Three weeks after Election Day, a Republican Congressman from upstate New York will be in Berkshire County tomorrow to talk about bipartisanship.
Chris Gibson is the Stanley Kaplan distinguished visiting professor at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The former Congressman from New York’s 19th district who later explored a run for governor has a grave concern about the state of politics in America.
“Arguably, not since the Civil War have we been this divided,” he told WAMC.
Gibson says partisanship in the House and Senate has led to an unhealthy reliance on the president to govern via executive order. Gibson thinks that’s having a corrosive effect on democracy.
“Because when we deny ourselves the ability to come together through accommodation and compromise, which is the legislative process – let’s also consider the fact that what our founders did, we escaped history," said Gibson. "The history of political change before us, before our founding, was violence. You had a king, a queen, an aristocracy. They ruled for a period of time and they got weak, maybe they got their head cut off, and ultimately there was violent political change – and we said it doesn’t have to be like that.”
To further conversation about the American ideal of peaceful political change, he’s bringing Republican Congressman Tom Reed to Williams for a town hall Tuesday morning.
“Well, the 23rd Congressional District is all of Western New York," explained Reed. "It borders the Pennsylvania south border and south of Buffalo and Rochester. It’s about the size of the state of New Jersey.”
Reed, a former mayor of Corning, was first elected in 2010.
While he describes himself as “a proud Republican and a proud conservative” – one who has overwhelming supported the Trump Administration’s agenda in the House – Reed has been an outspoken advocate for increased bipartisanship.
“The good ideas – if you look at the history of our country – the ones that have withstood the test of time truly have been bipartisan," he told WAMC. "And it’s not because it’s bipartisan for bipartisan’s sake – it’s because it was able to achive that common ground substantively where it was respected, the issue, the policy, on both sides. And then therefore protected going forward by each party. And that’s what we’re losing.”
Reed is co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus alongside New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer. The group emerged from the No Labels political reform group that Gibson advocated for while in office.
“We’ve already done some things over the last two years on health care, immigration, gun safety as a Problem Solvers Caucus where we got to a group position where we would stand together and vote for it, but I think going into the next Congress there’s a huge opportunity for common ground on infrastructure, drug pricing, prison reform,” said the congressman.
Reed says reforming House rules is a crucial step to restructuring a sharply divided Washington.
“It started a few decades ago, probably under Newt Gingrich – and Nancy Pelosi continued it and made it even worse in my opinion – in regards to making it a top down, Speaker-driven institution where everything comes from the Speaker’s office or the leadership’s offices, they essentially cut these deals in the back room, it’s not through the open process,” he told WAMC.
With Congress about to decide on a new Speaker, Reed and his cohort see an opportunity. He says the Problem Solvers Caucus has a package of rule reforms to encourage “bipartisan consensus, common ground kind of legislation.”
“And we’re only going to vote for a Speaker candidate that embraces that," said Reed. "And that’s why on the Republican side, I’ve been open – and I got some national attention in regards to it – to supporting Nancy Pelosi, even Nancy Pelosi to me – if she commits to these rule reforms and she needs the vote, I’d be willing to cross over for the sake of the institution, for the sake of the American people.”
Reed’s town hall at Williams College is at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Griffin Hall.