The annual American Association of State Compensation Insurance Funds (AASCIF) conference, held this year in the Washington, DC area, is now just a fond memory, and as is my normal custom, I will regale you with the highlights of the week. The simple overview: The people of host fund Chesapeake Employers Insurance Company did a fine job, and produced (with a few moments of unexpected hilarity) another solid AASCIF Conference.

First, I will note that I was warmly greeted and treated at this year’s event. There had been concern that, with my somewhat extensive focus on the controversial firing of (AASCIF member) SAIF’s CEO John Plotkin, that the reception might be chilly or otherwise uncomfortable. That was certainly not the case. People were quite friendly and I noticed no ill will. 

True, my hotel room bed was routinely short sheeted, but I am sure that was a coincidence.

I had the opportunity to talk to a number of people about the Plotkin affair; both those with state funds and vendors who routinely deal with a variety of those companies, including SAIF itself. All will remain blessedly anonymous for the purposes of this recounting. I can tell you there is intense interest in that story across the country, and wide sentiment that something gravely wrong has occurred at SAIF. Some people were genuinely conflicted. They knew and liked John Plotkin, and they also knew and liked Brenda Rocklin. There seemed to be surprise and concern over the information coming out of SAIF. But I learned they are definitely looking at that information with intense interest.

As for the conference itself, there was again a mix of strong presentations, including well known journalist and author Bob Woodward. The conference took an in depth look at opioids and prescription drug issues, as well as adjusting methods for climate change concerns (While I am proudly classified as a man made climate change “denier”, the presentation was interesting as a method for looking at changing weather trends from an actuarial perspective).

And of course, no annual AASCIF conference is complete without excellent family events, and this year generally lived up to that reputation. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our Segway tour of DC monuments. We were surprised to see Marine One, the Presidents helicopter, take off from the White House south lawn, since President Obama was supposed to be vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard.  He probably forgot his Sand Wedge. We also learned on this tour 1) why the Washington Monument is two different colors*, and 2) that we definitely want to buy a Segway. 

The Sunday night reception enjoyed great weather in a beautiful location on the Potomac – and the braised short ribs were a killer addition.

The Monday night dinner at the Smithsonian Museum of American History was a great event as well. I accidentally stumbled into the gallery of First Ladies gowns and White House China, which was not the complete highlight of my evening, but it was otherwise a great venue. Plus, on the way in we learned why the Washington Monument is two different colors*. 

Tuesday we took a cruise on the Potomac, and toured George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, all while slogging through the second biggest rainstorm in the area’s history. Fortunately it was the only day of inclement weather in an otherwise beautiful week. Also, the gift shop had an ample supply of “I Swam Mt. Vernon” bumper stickers. 

Tuesday night was the “Moonlight Trolley Tour of the DC Monuments and The Greater Northeast United States”. While it was a worthwhile event, it did get off to a rocky start. It seems the driver decided on an alternate route than that previously agreed to, and then to compound the confusion, missed an exit on the otherwise short trip to DC from National Harbor, MD, where the conference hotel was located. The result is that about 30 of us, in a completely open trolley with no windows, no seat belts and very low sides (essentially a flat platform filled with park benches) found ourselves zipping down the interstate while our guide prattled on about something completely unintelligible. None of us have any idea what, as the sounds of huge semis and other traffic zooming by six inches from our head tended to drown her out. 

As one rider wisely yelled over the din, “I’ve never barreled down the interstate on a park bench before”. 

The real fun began when our chaperones, two employees of Chesapeake Employers, began shouting that “This is wrong!”, and “We are from here, we know this is wrong!”. They pushed to the front, against the prevailing winds, while the rest of us watched them argue with the driver and guide, almost as if they were negotiating for our freedom. The whole thing did have the distinct air of a kidnapping, after all. Finally, when we came upon a sign that read “Welcome to Canada” the driver and guide relented to our chaperones demands and we turned around and headed in the right direction – albeit eventually through one of Washington’s worst neighborhoods. 

I can now cross “being heckled by residents sitting on their porch while waiting at a red light on a completely open trolley full of windblown tourists” off my bucket list. I was worried that I might not get that one fulfilled.

Once we reached the monuments, it was quite enjoyable. I highly recommend touring the Korean War Memorial at night. It is impressive. Plus, we learned why the Washington Monument is two different colors*.

The final day of the conference we were taken on a behind the scenes tour of our nations Capitol building. It turns out one cannot enter restricted areas of the Capitol without being accompanied by a current or former member of Congress (former members retain access rights for life). Our Congressman was former Michigan Representative Bob Carr, who greeted our group on the stairs to the Capitol Building, wearing a lavender shirt, cream pants, and a lavender and cream tie under a blue sportcoat. He was also wearing white socks, worn loafers and a broad smile that looked as though he had just sold us a 1984 Pontiac Fiero at well above blue book.

On this behind the scenes tour we were able to enter and sit in the chamber that holds the House of Representatives, which I found quite fascinating. The next time you watch a State of the Union Address and they show the Supreme Court Justices frowning and shaking their heads, that is where I sat. I left Chief Justice Roberts a note – “The mandate is a tax? Really? What the hell were you thinking?” An added bonus: Since we arrived in DC early, we drove around the monuments and learned why the Washington Monument is two different colors*.

All told we enjoyed ourselves, and I want to publicly thank the employees of Chesapeake Employers Insurance Company for their graciousness and hospitality. They did a fine job, and I firmly remain a really big AASCIFFER.

Next year, the conference is in San Francisco, hosted by the California State Fund. Not to get pushy, but I think a private dinner at Alcatraz would be a really cool closing event, if I do say so myself (hint hint hint).

However, I am done racing park benches on the interstate. That is the sort of thing you only want to do once.


*So why is the Washington Monument two different colors? It depends on who you ask. The prevailing opinions are consistent in that construction was halted when the monument was only 1/3rd complete – although the reason for the stoppage was either a lack of money or the Civil War, depending on the guide regaling you with the details. When construction resumed a number of years after 1) getting money, or 2) the Civil War, contractors discovered the original marble quarry had 1) closed so they had to source the stone at another quarry, 2) closed so they had to source the stone at another quarry which also closed so they had to go to yet a third quarry, this time in Italy, or 3) (my personal favorite) the original quarry remained open but they had to “dig deeper” and the stone was darker there.

Generally I found Washington tour guides to be rather inconsistent and in need of serious training. One guide, when pointing out that the Capitol Dome was completed during the Civil War, told us it had been built entirely using “enslaved people” – which I found surprising given that enslaved people were emancipated in the north and we were in fact fighting a war at that time that, although was over state’s rights, hinged largely on stopping the enslavement of those same people. Someone clearly didn’t get the memo, or our guide was an idiot.

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