Gayle Alberda of Fairfield University in Connecticut shared tips on how women can use social media as a gender-neutral tool in their campaigns.

Colorado Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet asks panelists at a breakout session advice on redirecting the #MeToo message to be more productive. The breakout session was part of the 72nd annual meeting for the Council of State Government West. PHOTO BY BELLA BUTLER

This year, one of Dudik’s goals for the meeting was to involve Western tribal nations more, which she said she accomplished by including a panel on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls as well as inviting leaders from all Montana tribes.

Dudik said she also fulfilled her goal to instill more gender and ethnic equality in the organization’s leadership positions, which she did by appointing more women and ethnic minorities.  

One of CSG’s missions, according to Dudik, is to improve state governments as well as motivate constituents to educate themselves on state candidates during election time.

“Everyone gets really caught up in national politics but where rubber hits the road is at state level,” she said. “What deals with trade, what deals with women’s rights, what deals with education funding, what deals with healthcare is all at the state level, and people should really be aware of it.”

Each year, the annual CSG West meeting takes place in the home state of the current chair. According to Dudik, Big Sky Resort was the only place in Montana large enough to host the event. Wyoming Sen. Michael Von Flatern is the current chair-elect, and the 2020 meeting will be hosted in Jackson, Wyoming.

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