There is much discord and divisiveness in American politics today, and two former members of Congress are traveling the nation hoping to educate and inspire future leaders towards change.
David Jolly, a former Republican congressman, and Patrick Murphy, a former Democratic congressman, spoke to Brigham Young University students Thursday as part of the duo’s yearlong Respect+Rebellion tour across the nation. Their subject was bipartisanship and tackling the gridlock within Washington, D.C. through reforming the system.
Both men were elected in Florida districts that politically leaned opposite to their party, but both did so by unifying their constituents, moderator and former presidential candidate Evan McMullin explained during the presentation. Both men went to Washington hoping to work across the aisle to make significant changes. And both found out how difficult and almost impossible that is today.
Murphy, echoed by Jolly, explained that politicians on both sides of the spectrum place political party and re-election campaigns above serving the country. They cited the cost of running, the rise of super political action committees, the polarizing effect of news and social media channels and the lack of true relationships among politicians in D.C. as contributing factors to this. But they both highly blame the gerrymandering of political districts across the nation for the state of politics today.
“That is the single worst problem,” Murphy said, explaining that because of gerrymandering, 90 percent of the districts’ voting results are predetermined. Add that to the statistic that only about 15 percent of voters on average turning out to cast their vote, and that leads to “15 percent of the country determining 90 percent of the Congress.”
Gerrymandering, or drawing district lines to favor one party or the other, makes it so politicians only need to pay attention to their party, and not their actual constituents, Jolly said. They are also concerned only with keeping their job, so they cater to whatever role they must have within the party to keep their political position. Politicians get very little done because they are too busy trying to please their party and get re-elected.
Both men experienced this playing out within their own congressional experiences. Murphy spoke of working with a Republican on a bill that would wipe out more than $300 million in wasteful federal spending. As they moved forward with the process, the Republican was directed by his party leader not to continue with the legislation because it would look good for a Democrat — one they hoped to beat in the next election cycle.
“This is happening in both parties,” Murphy said. “And both parties seem to be becoming more tribal, and more extreme.”
Many Americans are feeling disenfranchised with the tribalism and are seeking more moderate or centrist views, the men explained, but the system is rigged against that. When asked why it is so difficult to create an effective third party, they explained that there is no infrastructure — as is already in place behind both main political parties — to support it. The cost just to create that would be at least $250 million, Jolly estimated.
“There’s no doubt about it that there’s a need for something new, there’s no doubt that tens of millions of Americans need it,” McMullin said. “But there’s no infrastructure to support that effort. Both parties have critical machinery and infrastructure that exists and is entrenched.”
Despite this frustration, all on the panel are hopeful about the prospects of the potential successful rise of a third party. They expressed sentiment that there is a developing movement coalescing around a more central view — one that can appeal to independents and moderate Republicans and Democrats.
Jolly, Murphy and McMullin encouraged those listening to get involved, to be the leader they want to see — to find issues that are important to them and join organizations or run for office focusing on those issues — and of course, to vote.
Murphy and Jolly also put a special emphasis on the political involvement of women, and their ability to work collaboratively. Jolly is excited about the “historic moment for female politicians” occurring right now, and feels true change within Washington will be led by women.
“There is no doubt, no doubt that with more women in office at every level, we will have a better functioning government,” Murphy said.
The Respect+Rebellion event was hosted by the BYU Law Center for Conflict Resolution in partnership with The Village Square, an organization that strives to bring both political parties to the same table. Murphy and Jolly have been traveling to college campuses across the nation to help students understand the need and reasons for meaningful conversations across political lines.