As you’re reading, the odds are pretty good I’m flying somewhere off the west coast of the United States. For the last 11 days, I’ve been in Japan with a group called the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL). Each year, ACYPL puts together bi-partisan delegations to participate in exchanges with countries around the world. I had the good luck to end up in Japan with talented professionals from all around the United States.
In Japan, we were hosted by a fantastic organization called the Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE). These lovely folks ensured we arrived at our meetings on time, handled the difficult task of translating our questions and comments, and provided an incredible experience I’ll never forget.
I was one of three legislators in the group. The rest of the delegation included a state deputy treasurer, the executive director for a state party, and a director of public and government relations for a large company. An escort who participated in a previous exchange helps lead each group. Our escort happened to be a political finance attorney with prior experience on both presidential and senatorial campaigns.
Representing Idaho in Japan
We had an almost even split between the two parties with four Republicans and three Democrats. Throughout our time together, it would have been easy for both sides to take potshots at one another over current events. Instead, without anyone ever really talking about it, our discussions always stayed thoughtful and civil. We all have strong beliefs, but we remained committed to the larger goal of establishing relationships with each other and our counterparts in Japan.
As a result, we had meaningful connections with a wide range of folks, including MPs from the Diet (Japan’s Congress), national officers in foreign affairs, local elected leaders, and trade policy experts. I don’t believe we had a bad meeting during our entire trip, and we had many interesting ones where we were encouraged to speak about our individual states and the needs of the people we represent.
During our visit, Phase 1 of the bilateral trade agreement between the U.S. and Japan, passed the lower house of the Diet, and we talked with officials about the desire to pursue Phase 2 soon. One aspect I spoke to personally was improving fresh market access for Idaho potatoes. The best part when I brought it up? Everyone had heard of “Idaho’s Famous Potatoes.”
In general, I came away with the impression that Japan values its relationship and alliance with the United States. Every meeting seemed to include some comment focused on ensuring a fair partnership between our two countries for decades to come.
We’re Here to Serve
The part that continues to stick with me, and probably will for some time to come, is the similarity between our group from the U.S. and the people we met in Japan. No matter one’s nation, language, or political ideology, the people I traveled with and met during the last two weeks all shared my desire to serve the people they represent. It was a much-needed reminder at a time when it may seem that everyone is at odds with one another. It’s a reminder I plan to take with me into the next legislative session.
In the coming months, I hope you’ll reach out if you have questions or concerns. Your willingness to speak up and share your thoughts is critical. After this trip to Japan, it matters to me more than ever to make sure I’m serving you to the best of my ability. I’ve loved this experience and how it’s enhanced my appreciation for our state. We do a lot of great things in Idaho, and I’m proud to represent our amazing people.
For all my friends in the U.S., I hope you and yours have a safe and yummy Thanksgiving.