Special Representative Reta Jo Lewis, U.S. Department of State Remarks to NCSL's Executive Committee Meeting

Fall Forum

Phoenix, AZ

Saturday December 11, 2010


NCSL Executive Committee Meeting Speech

Good afternoon.  It is a pleasure to be here to participate in the NCSL Executive Committee meeting. As a Representative of the United States and on behalf of the U.S. Department of State, I would like to thank President of NCSL Senator Richard Moore and Executive Director, Bill Pound, International Programs Director, Kathy Wiggins, the executive committee officers and members, and all the state legislators for all of the hard work you do day in and day out working to create and maintain the important governing policies of your states.

This is an excellent platform – and audience – for exchange, learning, and strategic debate around states, and their roles internationally.  We have the opportunity to tackle many common and urgent global challenges together that state legislatures, maybe unexpectedly, have the power to address.

I serve a unique position as one of Secretary Clinton’s Special Representatives, which has truly been a tremendous experience. I am honored to be able to work with her, to assist her in realizing her vision for 21st Century Statecraft in this new Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs. As the Secretary has made clear, foreign policy and diplomacy go beyond nation to nation. The time has come to engage our sub-nationals and inter-domestic stakeholders. That’s why the Secretary created the Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs.

Specifically, so that we can assist U.S. state and local elected officials with their global needs and facilitate their engagement with their sub-national counterparts; assist the regional bureaus’ work, specifically in Asia, Africa and the Western Hemisphere, on their engagement with sub-national and U.S. state and local leaders; amplify and develop targeted capacity building programs utilizing the technical expertise of our U.S. state and local officials; and support diplomacy, and foster peer-to-peer opportunities for sub-national dialogue.

Secretary Clinton understands the thrust for building these comprehensive international relationships on the sub-national level because it is so important for the U.S. to meet our foreign policy objectives. 

We have already identified a core group of state, local, and sub-national elected officials and organizations who are active globally and are eager to assist in fulfilling the Secretary’s priorities regarding food security, fresh and clean water, transparent and accountable governance, addressing climate change while delivering the necessary renewable energy for sustainable economic development. 

As we forge ahead realizing this momentous purpose, we observe a revitalized appreciation for the state legislators’ vital role in diplomacy.

We know that state legislation, although at the state level, has the potential for global impact – therefore making it something of a misnomer. Being in the business of global engagement, we seek to identify and harness all channels capable of such impact.

In less than a year of existence, my office has been privileged to work extensively with many governors, county executives, mayors, and council members, but very few legislators. We have only been able to catch a glimpse of what state legislation and state legislators are really capable of achieving on an international scale, but we are confident of their wide reach and breadth.

As I discussed earlier with your new International Task Force, we have already seen that legislatures are willing to consider and adopt internationally directed policies, like resolutions on foreign policy and humanitarian action and policy affecting immigration and border relations, international trade, environmental issues, and national defense – to name just a few.

I am sure you are aware that legislators can do more than simply create policy, though. As respected go-to members of the community, many legislators have used their clout and expertise to advocate for the issues close to the hearts of their constituents, such as we have experienced in support of Haiti aid and reconstruction efforts in areas with Haitian Diaspora communities.

Although these actions could potentially influence state or federal policy, they are not necessarily required to directly affect legislation– they are also important to making issues and crises visible, thereby strengthening the collaborative effort to address such issues.

We have also seen greatly successful participation of legislators in welcoming and interacting with foreign delegations.  These demonstrations of good will and genuine helpfulness and interest are essential components of successful diplomacy.

To date, we have had state legislators participate in several of our projects, including the sub-national delegation to the U.N. Donors’ Conference Pre-Meeting for Haiti earthquake relief efforts, programming for African Ministers during the African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum in Kansas City to support economic development, and during our U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission programming in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to support government transparency. This participation in Harrisburg – which could not have been made possible without the help of NCSL and Kathy Wiggins – resulted in an exciting meeting with the Pennsylvania Speaker of the House and even a formal announcement of the delegation on the Floor. 

All of these events provided a platform to share ideas, concerns, and best practices, and even discuss model legislation. They also embodied the important work of diplomacy. 

Toward that end, we at the Department of State are very interested in further cultivating and expanding our work with NCSL. My office is in the unique position to be able to connect you and your membership with both your international counterparts and other Department Bureaus who do work on issues of mutual interest that would benefit from your leadership and collaboration.

As we look forward, there is still a great deal of work to do, however, we believe building partnerships with sub-nationals creates a multiplier effect, and there is no telling of the heights we can reach together.

This integration of all of our work and resources allows us to bring our competencies together to maximize our success. The coordination and participation of state and local and sub-national leaders and governments are key in inspiring interest, compliance, and expanded innovation and initiative.  Without comprehensive support and cooperation at all levels of government and their constituents, our collective goals and objectives cannot be realized. 

Our success in these endeavors is shared. Likewise, our work must be more collaborative, our plans more coordinated, and our partnerships more strategic, and will need to also include universities and research institutions, the private sector, NGOs and civil society because we already know that policies cannot be executed by government alone.

Let us begin with the ideas that we have been working on and that we share today to help us build a better world that will inspire us to make us even more passionately committed to the challenges before us.

As you look beyond your borders, we would like to partner with you to meet the shared, global challenges we face.  Our world is urbanizing at a rapid rate and our policies must keep pace with these changes.

Thank you all again for your legislative leadership that is so critical to our common future, as we come together for state and local partnerships in pursuit of the common good.  Together in partnership we are making a difference.


Updated December 13, 2010