Fighting Partisanship

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Arizona Town Hall is meeting this week to formulate recommendations for improving civic leadership. One of the speakers at Town Hall is Mickey Edwards, a former Congressman from Oklahoma, who is the author of “The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans”. Hear what Edwards has to say about politics and partisanship.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon". I'm Ted Simons, Arizona Senator, Jon Kyl, and Texas Senator, Kay Bailey Hutchinson introduce an alternative to the Dream Act. The bill is also supported by Senator, John McCain, would give legal status by way of students and work visas for those brought here illegally by their parents at a young age. The bill also offers permanent residency to those who earn college degrees or complete four years in the military. The plan titled the Achieve Act does not include a special path to citizenship. "Civic Leadership" for Arizona's future, is the topic of the 101st Arizona Town Hall taking place this week at the Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale. One of the featured speakers is former Oklahoma congressman Mickey Edwards, who was the Vice President of the Aspen institute and in charge of the Rodell fellowships in Public Leadership Program. He authored a book, published this summer, titled "The Parties Versus the People". How to turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans. Earlier I had chance to speak with Mickey Edwards. Thank you very much for joining us tonight on Arizona Horizon.
Mickey Edwards: Thank you, glad to be here.
Ted Simons: The book is the "The Party Versus the People" subtitle, How to turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans. Explain.
Mickey Edwards: What happens now is in both state legislature and is in Washington, is when it comes time to make decisions, people start looking at what is our party agenda and what's our party position on this, and what's going to be the effect in the next election, and what we really need is to have people not sitting in Washington or in the state legislatures saying, well, I'm a Republican first, I'm a Democrat first, but I'm an American, I'm an Arizonan. Where we come together to make sure that, you know, that our schools funded, that our bridges don't collapse. And you have to get past the party labels, and think first that we come together as people, have concerns in common.
Ted Simons: Why can't we get past it the party labels?
Mickey Edwards: There are a lot of reasons, but one of the reasons, is that in order to be on the ballot in November, what you have to do is make it through a party primary that is dominated usually by the most partisan people, so, you only choose between the people selected by the partisans, and therefore, the general public is really not represented in terms of who gets sent to the legislature or who ends up in Washington. You have representatives of the hard line of the left or the right.
Ted Simons: So, and you had that, and obviously, here in Arizona, there was an initiative to try to address that, top two primary initiative. This, not only lost, it lost by a whole lot. Is this the kind of thing that people, the voters want?
Mickey Edwards: Well, you know, I had chance, I was here earlier, and I had a chance to hear some of the arguments were being made against it. And the fact is, Arizona made, in my view, is a serious mistake. When it did not follow California and Washington, in creating a system, it does not have to be that precisely, but you have to have a system that requires voters to, or requires candidates to appeal to all the electorate and gives all of the voters a chance to choose among all the options. That's the only way you really have representative government. It's not supposed to be party versus party, my club against your club. It's supposed to be all of us together as Arizonans or Oklahomans in my case or, or Americans.
Ted Simons: The idea, though, is this tribalism, this my team, you know, right or wrong that, kind of a thing. Have we always had this? Has it gotten worse? When did the tipping point happen?
Mickey Edwards: It's worse than it was, and there is several factors not the system. A lot of it is systemic, including party control of redistricting, but there is other stuff. More and more we have become a nation of people who, either listen to Rush Limbaugh or to Keith Olbermann, but don't hear more than one point of view. They always, people only talk to people who think the way that they do. That's very common in America now, and you have talk radio. Talk television, and others, who just feed toxins into the system. So that people are reinforced and even the most outrageous beliefs. And so, there is no way that people are willing to sit down and talk with the enemy. We have got to get past the fact that somebody who has a different point of view than ours is the enemy.
Ted Simons: When you talk about this, I wonder, sometimes, how much voters are to blame. We talked about the top two primary initiatives in Arizona, voted down handily. We talk about talk radio and cable television, people vote with their eyes and their ears, and they seem to go for this sort thing. At what point to you look at the voters and say, what really do we want?
Mickey Edwards: You know, when you have these people that vote 95% of the time with their party, they are clearly not listening to the people. They are listening to the party agenda, how do you deal with something like that? You show up at a town meeting, when your state legislature or when your Senators or the U.S. house members show up, and they are voting straight down party lines, you confront them, and say, we did not send you there to be a party hack. We did not send you there to be working for the Republican Party, the Democratic Party. We want you -- have strong principles. Fight for the principles you believe in. But, when you have gotten as far as you can go, and still be able to do the job you were elected to do, find the areas where you can compromise so we can move forward as a country.
Ted Simons: But it seems the lawmakers in this day and age, they will hear me say, I did not elect you to do that. Let's look over here, and look at the money, and they say, they want me to do that. That's what I'm going to do. How to you get past that?
Mickey Edwards: The money is problem. There is way too much money in the system now. And too much unaccountable money in the system. There is a lot of reforms. The fact that, that we, you know, touch on a sore point here, the fact that we don't do good job of civic education, so that voters, can not understand how the system is supposed to work, and why it does not work the way it should. There is a lot of things. In the culture, you know, and, but I don't want to blame, the voters have the power to show up at these meetings and confront if, you were in Congress, just say, you know, I want you, coming back, listening and telling us how you are going to sit down and solve the problem. Not carry your party banner. So, ultimately, it comes back to the people themselves, you will get what you demand.
Ted Simons: Indeed. And also, back to the people, negative advertising, certainly seems to work, and these things, so you look at all this stuff, and people do, you know, in this day and age, you know as well as anyone, they will go "R" if Republican, they'll vote "D" if they are Democrat, they don't know who these people are, they'll just check it out. Tribalism, how do you get past, how do you get the culture passed that kind of thing?
Mickey Edwards: You know, I think we're getting passed that. I can't speak to Arizona but 40% of the voters in America today are independents. They are sick and tired of this system. And the USA today had an article that this the American people are fleeing from the political parties. And every day, you know, what you are reading from people, all over the country, is come together, work, solve our problems. Things like what happens in Washington and in many state legislatures. Simply making it impossible to keep the bridges from collapsing or your troops have the equipment that they need or whatever, you know. This is not about beating the other team. It's not the NFL. It's about America. Or Arizona.
Ted Simons: The idea that partisanship has always been there, that negative campaigns have been there, and angry talk and rhetoric, it used to be worse back in the old days than it is now. Are you buying that?
Mickey Edwards: No, no. Certainly some of the name calling, you know, was worse. But, I mean, you look at this last campaign. The last presidential campaign, it was a disgusting campaign. It was one side calling the other Kenyan socialist and the other, you are hard hearted billionaire who does not care about people. It was really a campaign about if you are on the other side on these issues, you are really a bad person. And that's not true. It's that part of it, the level of vitriol, widespread is much worse than it used to be.
Ted Simons: Ok. Reforms. Solutions. What do we do and what do we look at out there?
Mickey Edwards: Number one, the political parties, not to be able to control the congressional district lines, you know. You should have the opportunity to represent a community that you understand and that understands you. You know. Not find yourself as a city person representing wheat farmers, in my case, in Oklahoma, or vice versa, because it serves the party's interest to do that. You should take away, even if you keep the system that we have now, the parties ought not to be able to control who is on the ballot in November. These clubs, ought not to be able to tell the voters, these are the only choices you can have. Let's say you run at a primary and you lose the primary, somebody else wins, now that person has the party's endorsement, but the other candidates ought to still be able to be on the ballot, so voters who prefer them can choose them.
Ted Simons: Don't they have sore loser laws out there though?
Mickey Edwards: They have 46 states have sore loser laws. And they say, you cannot be on the ballot. If you lost at your primary. The first thing you can do to restore system of representative government, is to get rid of sore loser laws, and then regardless of whether you have top two or whatever you have. If you get rid of sore loser laws, you solve the problem.
Ted Simons: Last question. You've been there, you know Capitol Hill. You know you have worked with a lot of folks back there. Good, bad, and all points in between. Something that always strikes me is that the concept of being a public servant, seems to get lost. The people in Washington, for the most part, do they understand and appreciate they are servants, they are public servants, as opposed to careerists, climbers, team members, everything we've talk about?
Mickey Edwards: Too few of them do. The only problem that I had with the closed primaries is this it rewards incivility. It rewards intransigent's refusal to compromise because what happens to you when you are seen as, "compromiser, somebody who will talk to somebody on the other side, you lose your primary. You cannot be on the ballot in November. So it's two things, it's not the top two or whatever. It's that in combination with the sore loser laws, and redistricting, that those things all together reward you for being the kind of person who is going to stick to the party line and not solve the problems.
Ted Simons: Be optimistic?
Mickey Edwards: I'm optimistic because despite what Arizona did, the rest of the country is going the other way. As I said, 40% or more, are now independents. People are beginning to reject the system, and Arizona will, too. They take a little longer but Arizona will, too.
Ted Simons: It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Mickey Edwards: Thank you.

Mickey Edwards:Former Congressman, Oklahoma;

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