Pursuing common ground in politics

MILFORD – Unemployment, the federal deficit, immigration, failing roads and bridges – whatever the problems facing this country, it’s hard to imagine any solutions coming out of Congress.

Where once goal-
oriented political leaders got together and found common ground, there is now mostly dysfunction and discord.

It used to be different, Steve Marchand told the Milford Rotary at their weekly lunch meeting recently.

Less than a decade after this country decided to put a man on the moon, it happened, Marchand said.

"Now it feels like we can’t even pass a budget or a transportation bill," he said. "Compromise is not an inherently dirty word, and bipartistionship is essential."

Marchand is a former Portsmouth mayor and co-leader of the New Hampshire No Labels initiative, which is now active in all 50 states. Gov. Jon Huntsman and Sen. Joe Lieberman are its national co-chairmen. The nonprofit organization was started five years ago, and on Columbus Day, held its first national convention in New Hampshire.

Donald Trump was there, and so were about 900 undeclared New Hampshire voters, whose "questions were radically different from what the candidates are accustomed to," Marchand said.

When you call your opponent a jerk, what happens when you have to work with him, someone asked. Marchand said Trump was speechless.

The organization has asked all of the presidential candidates to pick a goal and tell how it will be achieved. Then on Jan. 11, it will give some of them seals of approval based on their answers.

Already, 70 members of Congress are part of a "No Labels Caucus," split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, Marchand said.

Those lawmakers appreciate it, he said. With so much time spent raising money and party-line voting, "They say this is the only opportunity they have to get together and talk with people from the other party," Marchand said.

In the world of politics, it’s easy to demonize people if you don’t know them, he said. Some politicians "are doing well in the current reality," and polarization is an easy way to get attention, he said.

Others realize that building "interpersonal capital" allows people to work together on common goals, and "a significant number of voters are looking to see how politicians answer the questions," Marchand said.

During the question-and-answer session that followed the talk, Rotarians asked how No Labels is funded. Marchand said its $3 million budget comes from foundations and individual contributors, but it has no big supporters like George Soros or the Koch brothers, and most of them who are supporters "are not terribly involved in politics."

Marchand said it is much more satisfying to be in an executive position because of the "accountability factor. People let you know whether you’re a positive or negative force." Former governors say getting elected to Congress and moving to Washington is a miserable experience.

Other Rotary members asked about getting money out of politics, and Marchand said No Labels wants to keep its focus on effective government because "time is not your friend on most issues."

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or