All Policymakers ‘More Alike than Different’
By Krista Rinehart, CSG Leadership Center Coordinator
At a time when gubernatorial recall elections and presidential campaign attacks are dominating national news headlines, Montana Rep. Liz Bangerter’s assertion that partisanship isn’t necessarily a bad thing may seem a little crazy.
But to Bangerter, there is partisanship as it was designed by the nation’s founders to serve as a base to our government’s checks and balances system, and then there is the hyperpartisan party politics that sometimes get out of control today.
“Partisanship will always be an issue with our system of nearly perfect government,” said Bangerter. “I believe it can be both helpful and hurtful, depending on how the people utilize it.”
“Partisanship is good because we all have different beliefs and perspectives. Our system is designed for parties to develop their respective platforms and allow thorough debate from a party position. When the majority then succeeds in advancing their agenda, it is sometimes seen as partisanship, even though the system is designed that way.”
While partisan differences play a key role in our system, Bangerter acknowledges that in today’s political world, partisan fights can sometimes do more harm than good.
“The problem with partisanship occurs when the competition between the parties seeks to destroy the other party,” she said, “usually at the expense of good or necessary legislation. When the differences of beliefs become personal in nature rather than professional or policy-oriented, partisanship is usually to blame. When partisanship gets in the way of progress, by being too consumed on who or what party gets credit, the system will struggle and people will see it as failing.”
For her part, Bangerter, who drives the Historic Helena Tour Train when she’s not attending session, has found that respecting her colleagues regardless of their position on the issues is a key to controlling partisan vitriol.
“I think a key to working across the aisle is respect,” she said, “respect for the people and the process. Members of all parties need to be treated fairly and have their voices heard. By giving them my full attention and asking meaningful questions, I try to understand their position and be courteous.”
Bangerter uses her respect for fellow legislators and the negotiation and tact she has learned as the mother of three to bring about consensus and cooperation whenever she can.
“Oftentimes, a consensus can be worked out without compromising one’s convictions,” said Bangerter. “Consensus means both sides giving and taking. Having three teenage daughters at home, I have a lot of experience in this realm.”
Bangerter’s respect for the nation’s system of government, coupled with a desire to give back, was a factor in her run for office in 2010. She credits the models of service and leadership provided by her parents, Bruce and Beverly, for helping guide her, both in and out of the legislature. Her parents instilled in her the importance of giving back and serving others.
“I try to be the kind of person that others want to follow because they see and feel my enthusiasm and joy,” she said. “I believe in being respectful, honest and treating others as I want to be treated. I believe that praise raises. I try to encourage others and don’t ask them to do something I would not do myself.”
Bangerter’s style of leading by example and looking for ways to elevate those she works with, once again, come back to her desire to remain respectful of those around her at all times.
“The key is respect,” she said. “Respect for the system and respect for the people. When the cameras are off and the people go home, we are more alike than different. When we focus on getting the job done and helping people, the system works.”
Working Across the Aisle
Read about how state policymakers are working across the aisle in the July/August edition of