In late April, Common Ground Committee co-founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen spent a week visiting members of Congress to discuss our innovative Common Ground Scorecard, a unique tool for evaluating which elected officials and candidates have demonstrated a willingness, perhaps even a desire, to bridge the partisan divide in order to solve pressing issues facing our nation.
And we could not have been more pleased with the responses.
At every meeting, whether with lawmakers themselves or their top advisors, participants were excited about the potential for the scorecard to create an environment in which bipartisan policy-making is not only tolerated but encouraged. After all, that is what Americans want.
Recent polling, conducted jointly by Republican and Democratic polling firms, found that 67% of Republicans, 75% of Democrats and 75% of independents said it is very important for officials to be willing to compromise in order to achieve results. But that is not how Congress works.
And yet, there are lawmakers who are willing to try.
Common ground doesn’t belong to either party
Take, for example, Rep. Josh Gottheimer. The New Jersey Democrat is a founder and co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a collection of Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives who want to work together to develop policy solutions. Gottheimer scored a 70 the last time the scorecard was updated, making him a common ground “Champion” and one of the highest scorers in the House. His score is due to increase soon because, upon learning about the scorecard, he pledged to affirm the 10 Common Ground Commitments (also known as, our ) that are a key element of the rankings.
In fact, we met with a half-dozen House members or their top aides and in every case the lawmaker pledged to affirm those commitments (except for those who had already done so).
The Common Ground Commitments are a series of statements that put politicians on record as willing to listen to opposing positions, acting in a positive, respectful manner, and welcoming honest debate. The 10 commitments are:
- I will identify and set aside personal biases.
- I will commit to seek agreement, progress, and solutions.
- I will listen first to learn perspectives and experiences.
- I will not assume, but seek to understand motives and intentions.
- I will seek outcomes all can live with but not compromise principles.
- I will accept that good people may disagree.
- I will use and accept facts.
- I will stay respectful.
- I will resist demonizing.
- I will de-escalate hostile situations.
Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina affirmed her adherence to the commitments during our meeting. Mace, who has become a bit of a media darling during her second term without taking extreme positions like some of her colleagues on the left and right, told us she loves the scorecard and is excited to see lawmakers getting public credit for their behavior.
In fact, we are working with Mace and Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois to arrange a joint appearance on an upcoming episode of our podcast. (Mace has the 12th highest score among House Republicans, and will move higher when we update the numbers. Krishnamoorthi ranks 13th among House Democrats.)
We need to keep the momentum going
We are shining the light on good things that are happening in politics, highlighting bipartisanship and cooperative work among members of Congress. And we will continue to do so but we cannot do it alone.
There are dozens and dozens of organizations dedicated to building bridges, but for change to happen on Capitol Hill, lawmakers need to embrace common ground concepts. We are grateful to those who have shown leadership on that front, often without realizing they were being recognized for their efforts.
Gottheimer’s Republican counterpart atop the Problem Solvers Caucus is Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, who has the third highest score in all of Congress. Together, those two lawmakers could bring about real change in Congress, by advancing their caucus’ work and engaging more members in the idea of finding common ground.
Similarly, more committees can embrace the work habits of the China panel and the now-defunct House Committee on the Modernization of Congress, both of which espoused common-ground ideals in the search of progress.
And we are grateful to the members of the media who share our passion for common ground activities. Take for example Julie Mason, a former White House correspondent who now hosts a show on Sirius XM’s POTUS Politics channel. Each week, Mason interviews a lawmaker who scores highly on our scorecard, shining a light on the good work those members are doing. In those interviews she explains she is talking to that lawmaker because of their Common Ground Scorecard score and, initially, asks the lawmaker to comment on it. Showcasing those often overlooked lawmakers is critical to improving the state of politics.
If more members of the media focused on those lawmakers, rather than the members who play to the fringes and suck up air time, we could see real change in Congress.