After nearly two decades in public service, about half in elective office, Jonathan Miller had had enough.
Elected twice as a Kentucky state treasurer and later appointed secretary of finance, he watched the partisan nastiness grow out of control.
“I call myself and consider myself a recovering politician,” he said. “The system is a mess. Hyperpartisanship is the cornerstone of the problem. That's where we've really deteriorated.”
Miller, a Democrat, might have gotten out of politics, but he's still trying to fix the system.
The 45-year-old is co-founder of No Labels, a Washington, D.C.,-based movement seeking bipartisan political reform.
The Ohio Historical Society and No Labels will host a panel discussion on “Bridging the Divide” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, addressing Ohio's role as a battleground state for the 2012 presidential election. The event, to be held at the historical society, 800 E. 17th Ave., is free and open to the public, although a donation to the historical society is recommended.
Panelists include former Republican Gov. Bob Taft; Democratic state Sen. Charleta Tavares; Tom Suddes, an editorial writer for the Plain Dealer; and political consultant Gene Pierce. Ann Fisher, host of All Sides with Ann Fisher on WOSU Public Media (89.7 FM), will be moderating.
Jane Mason, spokeswoman for the historical society, said the conversation is an important one for people of all ages and political stripes.
“I think we all feel bombarded by the intensity of the political discussion,” she said. “What this panel is hoping to do is talk about how we could bring the discussion back to a civil level, so each point of view can get an airing with respect, and we could move forward on some very important issues instead of just fighting about them.”
Miller said there's nothing wrong with spirited political opposition, but the system has degenerated into a virtual blood sport, where colleagues now treat each other as enemies and special interests rule both parties and stir the pot.
At half a million supporters, No Labels is composed of Democrats, Republicans and independents who urge leaders to work across party lines.
“Occasionally, we have to put aside those labels when it comes to the good of our country,” he said. “We're not asking people to leave their party or vote for none of the above but to put pressure on those politicians to work with the other side.”
Formed 18 months ago, “We've definitely made some great strides,” said Miller, a practicing attorney and blogger at therecoveringpolitician.com.
No Labels is even active on policy issues. For example, the group's proposed “No Budget, No Pay” act, which would require Congress to make spending and budget decisions on time or forgo a paycheck, has been co-sponsored by 91 senators and congressmen on both sides of the aisle.
Naturally, Miller said, members of the media share some of the blame for the discord among Americans, 60 percent of whom feel the country is on the wrong track. He dismissed a charge of liberal bias in the press and sees it as a “bias for controversy,” a system that promotes disagreement and heightens an atmosphere “that seems to thrive on that discontent.”
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