‘Civility is Not Caving, but it is Essential to Better Governing’

When he launched an effort to improve civility in the Ohio legislature, Sen. Frank LaRose faced this question on Twitter: Is he an Ohio Republican who is caving?

“Civility is not caving, but it is essential to better governing,” LaRose said Thursday during the session, “Building Trust through Civil Discourse.”

Many attending the session echoed the need for a change in discourse. They got a taste of the training offered by the National Institute for Civil Discourse through a series of modules aimed at getting to the core of how policymakers can better work together to serve their constituents.

Ted Celeste, a former Ohio state representative who founded and directs Next Generation, a project of the institute in partnership with The Council of State Governments, said a first step in healing the partisan divide is measuring the level of civility in your state. In addition, he said, policymakers must share their thoughts on what is uncivil behavior and then address those issues.

One problem, several in attendance noted is that legislators, in particular, don’t have the opportunity to get to know each other as individuals.

Colorado Sen. Nancy Todd, vice chair of CSG West, said things changed with the passage of an ethics law that ended some of the interaction between people of different parties.

“It did change the atmosphere for all of the new members from this day forward,” she said. The pendulum is finally swinging back in the other direction. “Hopefully there will be time that people can come back together and get to know each other as people, as opposed to party affiliation.”

But North Dakota Sen. Tim Mathern cautioned policymakers from taking on the entire load for the change in discourse.

“I don’t think it’s just changing you and me. I think it’s something about the citizenry that is in fact supporting this type of government,” he said.

With that in mind, LaRose posed this question: “Do we have a responsibility if someone is saying unnecessarily nasty things and lead by example?” he asked.

He called it “putting down the partisan armor” and getting to know colleagues as human beings.

The National Institute for Civil Discourse is partnering with CSG and various states to host workshops of bipartisan groups of legislators to bring more civility in government.