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United States

EMBCA’s American Bipartisan State Legislators of Hellenic Descent Panel Discussion

February 23, 2023

NEW YORK – The Eastern Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance (EMBCA) presented the ‘American Bipartisan State Legislators of Hellenic Descent and their Effect in the East Mediterranean’ webinar panel discussion on February 19. The informative panel discussion was introduced and moderated by Lou Katsos, EMBCA’s President.

The distinguished panel included State Senator Lou Raptakis (D- RI); State Representative Nicole Klarides (R-CT); State Senator Spiros Mantzavinos (D-DE); State Representative Leon Stavrinakis (D-SC); and State Senator Stephan Pappas (R-WY).

Katsos opened the event with a moment of silence for the victims of the recent earthquake in southern Turkey and northern Syria.
“The importance of state legislators is at times misunderstood not only on a grass roots level locally but also in helping shape and the key to national issues as well as international ones,” Katsos said in his introduction to the bipartisan discussion with legislators of Hellenic descent on their “main role in designing, drafting, and passing laws on a state level but also helping shape national as well as international policy in the East Mediterranean and beyond.”

Sen. Raptakis noted that the Greek-American legislators are not only working on the geo-political issues, but also energy issues between their home states and Greece and Cyprus, education- bonding our state universities with universities in Greece and Cyprus, encouraging Fortune 500 companies to invest in Greece and having Greek companies invest in the U.S. “It’s a bridge-building mechanism we have as Hellenic-American legislators… as Tip O’Neill used to say, ‘all politics is local,’ so working from the bottom up bings us together, and those non-Greek-Americans who are elected in our states understand the issues,” Sen. Raptakis said.

He added that in the state legislatures everyone supports the passage of the annual resolutions for Greek Independence Day and for recognition of the Pontian Genocide. “The key point is we emphasize that Greece is the cradle of democracy and it resonates with all our colleagues in government… when we bond together united, it makes us a lot stronger,” Sen. Raptakis said.

Connecticut State Representative Nicole Klarides noted that it is an honor to be a part of the PADEE-WHIA (World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association) organization, having begun with her sister Themis who had been the minority leader in the legislature at the time, and mentioned that her colleague State Representative Eleni Kavros DeGraw who joined in 2021 was unfortunately unable to participate in the panel discussion. She pointed out that they had passed a resolution recognizing the Greek and Armenian Genocide in the state legislature and also shared concerns with U.S. Senator Chris Murphy about Turkey and the sale of fighter jets.

Senator Mantzavinos said that “we do have the opportunity to raise the profile of these issues through resolutions, through working with our Congressional delegation.” He added that many state legislators eventually seek higher office and may move up to the federal level or their colleagues will, having heard about the issues of concern from Greek-American colleagues.

State Representative Leon Stavrinakis noted that “the interests of Greece and the United States on the issues of national security are so closely aligned, a strong, safe and secure Greece is a strong, safe and secure United States of America and there’s really no separating those two things, are interests are and have always been so closely aligned.”

Sen. Pappas pointed out that the issues he focuses on “when it comes to Greek-American relations” are trade and commerce, education, tourism, and the military. “That’s what WHIA does, it works on all of these relationships, but for me, being a retired military man, a retired Air Force General, the military portion of that tends to piques my interest the most and it’s actually very key, as you know, the eastern Mediterranean tends to be a hotspot and security in the eastern Mediterranean is very important not only to U.S. interests, but NATO interests and interests around the world, certainly Greek interests as well,” he observed.

“Making sure we have a strong partner in the eastern Mediterranean is essential and as we all know Greece’s neighbor, the Turkish government, has been a little bit unreliable lately, we certainly have worked through WHIA to make sure that some of the actions that Turkey has taken don’t go unnoticed,” Sen. Pappas said.

The video of the full discussion is available on EMBCA’s YouTube channel: https://bit.ly/3lZnklg.

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