Colorado Democratic Senator Mark Udall has led an effort over the last two years to “bridge the divide” that has marked presidential State of the Union addresses by seeking to institute bipartisan seating. Udall’s plan to make progress on Capitol Hill by any means possible including symbolic gesture has met with mixed success. Colorado Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn, for example, one of the most conservative members of Congress, has announced not only that he’s not mixing this year but also that he plans to not attend the speech at all as a way to send his own symbolic message.
Lamborn’s office told FOX31 Denver that he “respects the president personally, and the office of the president,” but that he wants to clearly relate that he “does not support the policies of Barack Obama, that they have hurt our country.”
Lamborn represents solidly Republican Congressional District 5, which turns around one of the top military and evangelical cities in the nation, Colorado Springs. Lamborn learned this week that he is facing a 2012 primary challenge from businessman Robert Blaha, a turn of events that seemed to rile the congressman.
In announcing he was running for re-election, Lamborn asked El Paso County Republicans to approach his opponent’s candidacy with skepticism:
“Why would someone want to knock off the most conservative member of Congress?” he asked.
Udall, a moderate Democrat and member of Congress since 1999, has lamented the partisan gridlock and the politics of personal attacks that have ratcheted up in recent years. He teamed with Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski in his calls for bipartisan State of the Union seating, their proposal coming the year after Obama’s first State of the Union address, at which South Carolina Republican Joe Wislon burst out with a red-faced accusation that the president was a liar. Wilson later apologized but the heckling registered as a low point. Even in the moment, the outburst raised a disappointed “ooh” from the chamber, clearly took congressional veteran Speaker Nancy Pelosi by surprise and reduced Vice President Joe Biden to dejected head shaking.
Last week Udall and Murkowski wrote a letter to Republican and Democratic congressional leaders renewing their call for mixed seating and setting out their reasoning.
Political differences will always generate a healthy debate, but too often our dialogue impedes the progress demanded by the American people. Hyper-partisanship has frequently kept Congress from finding common-sense solutions that could spur economic growth or help our middle class. It’s little wonder that the American people have such a low regard for Congress and a lack of confidence in their governmental institutions.
So, now more than ever, we have the obligation to show that there is a place for civility on Capitol Hill and that civility can lead to problem-solving. As we saw last year, bipartisan seating reduced the division we had witnessed for decades at the annual State of the Union address, where Members traditionally took part in choreographed standing and clapping on one side of the Chamber while the other side sat in silent protest. That is an image unbecoming of our institution, especially when we should be striving for ways to put aside our differences and stand united.
“We ask for your assistance in making this a permanent tradition,” they wrote. Udall and Murkowski plan to sit together tomorrow night for the speech.
Udall spoke with CNN recently about the State of the Union address.[Image: Sen Udall, left, Rep Lamborn, right ]