Politicians can disagree, but they don’t have to be so mean about it.
With that in mind, Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley, invited his legislative colleagues to an informal civility work group yesterday to discuss what they can do to tone down the nasty rhetoric, get to know one another better and, ultimately, do a better job representing Ohioans.
When lawmakers use harsh, sometimes personal attacks against one another, it causes a lack of trust and moves officials to put on their “partisan armor,” LaRose said.
“We lose opportunities to reach solutions,” he said after the first meeting, which included 10 lawmakers and former Rep. Ted Celeste of Grandview Heights, who remains active in efforts to improve public discourse. “There is oftentimes room for compromise and ability to reach middle ground that is not realized because of incivility.”
Columbus-area Democratic Reps. Mike Curtin and Michael Stinziano were among the bipartisan group that joined the meeting, which attendees hope will be a step in repairing a major problem at the Statehouse that has mirrored to some degree the partisan divide in Washington.
“There is a real problem in how conversations take place, how elected officials are treated, how they treat each other,” said Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent.
“I think you see a lot of debates that, to the average citizen, sound too extreme. I think you see a lot of legislation and laws being passed that are too extreme. That’s a byproduct of a lack of civility and working together.”
The largest contributor to the problem, LaRose said, is a redistricting process that allows the controlling political party to gerrymander districts to its benefit. Most lawmakers worry little about general elections and are more concerned about primary challenges.
The civility problem is big, but it is not new, LaRose said, and he doesn’t expect it will be solved. However, he said, lawmakers can work to improve the situation.
The group identified a few steps they will try:
• Hold district exchanges, where lawmakers partner with someone in the other party, with a different geography, and spend a day in that district, perhaps even holding a joint town hall meeting.
• Include a civility discussion as part of the new-member orientation.
• Have new members select mentors, one from each party.
• Make more opportunities for social interaction.
LaRose recalled the reaction he got from some who saw him having drinks one night with a Democrat. They questioned him “as if I was conspiring with the enemy.”
“We can do our jobs better if we are more civil with one another,” he said.
This week, Santa Claus assisted in lighting the Ohio Statehouse Christmas tree. Also, Santa and Mrs. Claus took a few requests from visitors young and old about what they would like to find under the tree this Holiday Season. Happy Holidays!
Among a slew of bills that passed the Statehouse this week was Senate Bill 229, which would make the new system for evaluating Ohio teachers a little less rigid and burdensome for teachers and school districts.
After a year of intense debate and evaluation, the General Assembly is poised to decide if Ohio’s five-year-old energy efficiency standards should be fine-tuned to reflect the state’s changing realities.
The Ohio Chamber of Commerce – along with hundreds of job creators across the state – believes Ohio’s economy would be well-served to pass the reforms proposed in Senate Bill 58.