Interviews & Profiles

Grace Lee on key takeaways from the Somos of the Midwest

The Manhattan Assembly member talked about what Albany legislators learned from Democratic lawmakers in other states.

Assembly Member Grace Lee and other state lawmakers conferred with their Democratic colleagues from across the country.

Assembly Member Grace Lee and other state lawmakers conferred with their Democratic colleagues from across the country. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Several state legislators went to Indianapolis for the National Conference of State Legislatures Legislative Summit, where state lawmakers from all over the country gather for three days of panels, innovative ideas and networking.

The conference, taking place from Aug. 14-16, is intended to give legislators and their staff opportunities to advance professional skill sets, find out what the latest legislative trends are, and explore new legislative services. All of this while being able to stand on the field of the Indianapolis Colts stadium. It is a state lawmakers dream come true.

City and State sat down with Assembly Member Grace Lee to discuss her takeaways from the conference. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Which state lawmakers went to the National Conference of State Legislatures Legislative Summit in Indianapolis?

Alex Bores, Michaelle Solages, Jo Anne Simon, Brian Cunningham, David Weprin and I all came from the Assembly. The senators that attended were Kristen Gonzalez, Roxanne Persaud and Zellnor Myrie.

What lessons did you learn from other states at the conference?

Sometimes in New York we take for granted the power that we have with a Democratic majority. I learned about the challenges that other states have when Democrats are in the minority. One thing that I was reminded of was the power that we have within New York to do great things and that we should make sure that we’re using it to pass legislation that can be nation-leading. It made me really proud to be part of a legislature that leads on progressive legislation.

Was the conference similar to Somos? How was it different?

I think that the Somos conference has a stronger social component and networking component. There was a social component to NCSL, but there was a heavy focus on policy, and it was a really robust conference that had many different sessions. The aspect of being able to connect with legislators from all over the country is also something that you don’t get during Somos because it is very New York-centric, and NCSL is nationwide.

What was your biggest takeaway from the conference, other than being able to stand on the Indianapolis Colts field?

Well, a few things that were takeaways for me were that I was able to network with a variety of advocacy groups on a number of different topics. It really gave me a spectrum of resources to draw from for future legislation. I also appreciated the opportunity to interact with the (National Asian Pacific American Caucus of State Legislators), which happened right before NCSL. That was an opportunity to network with AAPI legislators from 13 other states in the country. We talked about the AAPI curriculum bill. It was really great to hear the perspective of the legislator from Illinois, who passed that bill, as well as hear about the strategies that other states are taking in order to move that forward. As a sponsor of the AAPI curriculum bill in the Assembly here in New York, I will definitely be taking away some of those strategies and resources that they use to hopefully be successful in getting my legislation passed in the upcoming year. I would say, more on a general level, though, is that other states really look up to New York as a role model for legislation. I think it is important for us, as legislators, to recognize the role that we have in advancing progressive change, not only in New York state, but across the country.

How was it decided who would go?

Anyone is allowed to go into the conference. It’s a voluntary attendance. Legislators don’t attend for different reasons. For example, it doesn’t work with their schedule or they have other commitments in the district.

Why go to these conferences?

I think it’s really important for us to be aware of what’s happening in other states and to meet with other legislators. We all have something we can all learn from each other, and having the opportunity to be in one space and share experiences and learn about each other’s legislation is really important. It’s an opportunity to share the great work that New York state is doing.