COLUMBUS — As U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise continues to recover in a Virginia hospital from his recent shooting, a former congressman recalled Wednesday how he and colleagues of both parties stood together on the Capitol steps on 9/11 and sang “God Bless America.”
“It was an extraordinarily emotional moment,” said former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican. “You wish somehow you could capture that like capturing a firefly in a jar, keeping it going, keeping it alive.”
Something similar occurred on the House floor in the immediate wake of Mr. Scalise’s shooting at a June 14 GOP practice for a charity baseball game against Democrats, an event designed in part to highlight bipartisanship outside the halls of the U.S. Capitol.
But the feeling didn’t seem to last.
Mr. Kolbe and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, appeared before the Columbus Metropolitan Club Wednesday in an effort to contribute to what they hope will be a grassroots movement to return civility to political discourse.
“What we need more than almost anything else is good, constructive leadership to set the example, and I’m not seeing that today,” said Mr. Daschle, whose Senate office was once the target of an anthrax attack.
“But it’s not just the leadership,” he said. “It’s the way leadership can now use tools that didn’t exist 15, 20 years ago. The tweets didn’t exist when I got into politics… The social media has really changed. Truth is now just an option.”
During the heart of the 2016 presidential election, the National Institute of Civil Discourse, based at the University of Arizona, held programs in Ohio to urge more civil political discussion instead of negative ads and social media insults.
The institute was created after the 2011 Arizona shooting of former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, an event similar to the shooting of Mr. Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, at the baseball practice in June.
The shooter, James Hodgkinson, had volunteered with the failed Democratic presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, and had apparently acted out of anger at President Trump. He was killed by security, something Mr. Kolbe said he once eschewed while in Congress but now agrees is probably necessary.
Protesters in recent months have filled town halls, sometimes drowning out meaningful discussion on hot-button topics like health care and immigration with U.S. senators and congressmen. Some lawmakers have responded by cancelling town halls altogether or substituting telephone forums limiting discussion largely to invited guests.
NICD announced Wednesday that Ohio will serve as one of four state launch pads for a program to train 100,000 citizens to learn how to improve political discourse. It will work with the League of Women Voters and community organizations to host 400 conversations on building civility in the four states.
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