President Joe Biden last month signed bipartisan legislation responding to a string of gun violence. This deal initially made headlines not just for the content of the agreement, but for the existence of such a bipartisan agreement itself.
The Washington Post editorial board wrote of the deal: “The willingness of Democrats and Republicans to negotiate and find agreement on an issue that has so deeply divided the two parties for so long is noteworthy and a hopeful sign our government is not completely broken.”
While it is disheartening to see our government described as almost “completely broken,” it is not surprising. The rarity of bipartisan solutions to tough problems is the driving force behind the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s decision to form a partnership with the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, part of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia.
The partnership, called “Advancing Civics,” will bring together leaders from around the region and the state to talk about how bipartisanship, compromise and civil discourse has brought – and will continue to foster – great progress to the region, the state and the nation. These are leaders who were instrumental in the delivery of major infrastructure projects, historic investments in our schools and other significant accomplishments achieved through the kind of dialogue and negotiation we are seeing less and less of today.
Recent accomplishments in our region show all is not lost when it comes to bipartisanship. In Virginia, bipartisan negotiators produced a deal on the state budget that passed overwhelmingly in the evenly divided General Assembly. Former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in 2019 reached a historic deal to rebuild the American Legion Bridge. When Amazon was looking at sites for its second headquarters, leaders of both parties from Virginia, the District and Maryland took action to enhance Metro funding to make our region a winning location for Amazon.
This kind of cooperation, and we might dare say collaboration, should be lauded not only for its impact, but also for how bipartisanship and compromise was necessary in achieving these critical outcomes.
Now is the time for organizations like chambers of commerce to join with community and government leaders in advocating for more civil discourse in the public square. Businesses are regularly taking roles in the fight to advance social causes, finding them inextricably linked to a workforce with high expectations for diversity, equity and inclusion. Consumers are also part of driving this change, choosing to patronize businesses that are ethically motivated or purpose-driven rather than solely focused on financial performance.
Being civil and willing to compromise leads to more lasting positive solutions to the problems our communities face. For our democracy to thrive, we need to do a better job of talking, listening and finding compromise. After all, our U.S. Constitution is the result of a series of critical compromises.
We believe Advancing Civics can help promote a more civil public dialogue. And the business community should help lead the charge as bipartisan, civil approaches to governing result in growing Virginia’s economy, and this makes good business sense. It should not be historic when Republicans and Democrats find common ground, it should be the norm.
This op-ed was signed by Matt McQueen, chair of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, and three past chairs: Jim Dyke, Kathryn Falk and Todd Stottlemyer.