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Seeking Common Ground in Congress

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With a bitterly contested election underway, is it possible for Congress to work across partisan divides?

With just days to go before a bitterly contested election, we speak with two Members of Congress, one Republican and one Democrat, who are reaching across rigid partisan divides to seek out compromise and constructive change.

Democrat Abigail Spanberger is the U.S. Representative for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, who is serving her first term. In 2018, she defeated a Republican incumbent to win the district, which includes most of the northern suburbs of Richmond.

Brian Fitzpatrick is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional district. His district includes all of Bucks County, a mostly suburban area north of Philadelphia.

Reps. Spanberger and Fitzgerald both score highly on the new Common Ground Scorecard rankings.

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Ep. 15 – Seeking Common Ground in Congress

Brian Fitzpatrick

After dedicating his professional life to service and protecting others, Brian Fitzpatrick was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2016 to represent the people of Pennsylvania’s Eighth Congressional District. Following redistricting in 2018, Congressman Fitzpatrick was elected to represent the people of Pennsylvania’s First District which includes all of Bucks County and a portion of northwestern Montgomery County. His top priorities in Congress are increasing economic opportunity and keeping our nation safe.

A Levittown native and graduate of Bishop Egan High School, Brian is a graduate of LaSalle University, Penn State University and the Dickinson School of Law. He is a licensed Certified Public Accountant, Emergency Medical Technician as well as an attorney – having previously served as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney focused on drug crimes.

For 14 years prior to running for Congress, Brian served our country as an FBI Supervisory Special Agent fighting political corruption and supporting global counterterrorism efforts – including being embedded with U.S. Special Forces as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Working to promote freedom and democracy, Brian also served as National Director for the FBI’s Campaign Finance and Election Crimes Enforcement Program and as a national supervisor for the FBI’s Political Corruption Unit where he is recognized as an expert in restoring integrity to governmental institutions. For his work, Brian was an inaugural recipient of the FBI Director’s Leadership Award in 2015 and was named “Investigator of the Year by the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation.

In the 116th Congress, Brian is a member of the Foreign Affairs and Transportation and Infrastructure committees. Brian is the founding member of the Congressional Citizen Legislature Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers committed to fighting for term limits and Congressional reforms, and a member of the No Labels ‘Problem Solver Caucus.’

Abigail Spanberger

U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger is proud to represent Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, which is comprised of ten counties throughout Central Virginia.

Representative Spanberger began her career in public service, first serving as a federal agent with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigating money laundering and narcotics cases, and then serving as a case officer with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). As a CIA officer, she worked at home and abroad to collect vital intelligence, keep our country safe, and work in furtherance of our national security priorities. In the private sector, Representative Spanberger worked with colleges and universities to help them diversify their student bodies and increase graduation rates.

Representative Spanberger serves on the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture and the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs. On the House Agriculture Committee, she serves as Chair of the Conservation &  Forestry Subcommittee and as a member of the Commodity Exchanges, Energy, & Credit Subcommittee. And on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Spanberger serves as Vice-Chair of the Europe, Eurasia, Energy, & the Environment Subcommittee and as a member of the Asia, the Pacific, & Nonproliferation Subcommittee.

Representative Spanberger grew up in Henrico County. She earned her B.A. at the University of Virginia and her MBA at a dual degree program between Purdue University’s Krannert School and the GISMA Business School in Hanover, Germany. Representative Spanberger resides in Glen Allen, Henrico County, Virginia with her husband, Adam, and their three children.

Reforming Politics: Civility, Compromise and Common Ground

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Americans say our divisions are getting worse. How can voters lead constructive change?

More than 8-in-10 Americans think the country is divided, and a large majority says public debate has gotten worse in recent years. The deep partisan gap in politics is a major barrier to constructive change.

In this podcast, we explore the need for common ground with Amy Dacey, Executive Director of the Sine Institute of Policy & Politics at American University, and Pearce Godwin, CEO of Listen First Project, and a leading member of #WeavingCommunity.

During the 2016 presidential election, Amy served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Democratic National Committee. Pearce is from a conservative political background, and formerly worked on Republican Party campaigns.

We speak with both of them about the new Common Ground Scorecard initiative and other recent efforts to boost civic engagement and compromise.

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Ep. 13- Reforming Politics-Civility, Compromise and Common Ground

Amy K. Dacey

Amy K. Dacey is Executive Director of the Sine Institute of Policy & Politics at American University. For more than two decades, she managed prominent national organizations, advised leading elected officials and candidates, including President Barack Obama and Senator John Kerry, and counseled a variety of nonprofits and companies.

Before joining AU, Amy was President of AKD Strategies, a strategic firm working with nonprofits, and Foundations in the progressive policy space. During the 2016 presidential election, she served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Democratic National Committee. During the 2004 elections, she worked for then-Senator John Kerry on his presidential campaign and, following his narrow loss, helped to lead Kerry’s political operation. She also managed Rep. Louise Slaughter’s congressional campaign in 1998.

From 2010 to 2013, Amy served as Executive Director of EMILY’s List, the organization dedicated to electing Democratic women to national, state, and local offices, and led the organization’s revitalization, restructuring and rebranding efforts. In addition, she served in various leadership positions for several other organizations, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Fund for America, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Recently, Amy served as Executive Vice President and Managing Director for MWWPR, one of the world’s top independent public relations agencies.

A native of Auburn, New York, Amy received her bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University and her master’s degree in political science from American University.

Pearce Godwin

Pearce Godwin—described as the national voice for bridging divides—is Founder & CEO of Listen First Project, Executive Director of National Conversation Project, and leader of the #ListenFirst Coalition of 300 partner organizations. He catalyzes the #ListenFirst movement to mend the frayed social fabric of America by building relationships and bridging divides. His passion is combating the universally felt crisis of distance, division, and dehumanization across differences with conversations that prioritize understanding.

Pearce graduated from Duke University and received an MBA from UNC-Chapel Hill. He spent five years working in Washington, DC—in the U.S. Senate and as a national political consultant for presidential and statewide campaigns. Before moving home to North Carolina in 2013, Pearce spent six months in Uganda, Africa where he wrote It’s Time to Listen. That message—printed in dozens of papers across the United States—launched Listen First Project and led thousands to sign the Listen First Pledge—“I will listen first to understand.”

In 2017, as division turned to violence across the country, Pearce left his marketing job, fully committing to turn the tide of rising rancor and deepening division with the #ListenFirst message. In 2018, Pearce helped create the first National Week of Conversation and hosted the kickoff event, Listen First in Charlottesville. Pearce then launched the overarching, collaborative movement platform National Conversation Project, which scales the #ListenFirst movement by promoting annual National Weeks of Conversation, #ListenFirst Fridays, Rapid Response & Featured Conversations on Major Issues, Locally-Focused #ListenFirst Movements, and any conversation creating social connection. This burgeoning movement has already reached millions of people with the #ListenFirst message—5 million during National Week of Conversation 2019 alone as 100+ organizations have adopted the common #ListenFirst message for mainstream scale.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Pearce is leading the #WeavingCommunity campaign in partnership with David Brooks’ Weave Project and powered by hundreds of partner organizations in service to our neighbors and nation, with support from Facebook and other sponsors. America is divided and broken, but we can make it stronger by building relationships starting where we live. #WeavingCommunity is a campaign celebrating acts of bravery, caring and connection that heal the pain and weave the future we want.

The #ListenFirst movement has been recognized by journalists at CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, USA Today, Associated Press, and The New York Times as Pearce has spoken about the mission on national television and to live audiences around the world. Pearce recently shared his perspective on current events in USA Today: “It feels like the American experiment is failing. Here’s how we can still save it.”

WATCH: Introducing Our Common Ground Scorecard

Want more progress and less division in politics? Our new Common Ground Scorecard can help inform your vote.

We all need our government to work effectively – but it won’t unless we elect those with the capacity to reach across the aisle. That’s why we created the Common Ground Scorecard, a free mobile-friendly tool that helps voters of all parties evaluate how well your elected officials are doing at listening, leading productive conversations and finding bipartisan points of agreement.

VIDEO: View our short tutorial on how to use the Common Ground Scorecard.

Give the scorecard a try, and see how it can help inform your vote for candidates who will work for more progress, and less division.

Why America needs you to vote for candidates who cooperate, not partisans who fight

In this Opinion Editorial piece for USA Today, Common Ground Committee Co-Founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen make a case for why it’s so important for voters to identify and support candidates in the 2020 election who seek common ground on political issues. 


Voters need a new mindset that makes willingness to find common ground a “must have” quality for any candidate.

The “new normal” that defined 2020 has made its presence known this election season. The upcoming presidential debates will not have in-person audiences. Door-to-door campaigning has mostly vanished. One thing that hasn’t changed in this climate is the rabid partisanship that has been synonymous with our politics for more than a decade.

Elections are known for partisan bickering, and that has been on full display. But the issue goes much deeper. Negotiations over a second stimulus remain stalled and action now seems unlikely until after the election. After the killing of George Floyd, Republican Sen. Tim Scott’s police reform bill couldn’t get past even a procedural vote to begin debate. And most disturbing of all, partisan rhetoric has devolved into violence in cities like Portland, Ore., and Kenosha, Wisc.

To be sure, there are hints of cooperation on the federal level. Congressional leaders are attempting to revive negotiations following the shooting of Jacob Blake, as the nation cries out for action. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the 2020 Health Statistics Act, which would improve our government’s efforts to fight the pandemic.

But when our disagreements turn into violence and critical legislation is stalled, we can’t afford piecemeal progress. Voters need a new mindset that makes willingness to find common ground a “must have” quality for any candidate.

Politics has always had some degree of hostility, but it has not always been such a lightning rod. In 1960, just 4% of Democrats and 4% of Republicans said they would be disappointed if their child married someone from the opposite party, according to the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research. By 2018, that number jumped to 45% and 35%, respectively per Public Religion Research Institute.

Voters’ attitudes have shifted

This thinking has also seeped into our voting habits. After the 2018 midterms, Pew Research found that voters from both parties cited opposition to the other party as a reason for their vote, more so than support of that particular candidate. Just 10 years earlier, Pew found that votes for Barack Obama and John McCain were made primarily in support of those candidates.

It would be easy to solely blame our leaders for this shift. After all, the behavior we witness on a near daily basis on our screens or in our papers feeds into the idea that the other side is an enemy to be defeated rather than a potential partner. But politicians reflect the behavior they think voters want to see. It’s become clear that many see demonization as a required step along the path to victory.

To paraphrase Rep. Barney Frank, who spoke last year at an event hosted by our organization, Common Ground Committee, we are not calling for Americans to vote for candidates they don’t believe in. But we’ve reached a point where we need to strongly consider those who have demonstrated a commitment to working across the aisle — because what we’re doing now is not working.

Politicians who are not interested in hearing what the other side has to say are not interested in making progress, they are simply interested in getting their way.

If we had told you this time last year that most of our workforce was remote, or that the majority of Americans have rallied behind significant police reforms, you may not have believed us. A shift in thinking is never easy, but if there was ever a time, it’s this moment.

Consider actions, not just words

When you go to the polls in November or send in your mail-in ballot, don’t immediately flock to the candidate you think will best dominate the other side. Consider the individual who best represents your ideals but also knows that collaboration is essential in getting things done. Consider their concrete actions rather than just their words.

Find open-minded politicians with the Common Ground Scorecard

This new mindset will require a new set of tools to cut through the noise. That’s why we introduced the Common Ground Scorecard, a tool that measures the degree to which officeholders and candidates for elected office embody the spirit and practice of what we call Common Grounders — people who seek solutions through listening and productive conversation.

The same way voters would research where a candidate for public office stands on issues like climate change, the Scorecard provides a venue to see where they stand on common ground.

Along with the Scorecard, we urge voters to use other voting tools available to help them make informed decisions. Examples include Vote Smart, the Bipartisan Index from the Lugar Center and Ballotpedia.

The historic challenges our nation faces won’t be solved by partisan shots in the coming weeks and months. And they won’t be solved by treating this election like any other.

It is long past time to head to the polls with a new mindset that prioritizes solutions and ideas over demonization and tribalism. With new tools and thinking, we can begin to move the incentive needle away from demonizing the opposition and toward working together to make progress on the tough issues our nation faces.

Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen are co-founders of Common Ground Committee, a citizen-led initiative focused on demonstrating productive public discourse.

– This article was published in USA Today on September 17th, 2020.