After Obama win, how civility can come to Washington (+video)
After the election last night, President Obama and Mitt Romney rightly spoke of the need to reach out to the other side. But today's political divisiveness has been decades in the making and will take decades to undo. Here's how that can happen. It starts with citizens.
(Page 2 of 3)
Let’s say that ahead of the 2020 national census – which will trigger the next round of redistricting – a handful more states adopts the nonpartisan-commission approach. A decade later, perhaps a dozen more follow.Skip to next paragraph
Gallery Monitor Political Cartoons
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
As a result, the country slowly creates more competitive races at the congressional level, because candidates have to compete in – and represent – more politically diverse districts. The partisan edge softens somewhat.
Simultaneously, more states change to open and inclusive party primaries so that the names appearing on November ballots are chosen by the full voting public rather than the polarized activist bases of the parties. At least 18 states currently have open presidential primaries, but that is an incomplete reform. Open primaries allow all registered voters to participate, but the ballots remain either all-Democrat or all-Republican. Open, inclusive primaries would put all candidates before all voters.
Redistricting and primary reforms would bring more moderates to the House and Senate. A moderated Congress would in turn change how it does business.
House reforms would include voting for the speaker by secret ballot, which gives majority party members cover to vote their conscience without risking retribution from their own leadership. To increase “face time” with each other and build comity, Congress should work a Monday through Friday schedule in Washington, instead of today’s Tuesday through Thursday routine – but for three weeks a month so that members still have ample time in their districts.
Two more steps are vital. Adhering to the norm of 15-minute electronic voting would help eliminate bullying of members by their leaders to vote the party line. In recent years, majority party leaders have left votes open for up to three hours to coerce reluctant members to change their positions in favor of the party’s will.
The committee system needs to be restored as well, so that legislation is drawn up through deliberation and expert input rather than behind closed doors between party leaders and vested interests.
Citizens would also need to demand that the parties embrace two important campaign-finance reforms. First, members of Congress should be prohibited from fundraising from January to June of each year. That might offset the advantages of incumbency somewhat, but it would give legislators more time to focus on the nation’s business and provide a modest buffer against constant lobbying.
Second, congressional leaders must be compelled to end the practice of requiring their members in the House and Senate to raise funds for the party’s use in specific races. The best way to do that is to compel state legislatures to require that campaigns for Congress be funded from within each individual district. That would also prevent the excesses of financial influence unleashed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010, which allowed unlimited spending by corporations and unions on electioneering.
Across the Rotunda, the Senate will need to finally adjust the filibuster – a once-rare tactic that is now so commonly used by the minority to block the majority agenda that a senator merely has to register anonymously through the party’s leadership an intention to filibuster to achieve the desired blocking result.
That could be done as early as when the next Senate sits in January. It simply means that filibusters must be actual filibusters, with the objecting senator taking the floor and holding it for as long as endurance or desire holds. Add to that a requirement that filibusters must be germane to the opposed legislation and the intent to filibuster – called a hold – be published so voters know the name of the objecting (or obstructing) senator.