Flinn-Brown Fellow Sean Berens serves as senior counsel for governor

August 3, 2023

By brianpowell

Fellows Spotlight

Sean Berens

(Phoenix, 2016)
Senior Counsel
Office of General Counsel, Governor’s Office

1. Can you please describe your work and how public policy impacts you?

I currently serve as Senior Counsel in the Office of General Counsel for Gov. Katie Hobbs. In that role, I work with General Counsel Bo Dul and the rest of the legal team to assist the governor’s staff with anything and everything that they do. Housing and water are a few of my focus areas but our dynamic state provides the opportunity to help with many different subjects from one day to the next. Among other things, the legal team provides analysis of both existing and proposed policy and ensures that the office remains in compliance with its myriad obligations.
Something that has surprised me since beginning this new position is that public policy impacts me viscerally and continuously each day. As an attorney in private practice, I glimpsed the despair and rejoiced in the triumph of my immigration or family law pro bono clients but I now glimpse the human impact of nearly every policy area. In the Governor’s Office, we are blessed to be able to observe the impact of policy on Arizonans in real time. When we are not going out to see folks around the state, they are often coming to us directly to let us know how one policy or another is affecting them. It is impossible not to be moved by the experiences of my fellow Arizonans. Their stories bring home the life-changing daily impact of public policy. The urgency of the problems that they face also makes it very easy to get out of bed and into the office each morning!

2. Do you have a favorite quote that is meaningful to you? Please explain why.

“What’s good for you is good for me and what’s bad for you is bad for me.” -The Refreshments

To me, this is a simple reminder, delivered by a canonical Arizona band, that we are all bound up in a common endeavor, whether we like it or not. It is the same sentiment that animates the Flinn-Brown Network. We may not all agree but we need to get around a table and figure out a plan because we all want to live and prosper in this state.

3. Is there a book you would recommend to the Fellows?

I read The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein several years ago and it knocked me out. Few books deliver such a forceful case for evaluating the systems around us and questioning how they came to be. What begins as a description of the affirmative laws and government policies that have enforced racial segregation in U.S. housing will end with you looking up the redlining maps in your own community. You might just look up the covenants recorded against your own house and, in many communities around the state, you will find that racially restrictive covenants are still on the books. Even though they are now unenforceable, those covenants provide insight into how our cities developed and, indeed, why they look the way that they do today.

4. How has the Fellows Network been useful to you?

In addition to enabling friendships that enrich my life every day, the Network has been an amazing tool to enable creativity in problem solving and policymaking. The breadth of the Network ensures that, if you have an idea for a policy solution, you can call a Fellow with expertise in the pertinent field to see if your idea is worth pursuing or if you should go back to the drawing board.

5. What do you see as potential opportunities strengthening civic health in Arizona?

This may be a predictable answer given my current role, but there has been immense turnover on State Boards and Commissions and the Governor’s Office is constantly searching for qualified, engaged Arizonans who will reflect all parts of the state. The governor has also announced several task forces and councils and Fellows are already serving on those. We need people from all parts of the state and all backgrounds to fill these positions. Creating boards and commissions that include the broadest possible range of experience will strengthen our response to all manner of pressing issues.

View all Flinn-Brown Fellow profiles here.