scott saiki speaking onstage

NCSL President Scott Saiki would like to see NCSL bring its strength in bipartisan research to the issues of housing and homelessness.

NCSL Officers for 2022: A Commitment to Service, Bipartisanship

By Kelley Griffin | April 25, 2022 | State Legislatures News | Print

As the only organization representing state legislators and legislative staff, NCSL selects a new president and staff chair each year following its annual meeting, the Legislative Summit. Here are profiles of this year’s leaders.

NCSL President Scott Saiki

When NCSL President Scott Saiki says he wants to further the conference’s bipartisan work on difficult issues, he speaks from experience. He started his work as a state representative as part of the “dissident” wing of the Democratic Party, outside the mainstream. 

“So I think I understand what it is like to be in the minority,” Saiki says. 

Through the years, he found his stride working with legislators who hold different views, eventually becoming majority leader, then speaker in 2017. All but four Hawaii House members are Democrats, but Saiki notes divisions can be strong within the party, so he has dealt with extreme philosophical differences and managed to lead consensus votes on the budget in recent years. 

It’s easier said than done at a policymaking level to try to fix an area like homelessness, and we have to try. —NCSL President Scott Saiki

Saiki would like to see NCSL bring its strength in bipartisan research to the issues of housing and homelessness, which affect so much of the country.

“It’s easier said than done at a policymaking level to try to fix an area like homelessness, and we have to try,” he says. 

Saiki also anticipates a focus on energy, particularly renewable energy. “It has grown in significance,” he says. “We have to see how we can do this in a bipartisan way to find mutually agreeable approaches.” 

Saiki has served in the House since 1994 and has been involved with NCSL for years. 

He takes to heart the oft-cited notion that states are the laboratories of democracy. “That’s the same thing at NCSL,” he says. “We can take the best of what’s happening in the states and then deploy that.” 

Staff Chair J.J. Gentry

jj gentry onstage
NCSL Staff Chair J.J. Gentry

J.J. Gentry, NCSL’s new staff chair, started his legislative career as a page in the South Carolina House of Representatives and loved every minute of it.

He always volunteered to stay late when debates went into the evening—not unexpected from someone who shares a birthday with George Washington and worked on his first political campaign in fifth grade.

The representative Gentry worked for as a page wanted to give him a chance to help constituents. When a nonprofit group suggested its employees should pass criminal background checks, his boss told him to run with it. 

Gentry drafted the legislation, met with stakeholders and shepherded it through the Legislature with bipartisan support. “That was way further than pages ever go or were allowed to go,” he says.

This was before he finished college. It opened his eyes.

“I remember thinking how amazing it would be to get paid, in addition to the personal fulfillment I felt in helping people,” Gentry says. 

He earned a law degree and went into private practice, but within a year he was back at the Legislature as a staff attorney for the Education and Public Works Committee. He later served as counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee and now is counsel to the Senate Ethics Committee. He has also served in numerous leadership roles with NCSL, starting in 2012 on the Law, Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. 

Among his goals as NCSL staff chair, Gentry plans to appoint a committee of staffers to do a thorough review of what legislators and staff learned while operating during the pandemic to share best practices and identify pitfalls. 

He also wants to develop a mentoring program for new staffers through NCSL’s Young and New Professionals program, and expand outreach to legislative staffers who have yet to get involved with NCSL.

Kelley Griffin is a writer and editor at NCSL.

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