December 7, 2022
Evan H. Jenkins
Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
According to the Pew Research Center, America has only become more politically divided, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the last two presidential elections. Despite the prevailing discourse, many representatives have taken action to encourage bipartisan collaboration.
In this installment of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Common Grounds series, Evan Jenkins, U.S. Chamber Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, moderated a discussion between Representatives Fred Upton (R-MI), and Ron Kind (D-WI). The leaders recount bipartisan efforts they’ve led and what it will take for new representatives to continue to bridge the divide.
Coming Together is the Only Way Forward
Kind and Upton have many years of service and experience between them: Upton, who represents Michigan’s 6th Congressional district, has served under seven different Presidents and Kind has served Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional district since 1997. While both announced that they will not be seeking another term, they offered many helpful insights from their time in office.
“There's so much common ground that could be had,” Kind said. “The institution set up to separate us the minute we stepped foot in Washington. We have respective … caucus meetings [and] we tend to congregate as party members, even on committee. It's up to us individual members to figure out ways to break down those barriers and get in the same room together, to get to know each other, to establish that trust, that relationship, and then find the overlap that clearly exists.”
Upton added that working together is the only way to accomplish what needs to be done.
“Your work, really from day one, showing respect that you have [for] your colleagues, working with your leadership, will then propel you to be on a committee that really has an impact in your daily life,” he said.
All Americans Should Understand the Importance of the Upcoming Election
According to both representatives, the future of bipartisan leadership hinges on the results of the next presidential election.
“They say this almost every election, but it really will ring true [now] — this next election will be the most important election in our lifetime,” Upton said. “It may be a change in the administration. There's not a long window where you might be able to get things done before it really becomes all about raising money for people running for office.”
This is especially true for small business owners who find themselves up against challenges such as a declining birth rate, rising Baby Boomer retirement rates, and controversial immigration policies, according to Kind.
“We know the two ingredients for strong GDP growth — workforce participation and worker productivity,” he said. “And when you don't have enough people participate, that's going to affect your economic growth. Democrats want to see businesses succeed in our districts — job creating, breakthroughs, making things, creating things, inventing things… so we'd certainly encourage members to reach out and establish those lines of communication.”
Representatives Believe Party Affiliations Shouldn’t Dominate the Election Cycle
Before ceding their positions as state representatives, Kind and Upton shared advice for any newly-elected representatives that will be taking the oath on January 3.
“Too many people now are adopting this attitude that the other side is a source of evil that needs to be destroyed, and that's a real poison that's infecting our politics today and preventing a lot of progress from being had,” Kind said.
“People at home don't really care if you have an R or a D next to your name,” Upton agreed. “They just want the job done. So get to know both sides. Get to know your fellow colleagues for sure. But get to know and listen to the debate that's there, and [don’t] be afraid to oppose your party when in some cases they might be on the wrong page.”
From the Series