• WisPolitics


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

 9:49 AM 

Pocan, Ribble tout efforts to increase bipartisanship


U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan and Reid Ribble talked up their efforts to reach across the aisle Monday, bemoaning what they said is a partisan divide that has gripped Congress.

Appearing at a Marquette University Law School "On the Issues" event, Pocan, D-Madison, said the polarization became clear as soon as he arrived in Washington, D.C., for orientation and training. He said members were immediately separated by political party for all but one dinner and one reception so "they taught us bad behavior not even on Day One, but before Day One."

Ribble started a group called the No Labels Problem Solvers, which brings together Republicans and Democrats for informal discussions. He said those who want to join have to bring a member along from the other party.

The group now has 92 members.

"One reason you can't find agreement in Congress is because hardly anybody looks for it," said Ribble, R-Sherwood. "I just decided I was going to look for it."

Pocan said he's raised eyebrows for his working relationship with Republicans like Ribble and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan in DC and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and former Rep. Scott Suder in Madison.

"I still get people who want me to fight in a different way," he said. "I'll fight like hell; I'm a great street fighter when I need to be. But other times, you can get things done in a different way."

Ribble concedes he's also gotten pushback.

"When I'm approached with that attitude from my conservative colleagues, my response is, 'What is it that you believe, as a conservative American, that you so lack confidence in that you're fearful of having me take those ideas into a room and debate them?'" Ribble said. "Disagreement is OK. Diversity is good for us."

Ribble and Pocan say they genuinely agree on certain issues. For example, both call for an overhaul of the way legislative districts are drawn.

Ribble lamented that "gerrymandering has been taken to an art form" in some areas and said it needs to be a bipartisan or independent system.

Pocan said redistricting has led to very few competitive districts and "allowing a kind of lopsided conversation that happens with the Tea Party -- 30 or 40 people dominating the conversation."

Still, both lawmakers said they often vote in opposite ways. For example, Pocan voted against the budget, which received bipartisan support in the House.

"The problem was, the budget was still a bad budget," said Pocan. "It was an austerity budget, and I hated it."

Ribble said his vote to end the government shutdown was controversial among his fellow Republicans, but he insists his constituents favored the move, based on phone calls he made that evening to as many homes in his district as possible.

"I had about 20,000 people on the phone," he said. "Boom, boom, boom, for one hour, I listened. It was 80 percent positive and 20 percent negative."

-- By Kay Nolan
For WisPolitics.com


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