National Institute of Civil Discourse: Next Generation

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The National Institute of Civil Discourse of the University of Arizona has a new program that seeks to develop future national leaders from state lawmakers and imbue them with a culture where discourse and collaboration typify the development of new laws. Ted Celeste, director of state programs at the institute, and state Democratic Representative Randall Friese will discuss the new program.

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TED SIMONS: The U of A's National Institute of Civil Discourse has a new program that looks to develop national leader from state lawmakers inspired by a culture of collaboration and compromise. We discussed the program recently with Ted Celeste, the institute's director of state programs and State Representative Randall Friese. Thank you both for joining us on Arizona Horizon. Good to have you here. The national institute of civil discourse. What are we talking about here?

TED CELESTE: Ted, this was something created in the aftermath of the shooting of Gabby Giffords quite a few years ago and the folks in Tucson wanted to do something to try to change the tenor of what was going on in the political arena. It came to that kind of situation. So the national institute was created to focus on three things: the media, the public and political officials.
TED SIMONS: And right now the idea, one of the reasons we have you here, there's a focus on developing state leaders into national leaders. Explain, please.

RANDALL FRIESE: Well, I think skill sets are important particularly communication skill sets. Knowing how to disagree and knowing how to solve problems, meeting in the middle, knowing how to come up with solution and compromise. Building those skillsets early I think can only be a successful road map to success.

TED SIMONS: How do you do it? How do you develop a collaborative culture?

TED CELESTE: It's interesting. We have created a workshop that is a half day workshop that's really focused on how individuals communicate better, how can you listen better. Really listen to understand. So we spend half a day working with legislators for that purpose to try to really get them to talk about each other and their personal past. It really makes a difference. The people don't spend enough time learning about each other and really understanding what brought them to the same place.

TED SIMONS: Any idea public policy development that it needs changing? Why does it need changing?

RANDALL FRIESE: Well, I think - again it comes back to communication and I like to just comment on what Ted just said. In this era of devices, in this era of smart phones, in this era of emails and texting we don't really sit down and talk to each other. We don't get to know each other. When you get to know someone there's a respect that comes along with that. When you respect someone, even though they may disagree or they may have a different belief than you, you're that much closer to compromising. You're that much closer to coming up with solutions and respecting more than one point of view when you develop a solution.

TED SIMONS: And yet in this day and age if candidate A respects person B, or compromises with person B, they are considered a sellout.

TED CELESTE: Right. That's one of the things that what we're trying to do is give folks comfort that it's okay to be this way. That it really is what people want. And that compromise is not a dirty word. You can still disagree. You can disagree vehemently but you don't have to be disagreeable in your disagreement.

TED SIMONS: How would that mindset change the development of public policy?

RANDALL FRIESE: It just makes it easier to talk to one another, easier and more comfortable to express your point of view. Ted and I were talking in the green room about I read in the newspaper and a letter to the editor that did exactly what you said. Labeled this person's representative as a compromiser and that was a disparaging. That's not where we should be. If we start to exhibit behavior that shows that compromising is not a bad thing, to compromise should be what we aspire to, once we start exhibiting that behavior I think people that are voters, that are the electorate will understand a better solution comes about when more than one point of view is taken into consideration. More people will be happy with the outcome if you take into more than one point of view and come to a middle ground to solve a problem.

TED SIMONS: How do you rebuild trust though, especially after the negative campaigning we see out there? I may run against you. I may think you're a pretty swell guy but by the end of a campaign you have thrown so much mud at me and I've thrown so much at you, how do you get back together again?

TED CELESTE: That's a good question. That comes up in every one of our workshops. It's very difficult. I found that what I did was I ran a different kind of campaign. I'm a former state representative in Ohio, I ran a positive campaign and it made a difference. I viewed that very question as basic to how I'm going to get along with people I work with once I get to the legislature. What we found is that you really have to get at what brings you both to the place you are, an opponent to that environment that you have some common ground. That's what we aim to find out when we do our workshops.

TED SIMONS: How do you do that, especially with an ideologue?

RANDALL FRIESE: In finding common ground in a place where you both agree on something can allow you to begin the process of negotiation. When you come to a negotiation your job is not to convince the other person that you're right and they are wrong, your job is to come up with a solution that takes into account your point of view, their point of view. Each person coming to the table is going to have to give up some aspect of their values to come to a compromise. Now, it's not always exactly in the middle. Somebody may need to give up more. Somebody may need to give up less. But it is a compromise. That's the system, the system is designed to represent more than one point of view, come up with a solution. A multifaceted problem requires a multifaceted solution.

TED SIMONS: The system also has a baked in winner and loser component. In Arizona right now the Republican Party is in the majority at the legislature and holds state offices. Why should some ask the majority, they won, they got what they -- they campaigned for X, the voters said they like X, the voters want to push X, why should they compromise?

RANDALL FRIESE: In the house right now, Democrats represent 40% of that body. In the Senate they represent just over 40% of that body. So yes, 60% is a majority but 40% is not something that should be disregarded. The 40 % of the voters in the state are not getting represented at the table. And I think we can do better than that. We can do better than that by talking to one another and communication is at least 50% listening. Ted brought that up. At least 50% listening. You have to listen to one else's concerns so that you can put together a solution.

TED CELESTE: Interestingly enough, picking up on that point, you can still have the upper hand, still get what you want, but if part of the process builds in this listening and bringing others along you have a much healthier process, a much healthier outcome.

RANDALL FRIESE: And Trust. We didn't talk about trust yet. In order to feel comfortable building a deal and feeling confident that a negotiation will go through, you have to trust the parties involved. How do you do that? You have to build it. It's built through experience, through working together. It's built by negotiating small deals and then moving on to bigger deals.

TED SIMONS: So with this in mind concept of a civility caucus, what is that? Is it happening anywhere in the country?

TED CELESTE: It is actually. The name of our workshop is building trust through civil discourse. So how do you get to trust? You build it through civil discourse. Part of the goal of our workshop is to come up with an action agenda in each state. Every state is different. Come up with an action agenda and determine what -- are you happy with the way things are? Do you feel that they need improvement? If they need improvement how and what specific steps can you take to get from here to there? Some have been working groups, civility caucuses. Out of that, we have created a national network of state legislators that are committed to civil governance and we have over 35 legislators from 20 states who are part of that effort as a result.

TED SIMONS: Civility caucus, is that possible with the Arizona legislature right now?

RANDALL FRIESE: Of course. It will take time. But what it takes is willingness to participate, dedication to achieving a goal that will serve our state better. That's the bottom line. What will serve our state better? If we talk to each other, if we listen, trust and respect each other it will serve our state better.

TED CELESTE: One of the things I would suggest is the way that might happen is through a workshop here in Arizona that it's bipartisan based, invitation from both Republican and Democratic legislators who will participate and there will be a good balance in that process. That will help build the focus towards that kind of effort.

TED SIMONS: Last question. How do you convince them to participate?

TED CELESTE: You know it's interesting. When we first started, it was difficult. People were a little standoffish about the idea. Now people are very, very interested in the idea of finding ways to find common ground. Particularly what's going on nationally, I mean it just is -- there's a great deal of frustration about the level of dysfunction and folks really want to find -- help us find ways to make this work.

TED SIMONS: All right very good. Gentlemen, thank you so much. We appreciate it. And Wednesday on "Arizona Horizon," find out about a cancer center conducting research and clinical trials in conjunction with St. Joseph's Hospital and we will hear about an effort to help free innocent prisoners on the next "Arizona Horizon". That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Ted Celeste: director of state programs at the National Institute of Civil Discourse, and Randall Friese: Arizona state Democratic representative

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