Katko: Redistricting could help bring civility back to politics

Jan 5, 2018

How can we bring civil discussion back to politics? It seems like an impossible question to answer right now, given today's political climate. But that question was one of many posed to Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) on a special one-hour edition of the Campbell Conversations. In this portion of the discussion, Katko shares his thoughts on restoring civility to politics. 

You can hear the full conversation on the Campbell Conversations, Saturday at 6 a.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m. on WRVO, and online. 

Grant Reeher (GR): What do you say to citizens that are living this political environment. I mean it's tough for elected politicians because of the things that you've described and the polarization and difficulty in working together but how is it that we as citizens interacting with elected officials are going to break out of this. Because if you were just open up a town hall meeting, yeah, chances are it's going to be kind of a shouting match on this issue. So how are we going to break through this. How are we going to, how are we going to get to a place where we can have more rational conversation, people can disagree without getting into some assessment of the other person's motives. We seem to be so far away from that. The model that the president is giving us is not going to help with that because that's where he goes when he has a disagreement. How do we find our way back.

John Katko (JK): Honestly I think doing what we're trying to do in Congress. What we do with the Problem Solvers [Caucus] is a good example. We have Democrats and Republicans, we started with just a handful of each. And now it's become like the cool kids club. People want to join. A lot of people do, and a lot of people don't because they say "I can't in my district because I'd be done." But I think that's part of it. I think just showing bipartisanship and having the guts and courage to stand up in a bipartisan manner is really important. I also think we got to take a look at redistricting on both sides of the aisle. When you have Democrats that are in seats that are 30 or 40 percent more Democrats than Republicans or Republicans the same way, I think that from a structural standpoint it's a race for the primary. So they're worried about their primaries not their general election. So if you're a Republican, you'll sit there and say "well I got be more conservative than my primary challenger and a Democrat's going to say "I got to be more liberal than my primary challenger." And they couldn't care less about the general election. They're gonna win anyways. So I think that's part of the...that's a contributor to the problem for sure. But if every district was like mine, five percent more Democrat than Republican. If every district was like mine from 5 percent more Democrat to 5 percent more Republican, I think you'll see a lot more bipartisanship too. So I think taking a look at how these districts have been gerrymandered on both sides of the aisle would be important. And I think courts are starting to do that. They are doing that.

(GR): I wonder about something culturally though that relates to that because it's one thing to have, again, people who fundamentally disagree or take more extreme positions because of a concern about a primary challenge. OK fine. That's one thing. But then it's another that when you get to the point of actually arguing with each other and having exchanges you immediately go to, basically what it boils down to, you're a bad person. And that's why you're making the argument that you're making. So what you're saying is persuasive to me on one level but doesn't fully explain it on another. And so how do we get out of that?

(JK): Well I think social media and the instant 24 hour news cycle has contributed greatly to that problem because there is the partisan news stations all over on both sides of the aisle. And they whip up their people. Like I get things people like "how dare you take full salary for life? How dare you get full health insurance for life? And why is it that you get you get free health insurance for your children for life, and I have to pay for mine?" I'm like "What are you talking about?" and these are rational smart people and I say "Where did you get that?" and they say "I saw it online" and I'm like "Well we don't. We have a salary just like everyone else and a retirement plan just like everybody else and I paid $1,300 for health insurance last year. So what are you talking about?" So that kind of stuff, they see whatever they see online they believe and it inflames them and get some so angry. You'd be stunned at how disrespectful people are to me and I'm just trying to talk to them. It's unbelievable and at times threatening. It's amazing.