Partisanship was always there in politics, former Kansas Gov. John Carlin told more than 60 listeners today during the Kansas Leadership Center’s “On the Balcony” teleconference, but it wasn’t the monster it has become today.
Interest groups paint issues in stark terms, Carlin said, and even listening to political opponents can get legislators persecuted by so-called allies.
The Gov. wistfully remembered a time when legislators of different stripes even ate ice cream together between sessions. That quality time helped fill in the caricatured outlines of political opponents, making them whole people with whom some common ground might be found.
He remembered former U.S. Sen. and American political icon Bob Dole talking about a “window of opportunity” after each election during which lawmakers would try to ensure important constituent work got done after the partisan battles faded.
“The window of opportunity doesn’t exist at all,” said Carlin, one of the youngest Kansas governors ever elected.
Indeed, interest group influence peddling, the steady loss of middle ground, a decline in media clout have fueled our current, caustic political atmosphere.
But the problem isn’t the most important part of the equation, challenged teleconference host and KLC President and CEO Ed O’Malley. What we choose to do about it is.
What would it take for those of us associated with KLC to overcome the reality we’ve just discussed, O’Malley asked?
Gov. Carlin seemed to agree that our collective response would prove key to making progress. He’d begun the conversation associating leadership with “change.”
Without change, he said, we’re just managers.