DANBURY — Can we ever move beyond the partisan “bloodbath” of politics at the national level and begin to foster real cooperation to solve some of the country’s most vexing problems?
That’s the question for the No Labels movement, which seeks to change the tone of the American political conversation. One of its founders was on hand Saturday in Danbury to explain the effort.
David Walker, the former U.S. Comptroller General under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, was flanked by former (and possibly future) Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley at the Danbury public library to outline the movement’s goals.
The first step for making Congress work better in Walker’s mind?
If they don’t pass a budget on time, members don’t get paid.
“You cannot run any kind of enterprise successfully without a plan, a budget, and performance metrics. And the federal government has zero,” he said.
The “No Budget, No Pay” rule is the first of 12 steps outlined on the group’s website.
Most of the steps involve tweaking the way things are done in Congress, like making Republicans and Democrats sit together in chambers, ending negative campaigning against incumbents, and getting rid of pledges except for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Tom Foley, the former ambassador to Ireland who is planning on running for governor again in 2014, used the occasion to hype his Connecticut Policy Institute’s position paper on education reform, and also to decry the current state of politics in Hartford.
“We have one party government right now in Connecticut, so things are getting done. But many things that are getting done actually aren’t supported by the majority of voters,” he said.
Foley said he was a supporter of No Labels and commended Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on his education reform package.
“Talk about pissing off your own constituents and supporters. That’s a good way for a Dem to do it,” Foley said, referring to the back-and-forth between Malloy and the state’s two teacher unions regarding the education reforms.
The panel was supposed to feature U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, who canceled because of a family scheduling conflict.
Murphy did send a letter though, saying that he leads the “Center Aisle Caucus, a small but growing bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats committed to finding common ground and making that place work a little better.”
The letter said he looks forward to attending another No Labels event.
Debra Hauser, a Yale psychologist who lost her 2010 bid for state representative, joined Walker and Foley on the panel Saturday.
Hauser said that she was “really taken aback by the process,” of seeking elected office. She described “being told what to say and how to say it. Not being able to really talk honestly about the things that I thought needed addressing.” Hauser said she felt she could not speak her mind about unions and unfunded pensions because of Democratic orthodoxy.
She now co-chairs the Connecticut chapter of No Labels, along with New Haven capital asset manager Brett Hellerman.
During a lengthy question and answer session, Leila Baroody of Lakeville said that while she was encouraged by the drive for bipartisan cooperation, she felt that the biggest issue was still the corrosive influence of money in politics, and asked Walker what he planned to do about it.
Walker suggested breaking up solidly Democratic or Republican districts to maximize competition, conduct runoff elections to minimize the power of primaries, and comprehensive campaign finance reform.
Walker had been recruited to run for U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s vacated seat, but declined to run in order to focus on his work with the No Labels movement.