HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - An Erie lawmaker has been selected to participate in the 2022 Emerging Legislative Leaders Program at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. 

State Rep. Bob Merski (D-Erie) is one of 50 legislators chosen from 45 states for the conference.   

The State Legislative Leaders Foundation and the University of Virginia are the hosts of the event which is designed to increase collaboration between the parties and increase effective legislating by learning to work across the aisle. 

“It is a profound honor to have been selected for this leadership program,” said Merski. “Everyone here is coming with an open mind.”  

The program started yesterday and concludes July 14. Merski says he’s gaining insight through discussion and debate about leadership in a representative democracy. 

“One of the things that they told us we're not allowed to do is tell the people in the group, in the class, our political party. And so, it's allowed for collaboration. You're really talking about ideas, and not boxing people in based on identity politics or party politics,” Merski added. “I think that that's one strategy that they're using here to break down those barriers, to allow people to work across the aisle and work together collaboratively to problem solve so that government works for the people.” 

The program selects first and second-term leaders who are identified by their peers as future leaders in their fields. Merski says it’s a great opportunity to hear and learn from lawmakers across the country, regardless of party affiliation.  

“To build those relationships across the aisle, you have to break down those identities and really get to know people. We all have a similar purpose, we're all here to serve people.  We might have a different approach to solving problems, but the problems are the problems and we have to find a common solution. And that might involve consensus and compromise, but that's not a bad thing,” said Merski. 

The 2021-22 legislative session is Merski’s second term. He looks forward to applying what he’s learning at the leadership conference to work with fellow lawmakers in his region now, and in future terms. 

“We live in a county that is a purple county, we have Republicans and Democrats elected in Erie County. So, especially in our region, in northwest Pennsylvania, it's important to have a collaborative mindset,” said Merski. 

Since 2005, over 600 legislators have participated in this program.