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Orem legislator trains with the best in the West

New lawmakers hone their skills at an elite legislative conference

Lori Fowlke
Lori Fowlke

OREM — Ninety-three legislators applied.

Thirty-nine were accepted. Rep. Lori Fowlke, R-Orem, was one of them.

Fowlke was one of three Utah legislators chosen to attend the Western Legislative Academy — a multi-day conference to train new legislators.

Along with fellow representatives Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray, and Ronda Rudd Menlove, R-Garland, Fowlke spent last week in Colorado learning how to manage time, draft meaningful legislation, work better with colleagues and be more persuasive.

Having just finished her first year in the Utah Legislature, Fowlke said she was looking forward to working with other legislators to compare notes and see what problems and successes others have experienced.

"I just want to learn how to do my job better, more effectively," she said.

That attitude is reflected in the application process, said Mary Lou Cooper, program manager for the Counsel of State Governments in the West and for the Western Legislative Academy.

"The process in and of itself weeds out people who are not extremely sincere and willing," Cooper said. "If you're willing to write two essays, get your resume together and get two letters of recommendation . . . that's a pretty good indication that you'd make a good candidate."

The competition was more fierce this year than ever before, Cooper said, and the reviewing committee had to turn away many qualified applicants because of space issues and to preserve a small classroom feel.

The Council of State Governments covers the cost of housing, food and all educational expenses, but leaves transportation up to individual legislators. The Utah House of Representatives covers the travel costs for the "students."

Legislative Academy alumnus, James Ferrin, R-Orem, said the training was very valuable.

During one session on public speaking, the teacher asked Ferrin to be a "guinea pig," and prepare a speech to deliver during the next class. After the speech, Ferrin said his instructor "ripped it apart" to demonstrate the flaws.

"Of course, after ripping me apart, he reconstructed my presentation according to the principles he was teaching and asked me to deliver it again," Ferrin said. "Nobody was particularly interested in the speech itself, but they were very interested in the delivery and the style, according to the coaching."

Ferrin said he thinks back to that lesson every time he speaks in the Legislature.

The academy is sponsored by The Council of State Governments, a national organization dedicated to serving legislators. There are four different geographic groups in the country and three of the four have leadership programs though their exact structures may vary, Cooper said.

The Western Legislative Academy started in 2000 and by the time the class of 2005 graduates on Saturday, the academy will have trained more than 200 government representatives.

"The state legislature is really one of the backbones of the democratic system," Cooper said. "It's very important for the legislators to be trained and to appreciate the value of supporting the legislature as an institution, regardless of party."