Bipartisanship Conference

To cap off three days of activities celebrating the annual meeting, the association co-hosted Breaking the Stalemate, a conference on bipartisanship, with the    Bipartisan Policy Center and the National Archives. The conference—hosted in the National Archives building in downtown Washington, D.C.—brought together over 40 members of Congress  to discuss not only problems with today’s toxically partisan political discourse, but strategies and solutions for a more cooperative future.

“[Bipartisanship] is never easy. It wasn’t easy ten years ago and it wasn’t easy one hundred years ago, but in critical moments in our nation’s history, our elected officials have found that courage and that ability to in fact maintain their principles, yet still work together for the national interest.” ­–BPC President Jason Grumet

The conference began with remarks from the Archivist of the United Sates, David Ferriero; Association President, Jay Rhodes; Bipartisan Policy Center President, Jason Grumet; and Incoming Association President, Dennis Hertel.  Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) kicked off the panels with comments on the frustrations of poison partisanship and optimism about the future:

“Very often, people of different views aren’t going to enjoy every single moment of working together. There is going to be some conflict. But if both sides can look at the effort to find common ground as an effort to secure their principles, then I think it is an opportunity for some breakthroughs.”­—Senator Ron Wyden

The day then proceeded with three dynamic panels and an off-the-record luncheon designed to create a relaxed forum in which Members could freely discuss ways to foster bipartisanship and civility. The first panel, Institutional Perspective: Partisanship and the Political Divide, featured former Speaker Tom Foley, former Member Martin Frost, former Senator Trent Lott, former Minority Leader Bob Michel, and moderator Judy Woodruff of PBS. They discussed some possible foundations for the bitter partisanship so prevalent in modern politics, and the gridlock it has created in Congress:

“You are under pressure when you come to Washington. Stick with your party. It’s dangerous when you break ranks and really try to find a way to get some bipartisan things done.”—Senator Trent Lott

Despite their comments on the inherent problems of strict partisanship, the panelists were hopeful that with good leadership and a renewed spirit of cooperation, congress would, in time, become a more civil and productive place.

Next came a media panel moderated by former Member Fred Grandy.  The panel, Sound Bite News: Political Discourse in the Age of Pundits, Cable TV and Twitter, featured Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report, Jill Lawrence of Politics Daily, Jonathan Karl of ABC News, and Stu Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report. While the panel discussed the advantages of a more connected nation, they also commented on how more easily accessible news doesn’t necessarily mean better news—or a more well-informed public:

“We’re getting more information, we’re not necessarily getting more understanding” –Congressman Fred Grandy.

Panelists suggested that in a media atmosphere where news is entertainment and opinion is oftentimes mistaken as fact, the public needs to be much more cautious and discerning in choosing their news.

Changing Course: Examples and Solutions for Breaking the Stalemate in Washington was the conference’s third and final panel. It consisted of Secretary Ray LaHood, Senator Tom Sawyer, and former Members Amo Houghton and David Skaggs, and was moderated by Former Congress Member Dennis Hertel. The panelists discussed how incivility and poor communication in Congress was a reflection of Americans’ fears in these difficult and changing times. However they expressed hope that eventually, people would realize that it would be in America’s best interest to find common ground:

“Some place along the line, there’s going to be a snap and people are going to realize…that the middle road, the moderates, the people who’ve got their feet on the ground, are really going to be the people that are honest and that are going to be representing them.” –Congressman Amo Houghton

Watch the panels—including the keynote speech—here.