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Dingell, Upton, and Baruah: Restoring Civility in Politics

Crain’s Content Studio

A trio of Washington, D.C. veterans commiserated Wednesday, May 29 at the 2019 Mackinac Policy Conference to discuss the state of civility in national politics.

Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, moderated a conversation with Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI 12) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI 6) recounted their experiences around Washington and how people with disparate political views can work together.

Serving in the administration of former President Ronald Reagan, Upton said he needed to work across the aisle from when he was first elected in the 1986 elections. Reagan, who had won 49 states in 1984, had to contend with Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress.

“That experience for me — elected and serving in the minority — I never thought we’d be in the majority so I said ‘If you want to get things done, you need to work with the Democrats,’ and I’ve kept that attitude whether I’ve been in the majority or minority as it’s bounced back and forth,” Upton said.

Debbie Dingell recounted on her past as a Republican before she married her late husband Rep. John Dingell, a Democrat.

“I was a [Michigan Governor Bill] Milliken Republican and I was a Dingell Democrat,” Dingell said. “People talked to each other, they worked with each other, you respected each other.”

She said she learned from her husband to “work from the center.”

Baruah similarly began his career at the U.S. Capitol in the 1980s as a junior aide. He noted staffers and legislators from both parties would socialize with one another after work many nights. That behavior alone organically provoked friendship and civility.

Upton bemoaned the lack of substantive legislation currently underway in Congress, saying it was representative of the current state of hyper-partisanship. Dingell agreed. All rhetoric aside, she said it will be results that count in the long-term.

“I think all of us, Republican or Democrat, are going to be judged on whether we deliver on the issues that matter to working men and women,” Dingell said.

Key Takeaways:

  • Upton and Dingell are both members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House, which notably extracted rule changes that included guaranteed votes on bills with at least 20 co-sponsors from each party.
  • Debbie Dingell said former president George W. Bush was one of the last people to speak with John Dingell before the congressman died, noting their close relationship.
  • Social media shoulders considerable blame for changes in public discourse, with Upton and Dingell agreeing it has drawn citizens further apart.

This article was written by Crain’s Content Studio for the 2019 Mackinac Policy Conference.

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