23 January 2007

The False Goal of Bipartisanship

On the surface, the prospects of bipartisan cooperation in Juneau this legislative session appear very bright:

  • There's a bipartisan coalition in the Senate that's sharing power;
  • The governor campaigned on a pledge to unite Alaskans and bring people together - that presumably includes the 25 members of the legislature who aren't Republicans;
  • In conversations with Ralph Samuels and Beth Kerttula, both swear up and down that they are great friends and get along so well ("famously" to use a word Samuels used more than once in conversation with me);
  • There's apparently some sort of national trend towards bipartisanship.
But it does strike me that people always say this kind of thing at the beginning of a legislative session.

Perhaps bipartisanship is a false goal anyway. The reason there are parties in the first place is that people disagree on how best to approach policy problems. It seems unreasonable to think they could reconcile those differences just because they're in the same legislative hall.

Maybe what we should really shoot for is honest and open discussion that isn't colored by the distorting lenses of partisanship. Rather than attacking and distorting an opponents' argument because they're of an opposite party, I'd be happy if lawmakers honestly and intentionally engaged one another, listened to what the other had say (rather than dismissing it out of hand if it doesn't jive what they think), and then come to the best solution. That solution might not be bipartisan and some people might disagree with the outcome but it'd be a step in the right direction.

Process determines product and an honest and open process produces the best product. That's what I want in Juneau this year.

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