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Former leaders of US Senate to address gridlock

WASHINGTON – Two former leaders of the U.S. Senate – one Democrat and one Republican – will be in Albuquerque on Wednesday to lead a conversation on how to move past partisan bickering and gridlock for the sake of the community and the nation.

Former Sens. Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, and Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, will headline the talk in conjunction with New Mexico First, a public policy organization celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Daschle served in the Senate from 1987 until 2004. Lott was a member of the chamber from 1989 until 2007. Both served in various leadership roles during their tenures, including majority leader.

Heather Balas, executive director of New Mexico First, said the group decided to invite the former federal lawmakers to New Mexico after the release last year of their book “Crisis Points: Why We Must – and How We Can – Overcome Our Broken Politics in Washington and Across America.” The senators, who were in opposing parties but became friends and advanced legislation together before leaving the Senate, have wisdom to impart at a time of deep partisan divisions not only in Congress, but in state legislatures and even on Facebook, Balas said.

“How can we advance a really collaborative, constructive governmental system and move away from this culture of partisan bickering?” Balas asked, describing the theme of Wednesday’s discussion. “We thought it would be an opportunity for community leaders, as well as elected officials in New Mexico, to engage in a deeper way and learn from these federal leaders.”

In a Journal interview Monday, Lott conceded that he and Daschle had their political differences but said they tried hard to put them aside, sometimes with success. He lamented that over the past decade or more, opposing lawmakers and even the White House have ceased talking with each other. That dynamic is poisoning political discourse across the country, he said.

“We’ve reached a point where things really need to change, not only here in Washington but in many respects across the country,” Lott said. “In order to do that … communication is so critical. If you’re talking, you’re not listening, and in the past 10 years, the presidency has sort of drifted away from communicating with the Congress, and the leaders of Congress now quite often are not communicating, either.

“Having a relationship and understanding and knowing each other is so important in finding a way to get a result.”

Lott also called on Congress to do something – anything – to try to move legislation and bridge the divide.

“Congress needs to step up,” Lott said. “… They need to get the ball moving, and you don’t always have to have a huge bill. Do some routine stuff – some stuff that is a little more bipartisan. But find a way to move some bills that have traditionally been bipartisan, and then you get some momentum.”

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