U.S. House members tout bipartisanship
At the height of the political season, many candidates stump for votes from dawn to dusk.
On a recent Thursday, however, two Abilene Christian University alumni took time away from the campaign trail to speak at their alma mater.
Both happen to be members of the U.S. House — from opposing parties.
ACU welcomed Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, to campus for “A Forum on Civil Discourse and Christian Faith.”
The message shared by Hahn and Poe might surprise some: Democrats and Republicans can get along.
The two, both members of Churches of Christ, say they don’t just get along but actually like each other.
They’re bucking a trend that says members of opposing parties are incapable of working together. In fact, Hahn and Poe joined forces earlier this year to push legislation through Congress aimed at strengthening port security from coast to coast.
“You’ve probably never heard of it, because (our relationship) is working,” said Poe, a member of the Bammel Church of Christ in Houston. “Good legislation is bipartisan. That’s not what sells newspapers.”
Hahn and Poe were joined on stage by ACU’s Orneita Burton, assistant professor of management and information systems; Mel Hailey, professor of political science; and Grant Rampy, director of public relations and former White House correspondent for Tribune Broadcasting.
When she arrived on Capitol Hill as a freshman lawmaker last year, Hahn immediately sought out Poe, she said.
“I said, ‘We’re both graduates of ACU, I think we should be friends, I think we should work together, and I think there are so many things we can agree on,’” recalled Hahn, a member of the Redondo Beach Church of Christ in the Los Angeles area.
“I’m going to get more accomplished for this country by making friends than I am staying in my corner and fighting,” she told students.
Poe said with a laugh, “It surprises a lot of people that Janice and I are friends, and I don’t know who it bothers more, the Republicans or the Democrats.”
To be a good congressman, Poe said one must consider other representatives’ views, regardless of their party affiliation, race, gender or religious background. He acknowledged, however, that party structures make it difficult to reach out to the other side.
“There are paybacks or punishment available for not drinking the Kool-Aid, so to speak,” Poe said, referring to party leaders who can strip away an important title or withhold committee assignments from those who don’t toe the line.
Both Hahn and Poe said they know Americans are tired of the constant infighting that more often than not keeps Congress from doing its job, but Hahn said the responsibility for the caustic atmosphere extends to the public.
“Voters need to be more responsible in making sure the people they elect don’t go back there with a so-called mandate to not compromise,” she said.
Reflecting on their Christian faith, both lawmakers said it plays a vital role in how they make decisions while conducting the nation’s business.
“I tend to believe my Christian values, my faith, cause me to be an activist in government and cause me to advocate for the poor, those who don’t have a voice,” Hahn said. “That’s how I live out my Christian faith here on earth, and I think you can do that in government.”
Poe said his Christian faith is paramount in everything he does.
“You need — I need — that foundation of conviction or principles to make decisions throughout the day for the things that are best for the country,” he said.