Local leaders Taft, Hall discuss how political parties can work together

Two longtime local politicians who served at some of the highest levels of government said they are concerned about the future of democracy given the intense resentment between the two parties and their followers.

They also provided ways that could improve relationships between the competing parties and how to better unite the country.

The Dayton Area League of Women Voters hosted “Reaching Across the Aisle: A Conversation with Tony Hall and Bob Taft” on Wednesday at the University of Dayton’s Fitz Center for Leadership in Community.

Hall, a Democrat who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly 24 years, and Taft, a former Republican governor of Ohio, talked about their time in government and how they often worked with politicians from the other side to pass important bipartisan legislation.

Dayton Daily News Editor and Chief Content Officer Ashley Bethard moderated the event.

“I think we really lost the capacity for bipartisanship on issues of major importance to the country,” Taft said.

The amount of money it takes to win an election, legislative districts that are not competitive and representatives who don’t know each other and want to perform rather than govern were some of the reasons discussed as causes for the disconnect.

“Years ago when I was in Congress, we lived in Washington,” Hall said. “We didn’t live in our districts and that’s important to know because when members live in Washington they get to know each other, their families know each other, their children know each other. They go to dinner together, they travel together, they play cards with each other, it doesn’t matter if you are Democrat or Republican, you make friends and get to know each other and that doesn’t happen today.”

Hall said those relationships would help bridge gaps and make members feel more comfortable working together. Both men said many elected officials now win their seats by attacking the other side, which doesn’t allow them to work together when it’s time to compromise.

Taft said the way primary elections are held in most states — including Ohio — is also causing issues. He said many districts are not competitive and that encourages people with extreme or radical ideas to run for office and oftentimes win.

”About 80 percent of the districts in the House are not competitive districts, so that means the person who wins the primary is going to be the person who serves in the House of Representatives, the Congress,” he said.

Taft said some states have started changing their primary system where voters can list the candidates based on their top choice and least favorite choice, which makes politicians reach out to supporters of other candidates.

Hall said the large amount of money in politics, laws that make it tougher to vote and the amount of “hate” that seems to be in the political system concerns him.

“Democracy is threatened in America, in my opinion. It’s scary. I look at our country and I really worry about it.”

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