Political partisanship: How bad is it?

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh touched off shock waves and soul-searching in the political world by announcing he won't run for re-election.

The Democrat says he's grown to dislike Congress, portraying it as paralyzed by strident partisanship.

Many Utah politicians agree -- sort of, although some would say a good question is, "So, what else is new?"

Partisanship has always been rampant in Congress, but Bayh isn't the only one bailing out; the frustration level seems to be up sharply.

Both Republicans and Democrats are jumping ship with well over three dozen senators and House members abandoning Congress in frustration. Bayh is only the latest.

"I have never seen the level of rigid ideology, a refusal to compromise for the public good, or just strident partisanship as it is today," Bayh said.

But Utah Republican Rob Bishop argues the partisanship is, historically, more or less typical.

"And is partisanship bad? Yeah. But I hate to say this; in the history of Congress it's always been this bad," Bishop said. "I mean, we've had brawls on the floor of Congress. People have pulled knives and guns on one another in Congress. We've had fistfights in Congress."


In Utah, Ted Wilson walks a tightrope between the two parties. He's a Democrat, hired by Republican Gov. Gary Herbert to help mediate environmental disputes. A long-time political observer, Wilson says Washington partisanship is different these days.

"I'm not sure it's worse now than it's ever been. It's been pretty bad in the past. But I think it's gotten to the point where we're not doing anything. In other words, the partisanship is finally stopping us from real solutions, particularly in Washington," Wilson said.

Former Utah governor and cabinet member Mike Leavitt said, "It's bad. It's toxically partisan."

Leavitt, a Republican, dealt with Congress for years as a cabinet member for President George W. Bush. He agrees there's a history of partisanship.

"It's the design of our government. However, it's not a very productive tone. And I think it's one that people tire of," Leavitt said. "It's all about the next election. And we now live in a society when the next election starts the day after the one that was just held.... But there does creep in a mentality, by my observation, that it's better for nothing to happen than for the other team to score."

Recent polls show that more Americans blame Republicans for the paralysis than Democrats, but nearly three quarters disapprove of Congress as a whole.

That's why the majority Democrats have the most to lose and the biggest worries about the coming elections.

E-mail: hollenhorst@ksl.com

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