Reaching across the aisle to solve our nation’s problems

Reaching across the aisle to affect meaningful change works. I learned that early in my political career. I was 29 and a new Portsmouth city councilor. The council was undergoing its annual acrimonious budgetary dance between those who favored higher spending (“If you care about the kids…”) and those who sought to limit budget increases (“If you care about the taxpayers…”).

I had audited cities for a living, and found that most people cared about both “the kids” and “the taxpayers”…but simply needed to get past their partisan positions to focus on identifying solutions.

A coalition of us came together – two young Democrats and two older Republicans – to advocate a fundamental reform: instead of staying with a traditional budget based on the prior year’s, we supported a brand new performance-based budget using outcome data to meet our community’s real needs.

It took a few years to get the working majority that was needed, but that unlikely coalition led to the passage of budgets, while I was mayor, that increased spending below the rate of inflation, while improving outcomes in education, public safety, and public works. Why? Because instead of starting with inflexible positions, we began with quantifiable outcomes that led to meaningful debate.

We need to see similar collaborations taking place on the national stage.

This Saturday, a group I’m part of called No Labels will be holding an event here in New Hampshire that will give the people of the Granite State a chance to show our national leaders what goal-setting, collaboration and problem-solving look like.

The objective of Saturday’s forum is to take a productive time-out from the divisiveness and the name-calling of the election season — a noise from which we, in New Hampshire, rarely get a break.

The No Labels meeting won’t help or hurt anyone’s election chances. No one will score political points or move the needle on any campaign poll.

Instead, we’ll talk about a future where a strategic, reasonable policy agenda based on widely-agreed-upon goals can be championed by a future president. We’ll start to plan for a near future where the people of New Hampshire offer a new kind of “primary” challenge to presidential candidates. Because we all know that presidential candidates will continue to tell New Hampshire that they will unite the country…but most of them won’t be able to tell us how. The No Labels plan is “the how,” and a commitment to it will be the new New Hampshire primary test.

Any candidate worthy of leading our great nation will have to show us that he or she is a problem-solver, committed to collaboration and the principled pursuit of agreed-upon goals. Candidates will have to show us they are willing to champion a National Strategic Agenda that includes at least some of the widely-agreed-upon goals that No Labels has established through a national survey:

  • Create 25 million new jobs over the next 10 years.
  • Secure Medicare and Social Security for another 75 years.
  • Balance the federal budget by 2030.
  • Make America energy-secure by 2024.

This doesn’t mean a candidate must, in any way, abandon the principles they hold dear. In fact, one of the things I appreciate about No Labels is that it’s a movement accepting of differences of opinion.

Starting with those four goals and meetings like the one that will take place on Saturday at St. Anselm College, No Labels will spend the coming year developing its National Strategic Agenda, then unveiling it right here in New Hampshire on Oct. 5, 2015 – just as the 2016 election campaign kicks off. By then, the agenda will be a complete plan that has already achieved substantive input and broad agreement from rank and file citizens and political leaders from across the nation… and across the political spectrum.

I look forward to sharing this new roadmap with presidential candidates who are serious about solving problems and uniting our country. I know that common sense works, and I know the people of New Hampshire can show Washington, D.C. how.

— Steve Marchand is the New Hampshire state director for No Labels. He is the former mayor of Portsmouth, NH, and the principal of SRM Consulting.


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