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Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on Monday held his second "solutions summit," where he gathered conservative politicians and business leaders who discussed the intersection between a rapidly changing private sector and what they see as a plodding government.
From the exploding trend of food trucks to higher education, the senator believes elected officials should create a system that makes it easier for people to get what they want.
"We need to unlock government," Lee said, adding "Regulatory overreach, regulatory obsession, occurs under the administrations of both Republicans and Democrats. We need to fix this."
Among his guests were Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who before joining the Senate in January, served as president of Midland University, just a few miles from his home in Fremont, Neb.
Sasse said the college accreditation process moves too slowly and hasn't adapted to fit a business world where the average worker changes careers three times before he or she reaches the age of 30.
"Regardless of whether or not we like it, it is inevitable that the pace of job change is going to accelerate over time," he said, following his discussion before a group of more than 100 Utahns ranging from state lawmakers to corporate leaders. We have to have a government that is smarter and planning for how we prepare not just our kids and grandkids but middle-career people."
As an example, Sasse said Nebraska faces a major shortage in welders, and yet there are not enough programs in the state training welders. He believes the accreditation process should be flexible enough to help address this issue and he noted that Lee has legislation that would allow for stand-alone programs, outside of the traditional view of higher education.
He said college can't be "just a place for 18 to 22 year olds to be warehoused when we don't have enough work for them to do."
Sasse heaped praise on Lee, describing him as a hub for conservative ideas within the Senate.
The summit, supported by the Salt Lake Chamber, the Utah Manufacturing Association and the Utah Technology Council, was dubbed "Utah's Idea Factory," a takeoff of a National Journal article titled "Mike Lee's Idea Factory." And the senator played the role of emcee as well as interviewer in interactions with Sasse, Gov. Gary Herbert and former Gov. Mike Leavitt in a dining space in the basement of EnergySolutions Arena that normally caters to well-to-do Utah Jazz season ticket holders. He even talked to an owner of the Waffle Love truck who lamented that when he got started the police would pull him over. Lee argued that there is no compelling government interest in regulating waffles on the go.
The senator asked Leavitt to talk about the need for collaboration.
"I think the world is in a state of constant change," Leavitt said. "There are a couple of very important trends, one is the world is intuitively beginning to organize itself into networks."
As examples, Leavitt pointed to air travel, where airlines create partnerships, such as the one between Delta and Air France, instead of merging. He also discussed the team of construction companies that came together to rebuild Interstate 15 in the years before Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Herbert discussed his frustrations with federal land policy and his desire for the federal government to hand over more responsibilities to states.
"It is not as though everything the federal government touches turns to gold," Lee said.
Herbert responded: "Another substance, but not gold."