Former members of Congress urge civility, cooperation


Editor’s note: Former Members of Congress for Common Ground is comprised of Republicans and Democrats who have enjoyed the privilege of serving in the Congress of the United States and benefited from working with each other over the years. The group of 130 former members have organized informally with the hope that their shared experience may be informative and encouraging to those men and women who are candidates for the House and Senate in November – suggesting that political parties and partisanship play a measured but not dominant role in their lives as Members of Congress. Former Members of Congress for Common Ground joined in sending the following letter to all congressional candidates with understanding and respect for the inevitable passion that affects their campaigns for and eventual service in office, but asking that they be mindful once elected of the different personal dynamics needed to work together in addressing – and, they pray, meeting – the great challenges facing our Nation. For more information, visit
Dear Candidate for Congress:

We are all former Members of Congress - and all partisans. We do not recoil from the term, or from the concept of partisanship.

Although political parties were not mentioned in the Constitution or considered directly by the Framers, they have been a core part of American democracy from the beginning and are central to every democracy. Parties are the way we organize to debate our differences; the way we organize Congress to do its work; the way we organize to offer citizens choices in elections. They pave the way for the orderly and peaceful transfer of power.

None of us shrank from partisan debates while in Congress or from the partisan contests getting there. During our time in Congress, partisans on the other side may have been our opponents on some bills and our adversaries on some issues. They were not, however, the enemy.

We often had heated debates over policy, but we avoided challenging the motives or good will of those on the other side. At least as often as debates formed on partisan lines, we found ourselves with allies from the other side of the aisle, aligned against some similarly diverse and bipartisan group who viewed things in a different way. An adversary one day could and did easily become an ally the next. All of us shared an overriding concern in common: we were in office to solve the problems facing Americans at home and America abroad.

Today, the problems we face as a nation - challenges to our position in the global economy, challenges to our role defending democracy around the world, challenges from terrorists seeking to do us great harm, challenges of a faltering economy, challenges in education, energy, immigration, climate, health and countless other areas - are as great as any this country has faced in our lifetimes.

Sadly, faced with those challenges, our political system has not shown itself to be up to the task.

Congress appears gripped by zero-sum game partisanship. The goal often seems to be more to devastate the other side (the enemy, no longer the honorable adversary) than to find common ground to solve problems, much less to have a spirited but civil debate about how to do so.

The divisive and mean-spirited way debate often occurs inside Congress is encouraged and repeated outside: on cable news shows, in blogs and in rallies. Members who far exceed the bounds of normal and respectful discourse are not viewed with shame but are lionized, treated as celebrities, rewarded with cable television appearances, and enlisted as magnets for campaign fund-raisers.

Meanwhile, lawmakers who try to address problems and find workable solutions across party lines find themselves denigrated by an angry fringe of partisans, people unhappy that their representatives would even deign to work with the enemy. When bipartisan ideas are advanced, they are met by partisan derision.

In a politically diverse but ultimately centrist nation, it is axiomatic that the country's major problems are going to have to be solved through compromises worked out between the parties. That's especially the case for the problems that require tough solutions - like convincing taxpayers to endure some short-term pain for the promise of long-term fiscal stability. That will require partisans on both sides to give ground on some of their cherished beliefs, to lose some traction on a "wedge issue" that can be used in campaigns against the other side, in order to find the broad coalition necessary to make a policy work.

Both parties share in the blame for this sorry state of affairs. Still, without action by both parties to work together to address the problems that face our country through serious, respectful and civil discussion and debate, the prognosis for our politics - and with it our economic health and our security - is grim.

As partisan veterans, we join together to advocate a change in approach - a change in rhetoric and tone that can lead to a focus on problem-solving. This needs to begin now, especially as we head into the heat of the 2010 campaign.

We are wary of campaign promises that are not always within a candidate's ability to deliver. But, we know there is one on which each candidate and eventual Member of the 112th Congress can make good for the institution and for the Nation: to conduct campaigns for Congress with decency and respect toward opponents, to be truthful in presenting information about self and opponents, to engage in good faith debate about the issues and each other's record, to refrain from personal attack, and if elected, to behave in office according to these same principles, recognizing that all Members endeavor honorably to serve the Nation and their constituents and to advance honestly held beliefs about what is best for the country, and that all must eventually reconcile their differences in the national interest.

The Hon. James Abourezk (South Dakota)
The Hon. Bill Alexander (Arkansas)
The Hon. Jim Bacchus (Florida)
The Hon. Skip Bafalis (Florida)
The Hon. Mike Barnes (Maryland)
The Hon. Jim Bates (California)
The Hon. Berkley Bedell (Iowa)
The Hon. Helen Delich Bentley (Maryland)
The Hon. Jim Blanchard (Michigan)
The Hon. Sherwood Boehlert (New York)
The Hon. Lindy Boggs (Louisiana)
The Hon. Bill Brock (Tennessee)
The Hon. William Brodhead (Michigan)
The Hon. Glen Browder (Alabama)
The Hon. Jack Buechner (Missouri)
The Hon. Bill D. Burlison (Missouri)
The Hon. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke (California)
The Hon. Bev Byron (Maryland)
The Hon. Bo Callaway (Georgia)
The Hon. Bill Carney (New York)
The Hon. Bob Carr (Michigan)
The Hon. Dick Chrysler (Michigan)
The Hon. Bill Clinger (Pennsylvania)
The Hon. John B. Conlan (Arizona)
The Hon. E. Thomas Coleman (Missouri)
The Hon. George "Buddy" Darden (Georgia)
The Hon. Lawrence DeNardis, Ph.D (Connecticut)
The Hon. Tom Downey (New York) 
The Hon. Bob Edgar (Pennsylvania)
The Hon. Jack Edwards (Alabama)
The Hon. Mickey Edwards (Oklahoma)
The Hon. Karan English (Arizona)
The Hon. Phil English (Pennsylvania)
The Hon. Ben Erdreich (Alabama)
The Hon. Dave Evans (Indiana)
The Hon. Victor Fazio (California)
The Hon. Geraldine A. Ferraro (New York)
The Hon. Michael P. Forbes (New York)
The Hon. Harold Ford Sr. (Tennessee)
The Hon. Bill Frenzel (Minnesota)
The Hon. Lou Frey (Florida)
The Hon. Martin Frost (Texas)
The Hon. Don Fuqua (Florida)
The Hon. Robert "Bob" Garcia (New York)
The Hon. Dan Glickman (Kansas)
The Hon. Frank J. Guarini (New Jersey)
The Hon. Gil Gutknecht (Minnesota)
The Hon. Chuck Hagel (Nebraska)
The Hon. John Paul Hammerschmidt (Arkansas)
The Hon. Orval Hansen (Idaho)
The Hon. Michael J. Harrington (Massachusetts)  
The Hon. Dennis Hertel (Michigan)
The Hon. George Hochbrueckner (New York)
The Hon. Marjorie S. Holt (Maryland)
The Hon. Darlene Hooley (Oregon)
The Hon. Joan Kelly Horn (Missouri)
The Hon. Amo Houghton (New York)
The Hon. Jerry Huckaby (Louisiana)
The Hon. William "Bill" H. Hudnut III (Indiana)
The Hon. William J. Hughes (New Jersey)
The Hon. Earl Hutto (Florida)
The Hon. Ed Jenkins (Georgia)
The Hon. John Jenrette (South Carolina)
The Hon. James R. Jones (Oklahoma)
The Hon. William J. Keating (Ohio)
The Hon. Barbara B. Kennelly (Connecticut)
The Hon. Martha Keys (Kansas)
The Hon. Herb Klein (New Jersey)
The Hon. Scott Klug (Wisconsin)
The Hon. Ray Kogovsek (Colorado)
The Hon. Jim Kolbe (Arizona)
The Hon. John J. LaFalce (New York)
The Hon. H. Martin Lancaster (N. Carolina)
The Hon. Larry LaRocco (Idaho)
The Hon. Jim Leach (Iowa)
The Hon. Jim Ross Lightfoot (Iowa)
The Hon. Jim Lloyd (California)
The Hon. Ken Lucas (Oklahoma)
The Hon. Bill Luther (Minnesota)
The Hon. Andrew Maguire (New Jersey)
The Hon. Marjorie Margolies (Pennsylvania)
The Hon. Dawson Mathis (Georgia)
The Hon. Romano L. Mazzoli (Kentucky)
The Hon. Mike McCormack (Washington)
The Hon. Matt McHugh (New York)
The Hon. C. Thomas McMillen (Maryland)
The Hon. Michael R. McNulty (New York)
The Hon. Daniel A. Mica (Florida)
The Hon. Bob Michel (Illinois)
The Hon. Enid Greene Mickelsen (Utah)
The Hon. Ab Mikva (Illinois)
The Hon. Dan Miller (Florida)
The Hon. Jim Moody (Wisconsin)
The Hon. Connie Morella (Maryland)
The Hon. Bruce A. Morrison (Connecticut)
The Hon. Lucien N. Nedzi (Michigan)
The Hon. George R. Nethercutt, Jr. (Washington)
The Hon. Mary Rose Oakar (Ohio)
The Hon. Bob Packwood (Oregon)
The Hon. Jerry M. Patterson (California)
The Hon. Douglas "Pete" Peterson (Florida)
The Hon. David D. Phelps (Illinois)
The Hon. John Porter (Pennsylvania)
The Hon. Albert H. Quie (Minnesota)
The Hon. Tom Railsback (Illinois)
The Hon. Jay Rhodes (Arizona)
The Hon. Marty Russo (Illinois)
The Hon. Martin Olav Sabo (Minnesota)
The Hon. Jim Santini (Nevada)
The Hon. Ron Sarasin (Connecticut)
The Hon. Tom Sawyer (Ohio)
The Hon. Lynn Schenk (California)
The Hon. Patricia Schroeder (Colorado)
The Hon. John J. H. "Joe" Schwarz (Michigan)
The Hon. Robert N. Shamansky (Ohio)
The Hon. E. Clay Shaw (Florida)
The Hon. David Skaggs (Colorado)
The Hon. Jim Slattery (Kansas)
The Hon. Lawrence J. Smith (Florida)
The Hon. Nick Smith (Michigan)
The Hon. Dr. Peter Smith (Vermont)
The Hon. Richard H. Stallings (Idaho)
The Hon. Richard Swett (New Hampshire)
The Hon. Jim Symington (Missouri)
The Hon. Tom Tauke (Iowa)
The Hon. Esteban Edward Torres (California)
The Hon. Robert A. Underwood (Guam)
The Hon. Pat Williams (Montana)
The Hon. Tim Wirth (Colorado)
The Hon. Lester L. Wolff (New York)
The Hon. Howard Wolpe (Michigan)
The Hon. Albert R. Wynn (Maryland)
The Hon. Leo C. Zeferetti (New York)