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Returning Civility to Florida, U.S. Politics and Policymaking

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By Dick Batchelor

I’ve been in the scrum of politics and public service for 50 years, so I’m no stranger to controversy and conflict. But I can’t recall a time when we’ve been as polarized – and often downright mean to each other – as we are today.

Yet rather than disengage and sit on the sidelines while the extremes duke it out, I believe in finding a path to unity. It’s a strategy and principle that has worked well for me, going back to my days in the Florida House of Representatives in the 1970s and ’80s.

In fact, I’m so committed to our collective ability to find common ground that I wrote a book describing how I’ve gotten there – and how you can, too. It’s called Building Bridges in Toxic Political Times: A Road Map for Community Leaders.

In my book, as well as in my work as a business and political consultant, I start with the premise that there is often more that unites us than divides us. Recently, we’ve witnessed bipartisanship in action in Washington with the passage of a bill related to foreign military aid and the advancing of a bill on disaster relief.

Democrats even came to the rescue of Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson when the right wing of his party wanted to oust him. To be sure, Democrats weren’t endorsing all of Johnson’s agenda. After all, he is an election denier who lives at the far end of the right wing.

Practicality and politics played a part. Despite their differences, Johnson and House Democrats sometimes need each other for the common good. And, as analysts acknowledged, his successor could have been worse. Better to stick with what you know.

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I’m a traditional liberal Democrat, but I, too, know something about reaching across the aisle. In the Florida Legislature, I worked with my Republican colleagues – and they were my colleagues – on critical issues that hit home regardless of party. Together, for instance, we were able to pass legislation that changed the care structure for Floridians with developmental and/or physical disabilities.

I didn’t always get what I wanted – an effort to reform Florida’s drug laws didn’t pass – but I earned the respect of my colleagues, and they had mine.

Respect is a pillar of bridge-building. To achieve a workable consensus, all sides need to come to the table with an open mind and an honest willingness to listen. It’s not a street brawl, though at times it might feel like one. The goal is to partner for a positive solution – whether that’s in the political arena, the boardroom, or on a college campus.

I like to think bridge-building is really an appeal to our better selves. Instead of shouting, pointing fingers, and disagreeing just to disagree, we talk, listen, and come together. We find common ground.

This hope for a more civil, collaborative, and cooperative approach by all in our politics and policymaking at all levels is not an impossible dream. And it surely represents a better way than an ongoing negative nightmare pattern of conflict, controversy, and caustic interaction.

Dick Batchelor is an Orlando business consultant and former Florida legislator. His book, “Building Bridges in Toxic Political Times: A Road Map for Community Leaders,” is available on Amazon. For more about Batchelor, visit DickBatchelor.com.

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