Op-Ed: Look beyond partisan titles – Rep. Dan Kristiansen
Sometime back, I had the honor to speak to a 12th grade political science class at one of our local high schools. After introducing myself, I opened up the classroom to a question and answer session. One of the first questions came from a young man who asked, “Representative Kristiansen, what is your party affiliation?”
All eyes were affixed to the front of the room as I began to answer.
I explained to the student that before I decided to run for office, I had never declared a party, although I did lean Republican and often tended to vote that way. However, like many independent voters across Washington, I also sought to familiarize myself with candidates and their views before casting a vote. As I entertained the idea of running for elected office, I knew I would have to declare a party. I carefully studied the state and national platforms of both the Democratic and Republican parties. I decided my viewpoints aligned more closely to the Republican Party. So I declared myself a Republican.
There it was in that classroom – the word “Republican.” And as I said the “R” word, it was immediately met by an emotional response of both cheers and jeers from the students and teachers.
It struck me that this classroom is largely reflective of the polarization that has grown within our society in recent years when it comes to politics. You may not know me. And yet, the moment the words “Republican” or “Democrat” are spoken, there's a large segment of the population who become immediately defensive and are no longer willing to listen to anything more.
“Oh, he's a Republican. Obviously, he doesn't get it and doesn't know what he's talking about.” are the unspoken words of those on the defense.
But is it truly fair to immediately judge someone based solely upon his or her party affiliation?
I turned back to those in the audience who jeered in defense and said, “Now I have a question for you. What is your last name? Have you always agreed with those who share your last name?”
Being in politics is much like being in a family. On many occasions, I have not always agreed with or condoned the actions of others who share my party affiliation. Just like my wife and I who have been together for more than 25 years don't always agree on everything. We have differences of opinions. There are issues I disagree with among those who share the same title as Republican, but I still consider myself a Republican.
It was an insightful moment as students reflected on their views versus those of their own families.
Many of us are guilty of snap judgments, just as some have unfairly judged people for their religion or even the color of their skin. But it doesn't make it right. It just emphasizes the importance of having an open mind and listening to the facts before coming to, hopefully, an informed conclusion.
Frequently in my e-newsletters, I will discuss factual information about both parties. For example, it is a fact House Democrats spent 36 days of the 60-day regular session working to pass same-sex marriage legislation, but did not provide a supplemental operating budget proposal until day 44. It was a frustration of many legislators, especially Republicans, who had hoped to spend the early part of the session balancing the budget and then the remainder of the days working to pass legislation to stimulate private-sector job creation – none of which happened.
Many constituents have said over the years, “I am tired of hearing the Democrats did this, the Republicans did that.”
My question is, how else do I tell the story? Is it excessively partisan to associate party affiliation with a certain action? If you stop at the words “Republican” or “Democrat” and are no longer willing to hear more or verify the facts presented, how else can you make an informed conclusion? More importantly, how can you hold us accountable?
A little known fact is most of the bills that come before the Legislature are passed with bipartisan support. It's only a number of select bills in which Democrats and Republicans have philosophical differences. Some of my best friends are from the other party. We don't let partisan politics polarize our friendships. It is, in fact, our willingness to work through our differences with mutual respect that helps us reach consensus on many of the toughest issues facing our state. That doesn't mean I abandon my principles. It just means I seek common ground to find and enact solutions.
As I discussed this issue further with the classroom, they began to understand the importance of avoiding snap judgments based on party. Maybe it was just that they got to know me better as we talked.
It is my hope that we can get past polarizing titles and preconceived stereotypes, which are in no one's best interest. Our system of government of, for and by the people is best served when every citizen makes an effort to get to know their elected officials, listens to the facts and viewpoints, and holds each of us accountable – not simply because we have an “R” or a “D” next to our names, but on the basis of our actions as your elected leaders.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus and represents the 39th Legislative District. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or e-mail him through his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen. His office address is: P.O. Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504-0600.