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Stretching the Limits of Bi-Partisanship:
The Case of Dick Riordan
February 1, 2002
President Bush learned his bi-partisanship in Texas out of necessity. In the West, partisan politics is serious business. If you want be a partisan lawmaker or governor, you can expect political stalemate, or politically taxing win-loss contests on almost every issue or bill. Worse, in the West, if you use ideology to fight battles in statehouses or at city hall, you can exhaust valuable political capital winning arguments and not solving problems.
President George W. Bush has successfully transplanted his Texas bi-partisanship to Washington. A recent Battleground Poll 2002 referred to President Bush as the "Bi-Partisan President". The Poll results released at the beginning of January confirm that the President's has been effective in his efforts to outreach to non-republicans. Sixty-five (65%) percent admit to a 'new tone' in Washington, and seventy-three (73%) percent believe he has successfully reached out to democrats. The Poll concludes, "partisan politics aside, it is clear that George W. Bush has solidified his position as leader of the country and not just his party."
Now out of Los Angeles comes a hyper version of this kind of politics: "Non-partisanship leadership". This is what Former Mayor Richard Riordan is calling it in his run for governor of California. Riordan hopes he can skirt the political minefields of his own party and compensate for Republicans' low registration by stressing problem solving over ideology.
Vicious ideological battles have characterized California Republican politics for the last several years. The results have been disastrous. California Republicans can claim only one statewide elected official, Secretary of State Bill Jones; he's one of Riordan's primary opponents. Nor does Riordan subscribe to the East Coast, big-city model of handling the touchy social issues of the Republican Party. He doesn't follow other republicans mayors like Rudolf Giuliani who employ an 'in your face', politically correct attitude on those issues that drive social conservatives crazy.
Riordan instead tries to be disengaged from these issues. Still he was forced to come out clearly against gay marriages in a recent televised debate with his GOP rivals.
Aside from a disengagement from divisive social issues, the new bi-partisanship has three features: employing business school models to address public policy, stressing education above all, and splitting political culture from political activism.
Riordan's 'non-partisanship' has its roots in an experience shared with G. W. Bush: starting and managing businesses. Dick Riordan is co-founder of Riordan & McKenzie, a law firm that concentrates in part on business startups and turnarounds. Its commercial livelihood depends on success and achievement. Consensus building is vital to launch or turn around a business, and at all levels of the business - employees and management. There's no room for ideology here (or for running a baseball team).
Second, education is critical; it anchors the jobs of the new economy. It has been a vital concern for Riordan as mayor and private philanthropist, and it's been a primary issue for the President (and the First Lady). Conservatives are often quick to address education problems with ideological solutions. The new bi-partisanship instead stresses results -- child literacy and reading and practical programs that work. President Bush spent many hours with Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) to ensure passage of his education bill, which emphasized accountability and results. First Lady Laura Bush in recent congressional hearings stressed the need for higher teacher's salaries to draw talented teachers to the critical early child learning period.
Third, the new 'bi-partisanship' also recognizes the difference between political culture and political action. Too often political activism is an attempt to achieve political recognition.
So Republicans have had to recognize the changing face of America, which is so apparent in the West and Southwest. California republicans and for that matter the national party refused until recently to recognize the demographic changes occurring. Los Angeles is a city of hundreds of ethnic minorities-and as many diverse neighborhoods. Dick Riordan recognized this and acknowledged it daily. By acknowledging and working within the new political realities, Riordan built trust and cooperation. He, like Governor George Bush, was re-elected with over 60% of the vote.
The Democrats have no choice but to be partisan. As the party out of power they must try ideological themes like the much recycled "party of the rich" or "tax breaks for big business" themes. Dick Riordan in California will attempt to take it a step further.
As a member of the party out of power in California, he will attempt to attack his opponent -incumbent Democrat California Gov. Gray Davis-on grounds of incompetence; failed economic, education and energy policies. His opponent has instead already begun negative ads emphasizing his positions on social issues. It remains uncertain whether a muted ideological battle will inspire Republican voters to turn out to vote.
But if the Battleground Poll is reflective of all America, voters of all parties are looking for less talk and more solutions, and may reward successful problem solvers with their votes.
Write to Arthur at firstname.lastname@example.org
Award-winning TV producer, talk show host, and Republican leader Arthur Bruzzone has written over 150 political articles for national and regional media, and has commented on political issues for American and European television and radio networks. His articles and columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Campaign & Elections Magazine, among other publications.
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