Mark Contreras, president and CEO of public media service Connecticut Public, recalls working for Democratic U.S. Senator Paul Simon during the mid 1980s, recalling how Simon and Republican Senator Alan Simpson had a good working relationship and were even friends.
“They were like brothers,” Contreras said of the duo, who retired from the U.S. Senate in 1996. He also witnessed a similar dynamic between another pair of U.S. Senators – Democrat Ted Kennedy and Republican Orrin Hatch.
These kinds of relationships across political parties are becoming more and more difficult to achieve in the current climate, and that’s something the Braver Angels Connecticut Alliance hopes to change.
The Alliance will host “Moving Beyond Polarization: Making Politics Work,” a virtual program scheduled for Thurs., Sept. 8 from 7:30 until 9 p.m. The event is free and open to anyone who wants to attend.
Connecticut Public and the Governor M. Jodi Rell Center for Public Service are co-sponsoring the event.
Braver Angels is a national non-profit organization whose mission, its leaders say, is to bring liberals and conservatives together through programs such as workshops and debates meant to help them find common ground, or to calmly agree to disagree.
The Sept. 8 Zoom event will feature a discussion between state Rep. Stephen Harding, a Republican from the 107th District, and state Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, a Democrat from the 133rd District.
While Harding and Vahey come from different political parties, they both represent the voters of Connecticut, Chris Clouet, Connecticut’s Braver Angels Co-Coordinator, said.
“They are both ideal people to discuss these issues,” Clouet said. “It’s not a debate. It is a guided conversation.”
The moderator of the discussion will be Braver Angels co-founder Bill Doherty, who also created the Braver Angels workshop approach. Doherty, a practicing therapist for couples and families, is a tenured professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Family Social Science.
He will lead a discussion about how Vahey and Harding’s life helped form their views, and how polarization has impacted government.
“The idea is we see the potential for our country at this fragile moment coming apart,” Clouet said. “We want to play a role in trying to keep folks together and not demonize each other.”
He said Braver Angels work to bring balance into the events they host.
“For every blue-leaning person, like me, there is a counterpart,” Clouet said, referring to his co-coordinator Al Smith. The group has already conducted several workshops, addressing topics such as critical race theory.
While Connecticut Public is not directly involved in the programming, its representatives are happy to help sponsor the event, “because it is easily spot on with our mission of trying not to be partisan in any way, shape or form,” Contreras said.