Legislative Leadership: Local and Foreign Policy Perspectives

Last week, the Batten School invited two distinguished guests to speak on their leadership experiences on Capitol Hill and beyond. Representative Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) addressed students on Friday afternoon over lunch and Dr. Jeffrey Bergner, a career legislative advisor, joined Professor Gerald Warburg for an open discussion on Thursday.

Congressman Gerry Connolly

On Friday, the Batten School hosted Rep. Gerry Connolly in the Great Hall, where he spoke about the importance of having a background in local government, offered his thoughts on current events, and took questions about foreign policy.

Connolly was a staffer on Capitol Hill for many years.  After work, however, he enjoyed going home in the evenings to attend community meetings and learn about Fairfax County issues.  In 1995, he became a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for the Providence District.  He won election for chair of the Board in 2003, then became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for the 11th District in 2008.

While offering praise for his colleagues in Congress, Connolly said that people who have worked for cities or counties sometimes have difficulty implementing federal legislation that does not take into account the local perspective.  He also spoke of how local politicians cannot hide from voters on issues that directly affect their neighborhoods, their schools, and their safety.

He remembered waking up to a phone call years ago from an elderly woman at 6:30 on a Sunday morning.  “Are you Gerry Connolly, the district supervisor,” she asked.  He said yes and she told him, “I have a dead deer on my lawn.  What are you going to do about it?”  Connolly asked if the woman had tried calling animal control.  She replied, “Oh, no, I wouldn’t want to bother them at 6:30 in the morning!”

Connolly fielded several questions from Batten students.  Maddie Bergner asked how he felt about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline across the United States and Canada that many environmentalists oppose.  Connolly said that he wanted the Obama administration to first answer his query of whether the oil would be exported or used only in the U.S.  In response to a question about the Occupy Wall Street protests, Connolly sympathized with the concerns of the protestors, saying that it was unfair to bail out the bankers who caused the 2008 recession and not help the middle class.

The Batten students in attendance were impressed with Connolly’s message.  Caitlin Carr appreciated how “he used his background in policy analysis and experience in all levels of policy work to become a leader on the Hill.”

Dr. Jeffrey Bergner

Last Thursday, Dr. Jeffrey Bergner visited the Batten School as part of the ongoing series on “Leadership in US International Policymaking,” sponsored by Professor Gerald Warburg and the PPOL6715 class. Bergner, a long-time friend of Warburg, spoke on “Election Year US Foreign Policy Challenges: A Republican Perspective.” Bergner served as Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, Staff Director for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Chief of Staff to Senator Lugar. He is currently the President and Managing Financial Partner of Bergner Bockorny, Inc., a professor at Christopher Newport University, and the uncle of Maddie Bergner (Acc. ’13).

Bergner highlighted that foreign policy will play a smaller role in the 2012 Presidential election than in previous years given the present state of the economy. According to Bergner, Iran and Israel are the most likely topics of foreign policy discussion in the election year. He added that President Obama has largely inoculated himself from accusations of a weak stance on defense policy given the success of the Osama bin Laden raid and drone strikes in the Middle East.

Bergner also discussed the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement as an example of selling an issue to disinterested parties. He said that the agreement was largely an “arcane and esoteric” subject with little interest to the electorate. The task was thus to convince Congressional experts of the merits of the program, namely the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Professor Warburg called the agreement a “very important case study” and complimented Bergner’s orchestration of the campaign amidst a Democratic takeover of the House and Senate. A dinner reception with Batten faculty and students followed the event.

Post by Michael Karlik and Rob Panos (Acc. ’12)


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