President Mark D. Gearan joined other members of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform in releasing recommendations and a report, “Governing in a Polarized America: A Bipartisan Blueprint to Strengthen our Democracy,” during an event in Washington, D.C., last week.
Gearan is one of 29 commissioners who, over the course of the past 18 months, met at public and private institutions across the country to hear from interested citizens, political leaders, and issue experts about problems and potential solutions. The report is the culmination of their effort and, within hours of its release, received coverage in a number of national outlets, including USA Today, The Wall St. Journal, MSNBC and Politico, among others.
According to an article about the report in USA Today, “The recommendations range from the nitty-gritty – such as limiting the use of filibusters in the Senate to block debate – to the aspirational. For instance, it calls on all Americans 18 to 28 years old to commit a year for some sort of service to their communities and the nation.”
The report cites the Geneva 2020 initiative as an example of the commission’s recommendation that “Colleges and universities should reaffirm their missions to develop engaged and active citizens and encourage service in formal and informal programs.”
It describes Geneva 2020: “Utilizing the collective-impact theory, all organizations are asked to make a commitment focusing their efforts on the three public school priorities: literacy, graduation rate, and career and college readiness. This extensive partnership-titled Geneva 2020-draws on the college students’ volunteer engagement and convening opportunities of the undergraduate institution.”
At the June 24 convening of the Commission in Washington, D.C., Gearan participated in a panel discussion on engaged citizenry, moderated by Susan Page, Washington Bureau chief of USA Today. He was joined by John Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprises and Chris Marvin, managing director of the “Got Your 6” campaign.
Gearan was appointed to the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform in 2013. He is one of the nation’s leading experts on the intersection of higher education and civic engagement, serving as chair of the Talloires Network Steering Committee, co-chair of the National Advisory Board on Public Service at Harvard College, board member of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, and a former Board member of The Partnership for Public Service and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
With extensive credentials in public policy, he served as Director of the Peace Corps and was Assistant to the President, Director of Communications and Deputy Chief of Staff in the White House.
The full report can be downloaded on the BPC website: http://bipartisanpolicy.org/CPRReport.
The article that appeared in USA Today follows.
Can bipartisan group save this government?
Susan Page • USA TODAY • June 24, 2014
WASHINGTON – On this, at least, there is no longer much partisan debate: The nation’s increasingly bitter political divide has tied Congress in knots, embattled the White House and undermined many Americans’ faith in their government.
A bipartisan group that includes former Senate majority leaders, Cabinet secretaries, governors, White House officials and others is releasing a 109-page report full of ideas large and small that the group says could help ease the friction that has contributed to fiscal cliffs, government shutdowns and a record low public approval rating for Congress.
The recommendations range from the nitty-gritty – such as limiting the use of filibusters in the Senate to block debate – to the aspirational. For instance, it calls on all Americans 18 to 28 years old to commit a year for some sort of service to their communities and the nation.
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform unanimously endorsed the proposals after 18 months of deliberations that included four national “town halls” – at the Reagan Library in California, Constitution Center in Philadelphia, John F. Kennedy Library in Massachusetts and Ohio State University – that were co-sponsored by USA TODAY.
To be sure, there’s no shortage of academic studies and think-tank tomes on governmental gridlock that have failed to get much attention or make any apparent difference.
What the authors hope gives this report traction is the down-to-earth tenor of the recommendations and the high-powered résumés of the panelists, from a Democrat who served as Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, to a Republican who did the same, Trent Lott of Mississippi. Lott says he has broached the proposals with the current Senate GOP leader, Mitch McConnell, and others.
“I get a little criticism: ‘You’re buying a bit of the Democrat complaint'” in limiting filibusters, for instance, Lott says. “I’m really not; I’m trying to look at the bigger picture.”
“We are all determined … to make sure it doesn’t gather dust, sitting in a bookcase,” says former Maine senator Olympia Snowe, a Republican, outlining efforts to lobby members of Congress and launch a grass-roots group, Citizens for Political Reform. “There is no alternative if we want to change the political paralysis that’s overtaking the political system. Otherwise, it’ll become a permanent political way of life, and the country can’t afford that.”
Daschle says the moment may be right for change, especially as Congress elects leaders and adopts rules after the midterm elections in November. “The vast majority of people still want to get things done. We still want to worry about the quality of governance in this country. We still hold out the belief that a democratic republic is the best form of governance,” he says. “We’ve got to demonstrate that.”
Leaders of the commission include Democrat Dan Glickman, a former Agriculture secretary and Kansas congressman, and Republican Dirk Kempthorne, a former Interior secretary and Idaho governor and senator, as well as Daschle, Lott and Snowe.
Some of the recommendations unintentionally underscore the depth of Washington dysfunction – by the apparent need to propose that the House and Senate be in town at the same time, for instance, and that the president meet once a month with congressional leaders.
Among other proposals:
•Increase the role of voters in choosing congressional candidates. Move away from choosing candidates at party caucuses and conventions; set a national congressional primary day in June; and allow independents and/or members of the other party to vote in primaries.
The report sets a goal of increasing the turnout of eligible voters in party primaries, about 20%, to 30% by 2020 and 35% by 2026.
•Make Congress more productive. Have the House and Senate schedule five-day workweeks for three weeks, followed by a one-week recess. Limit the use of filibusters in the Senate to block debates on bills, but allow the minority in the Senate greater opportunity to offer amendments.
•Encourage public service. Presidents shouldn’t “rule out entire classes of candidates” for appointment – as President Obama did in barring lobbyists – and restrictions on what political appointees can do after leaving office generally should last no longer than a year.
The report urges states to draw congressional districts in ways that command bipartisan support and avoid districts that are “oddly shaped” – a reference to gerrymandered boundaries often used to ensure a congressional district will be solidly Republican or solidly Democratic.
Snowe cites that as one of the most crucial proposals before the battles in 2020 over congressional reapportionment: “If we lose this opportunity now, we’ve lost it for another decade,” she says, “and it solidifies this entrenchment.”
“We really are in a more polarized situation, and we don’t think that’s going to go away,” says commission director John Fortier. “We’re really focused on the reality of our world this way: The parties have differences, but how can we make our institutions function?”