Bipartisan legislative summit offers ray of hope in the North Country

We did precisely what people want politicians to do -- work together to craft public policy by bending our own political philosophies to find common ground


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While the federal government was shut down, a bipartisan group of North Country elected officials came together to define priorities and work to create practical solutions. We did precisely what people want politicians to do -- work together to craft public policy by bending our own political philosophies to find common ground.

Sadly, this spirit is missing in Washington, where ideology -- right and left -- is more important than right or wrong. We congratulate our congressional delegation for their efforts to avert this shutdown, and only wish that their voices would penetrate the hard-edge partisanship.

The North Country is a practical place, defined by a hard and rugged land and history of relying on each other more than any institution -- government or otherwise.

For generations, workers in the deep woods or on the factory floor knew that it was their workmate who “had their back” and literally protected each other’s life. Today, we still rely on neighbors for a helping hand, more often than on distant government bureaucrats. We govern ourselves at town meeting in the most intimate way -- all gathered in one room to bang out a solution.

At the state level, our situation is different. We're a small piece of a very big pie --- the North Country has just 3 percent of the House membership. While our clout is small, our problems are big and, ironically enough, they hold us together and create commonality of purpose. The challenges are so big -- improving the economy, easing poverty and preserving our culture, landscape and way of life -- that we can't be picky. We work with whomever shows up. But there are clear differences between our elected officials -- geography and party are chief among them. Still, we began a discussion, not about the crisis of the day, but about tomorrow and beyond.

The North Country bipartisan legislative summit was a success because our elected officials agreed to participate and because of the support we received from several key groups. A professional facilitator from the group NH Listens, with support from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the Neil and Louise Tillotson Foundation, guided us through a collaborative process. I found in the conversations hopeful crumbs that could lead us out of stalemate and in time to statesmanship.

Change naturally comes slowly and ideas need time to settle in, not be rushed or pushed onto slender majorities. More than anything else, our summit created a spirit within us and the knowledge that we're not as different as we originally thought.

Jeff Woodburn of Dalton represents the North Country in the New Hampshire Senate.


 

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