The legislative session on Beacon Hill ended in 1992, late at night and on a sour note as important pieces of legislation died from inaction. The construction of a new Boston Garden and the renovation of the MBTA’s North Station, which had been on state government’s agenda for over a decade, were among the casualties.
At the staff meeting the next morning, most senior advisers told the Republican governor, Bill Weld, that he needed to hold a press conference to rip the Democratic leadership for failing, once again, to deal with the Boston Garden and North Station project.
Weld looked around the table and said, “I think that’s about the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. What else do you want to talk about?” A few months later, the legislation that had died in the wee hours of the session was magically resurrected, and enacted.
I learned a valuable lesson watching this play out, one I wish the president and the folks in the House and Senate could learn as well. Weld could have scored political points by ripping the Democrats for not getting the job done, but he took a pass on the political grandstanding and consulted quietly with the Legislature to resurrect the bill.
In state governments, this happens a lot. In some cases, the Democrats control the legislature and a Republican governor controls the executive branch, and in others, it’s the other way around. What you don’t see is the kind of partisan nonsense that is dominating Washington.
Maybe it’s because governors and state legislatures have to balance their budgets. Maybe it’s because they are too close to the voters to get away with the kind of the brinkmanship and bad behavior that seem so commonplace in our nation’s capital.
On some level, like most Americans, I don’t care why. I’m just glad it works, because of the impact it has on everyone’s ability to live their lives, do their jobs, or find a job, if they’re struggling to find work.
For the folks in Washington, there’s actually a simple way out of the current mess, but it requires leadership and a commitment to problem-solving. First, the Republicans in the House have to step away from the counterproductive and irresponsible position they’ve staked out in the name of defunding the Affordable Care Act. That needs to happen now.
And the president needs to help them by engaging in a real conversation about tax reform, deficit reduction, and entitlement reform. It is the president’s responsibility to summon an embrace of bipartisanship and get people in a room to negotiate a compromise by talking and cajoling and demanding a deal that ends the shutdown.
Having spent much of my career in health care, I understand the pitfalls and hazards of the Affordable Care Act. What we enacted here in Massachusetts — with bipartisan leadership and support — is a far superior way to cover the uninsured, which is why I opposed the federal law. But I also believe in democracy, and if the voters of this country wanted to defund or repeal the Affordable Care Act, they would have turned the White House and the Senate over to the Republicans. They didn’t do that.
Moreover, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s recent report on our nation’s finances makes clear that if we continue to do nothing on tax and entitlement reform, we will leave our children and grandchildren a crippling set of financial obligations they don’t deserve. This is where our elected representatives should be focused, as progress will help assure the markets, and give us the best chance to turn our economy around.
Political campaigns are about emphasizing differences, but governing is different. Governing is about finding a way to blend your own beliefs and objectives into a Rubik’s Cube called democracy. No one should stop advocating for what they believe in, but our elected officials have to recognize that they are part of a bigger picture, and that means finding common ground with your political adversaries as well as your friends.
State leaders get this. So far, the folks in Washington don’t — and we are all worse off because of it.