Imagine yourself in a room with three-dozen highly intelligent, civically engaged people, from all over Arizona – each of them keenly interested in state government policy and the problems and opportunities facing our society. Now, further imagine a lineup of some of the most influential thought and policy leaders assembled from our government, key industries, and major non-profits, not just speaking to that group, but speaking with them, engaging in amazingly candid back and forth conversations.

Well, that is what my weekends are like now. This past summer, I was selected for the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership’s Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy. For the next few weeks, I will be spending my weekends in Phoenix with an eclectic group of Arizona citizens from all over the geographic and political spectrum, learning and discussing both the problems and the promise of our state with the people who know it best.

For some, this may sound like torture. The days are long – ten to twelve hours, and often carrying on well into the night with informal dinners where the intense conversations continue. But for those of us attending, the overwhelming response has been positive. We are finding the experience to be both fascinating and draining because of the mental energy it consumes.

In our first weekend, we not only engaged with some of the key leaders of our state government, but we also met with the majority of the other nearly 300 Flinn-Brown Fellows who now form a network across all segments of our state. We were able to hear about their experiences both in the program, and how it has benefited them since their involvement. One of those was my friend, and former political opponent, State Representative Drew John, who now represents the district that Vail, Rita Ranch, and Corona de Tucson comprise a part. Not all were elected officials: in fact, most of them were not. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds and mindsets, but they share one common theme: the desire to serve in some way at the state level to make Arizona better for all of us. Some will run for office, some will apply to serve on state boards and commissions, and some will seek administrative positions in state government. However, all are motivated by the desire to improve our government.

In addition to learning from the Fellows who have preceded us, we will be delving into the real mechanics of our state government and the problems it faces, as well as its opportunities. The seminars are truly non-partisan, as exemplified by one panel, which was led by both the Speaker of the Arizona House, Rep. J.D. Mesnard (R), and his colleague, Rep. Rebecca Rios (D), who leads the House Minority. My peers in the class are dedicated to keeping conversations civil and respectful, and the attitude was best expressed by one of them as, “I may not agree with your point of view, but I am very interested in understanding why you have it.”

I will be writing a series of two more upcoming articles for The L-TheanineVail Voice that will go into more detail of what we are learning. For those who want sources and even more detail, I will provide that where I can, and will monitor the online editions and try to respond to questions as they come up. In the meantime, you may learn a little more – and perhaps apply for this program yourself – at the following website:

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