Detroit Regional Chamber > Mackinac Policy Conference > Navigating Divisive Times

Navigating Divisive Times

May 30, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Too much media and social media attention focuses on the conflicts and not bipartisanship.
  • When it comes to “Michigan” issues, the delegation must cross the aisle to get work done.
  • Issues like the Great Lakes, mental health, gun safety, Selfridge Air National Guard Base and defense, and veteran’s issues are areas where both parties need to collaborate.


On Why Things Appear So Contentious in Washington

When it comes to representing Michigan in Washington, D.C., members of Congress and the Senate told the Mackinac Policy Conference that they must work with members of the other party to accomplish the state’s goals.

“I think people in Michigan overall want us to get things done,” Stabenow said during the conversation on May 30. She was joined by colleagues Peters, McClain, Walberg, and moderator Finley.

McClain said that it’s difficult to get media attention for the good work coming out of bipartisan collaboration, “but every single outlet wanted to talk to me about a 30-second exchange with Nancy Pelosi.”

But fighting isn’t how work gets done in Washington, she said. Negotiating is.

“When the cameras are gone, when the microphones are out of your face, it’s a totally different environment,” McClain said. “The best way to change that is to, quite frankly, stop covering it.”

Peters agreed that media doesn’t seem to be as interested in moments of cooperation: “Passing bipartisan bills — bipartisan bills don’t get covered.”

Stabenow said it worries her that some new members of Congress are not there to legislate.

“We have to admit that we are seeing more people that just want chaos,” she said. “There are people who are honestly coming to Congress opposed to government, and their agenda is to shut it down.”

Peters said voters have the power to change this.

“We can’t reward bad behavior,” he said. “We have to reward good behavior. And they only people who have the power to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior are the voters in this country. “

On Crossing the Aisle for Michigan

“This delegation is a delegation that can get things done, across the aisle and across chambers,” Walberg said of his Michigan peers.

However, Walberg said he has had to educate his constituents that walking across the aisle is necessary to pass any legislation and not a sign of disloyalty. He has had feedback from voters that he shouldn’t be working with Democrats.

“I’ve spent the last year and a half in my new district trying to explain that you don’t get things done that way,” he said. “You might get a lot of publicity, but you don’t get things done that way.”

Peters said some legislators have “paid a price” for working across the aisle, even getting censured in their home states.

“The folks on the far right and the far left don’t particularly like lawmakers working together,” he said.

Walberg added that because the margin is so close by one vote, “nothing is normal.”

Stabenow said it took bipartisanship to come together on the Chips and Science legislation to get jobs and investment in Michigan and other work related to Iraq, gun safety, and mental health – an issue she has been focused on with McClain.

While the legislators said leadership at the top sets the tone for how well parties work together, no matter who is in charge, they cannot get things done if they are divided entirely.

“Leadership does matter at the top, and I think everybody here wants to make sure that it’s more than just talk and get things done,” Stabenow said.

Defense, Great Lakes, and Other Issues That Matter

Peters noted that Selfridge Air National Guard Base had aging runways and old aircraft made in 1958. He said the whole Michigan legislative delegation has come in to help the state compete for resources for the base, adding, “Everyone rolled up their sleeves, and we all went in.”

The result was the state being chosen to host a new KC-46 squadron against 15 other bases vying for the tankers.

“Thanks to a delegation that came together,” Peters said, “we now have an aircraft there that really anchors that base to be there for a long time.”

McClain said that, in particular, she sees bipartisanship work for Michigan on issues like protecting the Great Lakes, defense, and veterans’ issues.

“Those are three big things we work together on,” she said. “We need to work on the common issues. And those can’t continue to flip flop depending on whose administration and who is in charge.”

Stabenow agreed: “If it’s for Michigan, then we are leaning in.”

When it comes to his Democratic colleagues, Republican Walberg said that when the campaigning is done, they have to be colleagues in Washington, saying, “We have to trust that we are going to work together.”

This session was sponsored by the University of Michigan.