Connecting state and local government leaders
This week, the president returned to Springfield, where the inter-party “trust we’d built meant that we came at each debate assuming the best in one another and not the worst.”
With the nation’s combined political attention focused on the state of New Hampshire and 2016 presidential campaign politics this week, it was easy to miss President Obama’s return to Springfield, Illinois, on Wednesday, where he spoke to state lawmakers at the State Capitol.
Besides from greeting some of his former colleagues from when he served as a state lawmaker and some of his memories in Springfield, the president discussed the increasing polarization of the nation, noting that when he was a state lawmaker, his colleagues were able to maintain proactive relationships across party lines.
“I don’t want to be nostalgic here—we voted against each other all the time. And party lines held most of the time,” Obama said. “But those relationships, that trust we’d built meant that we came at each debate assuming the best in one another and not the worst.”
The state of inter-party relations has steadily deteriorated and that’s especially true in the nation’s capital, but that toxic dynamic is more and more present across the 50 states and in many local jurisdictions, too.
The president had a good message when it comes to leaders who pursue scorched earth legislative strategies.
According to the White House transcript of Obama’s Springfield remarks :
... [T]rying to find common ground doesn't make me less of a Democrat or less of a progressive. It means I’m trying to get stuff done.
And the same applies to a Republican who, heaven forbid, might agree with me on a particular issue—or if I said America is great, decided to stand during a State of Union. It’s not a controversial proposition. [Laughter.] You're not going to get in trouble. [Applause.]
But the fact that that's hard to do is a testament to how difficult our politics has become. Because folks are worried, well, I’m going to get yelled at by you, or this blogger is going to write that, or this talk show host is going to talk about me, and suddenly I’ve got [a] challenger, and calling me a RINO or a not a real progressive.
So when I hear voices in either party boast of their refusal to compromise as an accomplishment in and of itself, I’m not impressed. All that does is prevent what most Americans would consider actual accomplishments—like fixing roads, educating kids, passing budgets, cleaning our environment, making our streets safe. [Applause.]
Perhaps elected officials in the Land of Lincoln, who continue to grapple with a long-term state budget impasse , might take that message to heart .
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty.