Winston Churchill was spot on when he said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.”
That’s the way it looks today in the White House and on Capitol Hill. When I served in Congress, it was more about civility and trust compared to today’s partisan fury and combativeness.
It started with Newt Gingrich in January, 1995, when he became Speaker of the House of Representatives, replacing the gavel with a sledge hammer. The House chamber suddenly became a battlefield with his relentless partisan attacks that prompted the Democrats to retaliate. With the Trump presidency, it has only gotten worse.
When the new Congress convenes in January, 2021, is it possible that things will get better? Are the newly elected prepared to put the national interest above partisan bickering and self-interest?
Congressmen, who represent their constituencies, reflect the vast diversity that is on full display in the Halls of Congress. The challenge is how we deal with our differences to achieve the common good.
In my book, A Higher Calling, I profiled a select number of exemplary leaders dedicated to working in a bipartisan way, putting accomplishments over political gain. It was their character and courage, often at political risk, that brought out the best in how Congress should function. The four that stand out were from the great leaders in past years, but what lies ahead?
If there is hope in the next Congress it is Rep. Derek Kilmer, who represents Washington’s 6th Congressional District. At the outset, this progressive Democrat has reached across the aisle, collaborating with Republicans on key issues. Kilmer led the Bipartisan Working Group and the Problem Solvers Caucus, committed to forging needed consensus that is essential to get legislation approved.
On Jan. 4, 2019, Speaker Nancy Pelosi wisely selected Kilmer to chair the bipartisan House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. It was tasked to investigate, study, make findings, hold public hearings and develop recommendations to make Congress more efficient and transparent.
Beyond that it is the spirit of bipartisanship that is moving Congress in the right direction. Under Kilmer’s leadership, the panel has been hard at work, recommending over 97 proposals with the House actually approving 40 of them with a 395-13 vote. That’s how Congress should function.
Believe me, Kilmer is exceptional. I’ve observed him up close (his mother was my campaign manager when he was a toddler), and now serves as my congressman. To rephrase Churchill’s legendary quote, Kilmer’s leadership will bring out the “best” in our democracy.
Don Bonker is a former U.S. congressman.