WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - An estimated 500 people, including state legislators, their staffers and family members, are in Hawaii this week for the 64th annual meeting of the Council on State Governments-West.
The council is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that serves legislatures of 13 western states, including Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. Most of the conference meetings are being held at the Sheraton Waikiki, with sessions at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and the East-West Center.
"This is the exchange of ideas, of getting the best practices from other states, and we're learning from each other," said Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D-Wahiawa, Whitmore Village, Launani Valley), who is this year's CSG-WEST chair. "This is what the democracies of state legislators are all about, collaborating and sharing ideas, and taking some good things back home to share with your constituents."
Having the conference here is another chance for Hawaii to showcase what it has to offer to the other 12 states when it comes to tourism and local products. But those attending also are talking about economic development, budget shortfalls, the budget crisis in Washington, D.C., and how the western states can expand trade with APEC nations, whose leaders will meet here later this year.
"With APEC being on the agenda right now, I think people are appreciating the fact that it's an opportunity for us as a country to expand trade to Asia, China, Korea, Japan, India, etc.," Oshiro said.
And western lawmakers also share ideas to help areas in the region that have been hit harder by the Great Recession, such as Las Vegas.
"In Nevada in particular, very hard hit by the recession, (there are) huge population changes," said Alaska Rep. Beth Kerttula. "How can we band together as the western states to improve the quality of life for our citizens?"
Kerttula, who is a 14-year lawmaker and current minority leader in the Alaska House of Representatives, is also a member of the conference's "Westrends" committee.
"We look at things like all of the demographics of where people are moving, about the increase of minorities coming in, about the housing market having broken really in the west and that causing issues," she said.
The CSG-WEST conference will continue through Tuesday. Next year's conference will be held in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.