By Amanda Creech
Two distinguished former lawmakers – one Democrat and one Republican – spoke out Wednesday about civility among elected officials.
Former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton and former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar took part in a panel to discuss their experience working with members of the opposing party and the need to react civilly to each other in elected positions.
Hamilton defined civility among elected officials as respect.
“Every person that you deal with, you have to show respect and dignity,” Hamilton said.
The two men spoke on the opening day of the National Lieutenant Governors Association annual conference, which is taking place this week at The Conrad in Indianapolis. The conference will also address workforce development, renewable energy, cyber-crime, life sciences and social media. The conference will conclude on Friday.
Hamilton, a Democrat who represented Southern Indiana’s 9th District, said civility is easier when dealing with someone who agrees or has a similar opinion than with someone who has a different opinion.
“I think the test comes when you’re dealing with dissenters, or with people who you do not agree and maybe you do not agree with strongly. That’s the real test,” he said. “I look at it terms of having respect and dignity of all people, not just friends and neighbors, but everybody. And sometimes they test you a little bit and to maintain your civility towards people that irritate you.”
Lugar, a Republican, cited an example of his experience working alongside his colleague, former U.S Sen. Sam Nunn, on legislation to eliminate weapons of mass destruction that had built up during the Cold War. He said the true accomplishment came not from the U.S and the Soviet Union working together, but from the civility between a Republican and a Democrat. Lugar stressed the necessity to work together in order to accomplish goals.
“Some elected officials come into politics with the thought: My way or the highway,” Lugar said. “In other words, their whole purpose of winning an election is to establish a particular idea, principle, or objective.”
Lugar explained that when he was a senator, there weren’t so many ads that “crucify the opponent” and millions of dollars weren’t spent on “negative intelligence research.” Hamilton agreed, adding that there are now a lot more interest groups, the media has a sharper edge to it, and politicians are appealing more to those interest groups to ensure re-elections.
“This leads to greater incivility,” Lugar said. “We are going to have to surmount it.”
Lugar served as a U.S senator for 36 years and Hamilton served as a U.S. representative for 34 years.
Amanda Creech is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College students.