Members of Congress Visit UMass Boston to Talk Bipartisan Cooperation on Capitol Hill

Crystal Valencia | Fri Dec 21, 2018

U.S. Representative Joe Kennedy and three of his fellow members of Congress visited UMass Boston Monday during their winter break to discuss the current state and future of bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill with students, faculty, and staff.

Kennedy (D, MA), Congressman Rodney Davis (R, IL), Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R, OK), and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (D, DE) fielded questions on everything from their proudest moments passing bipartisan legislation to the challenges of working across the aisle and what young people should know before running for office.

Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman welcomed the two Democrat and two Republican Representatives to campus, calling it a very special occasion.

“This is something you don’t read very much about these days,” Newman said. “The world seems ever polarized, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for not such good reasons. But it’s refreshing to have a group of Congress members here who are devoted to working across the aisle. Let us hope that is the spirit that accompanies the new Congress next year.”

UMass Boston Undergraduate Student Government President Katie Mitrano served as moderator, first asking what led each Representative to run for office.

“I realized that you can make a difference. You can actually achieve big things in a country like ours,” Davis said.  “And to be able to serve with these three great people and so many good Republicans and Democrats in Washington is a privilege that I don’t take lightly.”

Kennedy spoke about the importance of working across the aisle. For as long as he’s been in Congress, he has been in the minority, which means that if he wants to see any legislation passed, he not only needs Republicans to sign on, but to champion it.

Kennedy pointed to the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act, that ended up being cosponsored by Republican Congressman Tom Reed of New York. The bill creates a network of regional institutes across the country designed to commercialize research and development into manufactured products, train an advanced manufacturing workforce, and support manufacturers of all sizes.

At first, he had trouble getting Republicans to sign on.

Representative Joe Kennedy

“When you can translate that around from a national piece of manufacturing policy into something local that local constituents want and support and are actually urging you to pass, that is a completely different way of approaching a piece of legislation,” he said. “Once we did that, we were able to get some additional support on board.”

Students, faculty, and staff even got to witness a moment of bipartisanship at the event.

Blunt Rochester, a former senior research fellow at UMass Boston’s Institute for Community Inclusion, spoke of a criminal justice reform bill that she is looking for a Republican cosponsor on.

“It’s a bill called Clean Slate, and it’s for those individuals who maybe had a low-level nonviolent marijuana charge and it stays with them, and nine out of ten employers do background checks, four out of five housing, three out of five colleges do background checks… so this bill would seal that, except law enforcement could see it, homeland security could see it. But it gives people an opportunity to move on with their lives,” she explained.

Davis chimed in: “Put me on as a sponsor. … Criminal justice reform is a big deal to Republicans and Democrats.”

Mullin told the audience about a bill dealing with mental illness and HIPAA privacy rules that he and Kennedy disagree on.

“We can agree to disagree, but we’re still great friends,” he said. “It’s just because we make decisions based on two things: our life experiences and the way we’re raised and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. … bipartisanship is still alive and well within the halls of Congress, but you just don’t ever get to hear about it.”

McCormack Graduate School Dean David Cash spoke of how fitting it was to discuss bipartisanship at a school named after former Speaker of the House John W. McCormack.

“He was in Congress for 42 years, was the Speaker the last 10 years in the 60’s and early 70’s, and if there was any kind of speaker that modeled bipartisanship it was he,” Cash said. “He was a bridge builder… he’s a real model for what we’re talking about today.”

Group shot of Chancellor Newman and four member of Congress

Presented by the Congressional Study Group on American Democracy and Civics, the event was sponsored by the Association of Former Members of Congress, the McCormack Graduate School for Policy and Global Studies, the Political Science Department, and University Relations.

The Representatives, along with Interim Chancellor Newman, also visited the Burke High School earlier in the day to host a civics discussion with students, an event made possible by UMass Boston’s partnership with Boston Public Schools.

“It was a great opportunity for our students and campus community, and this inspiring event will be a precursor to UMass Boston serving as the convener for similar forums in the future,” said Matt Fenlon, director of economic development and corporate outreach at UMass Boston.