As divisive as politics is today, most people long for an increase in bipartisanship and civility. Many elected officials and candidates talk about how they want the same, but all too often it falls to the wayside under the political pressures of a campaign or the allure of political ego boosts and intra-party status.

With the important issues facing our communities, our state and our nation this is not only disheartening, but it is also incredibly problematic. When people are not willing to work together and compromise, we are missing out on creative solutions to difficult problems. Even when one party is in control of all branches of government, as we now have in Maine, there should be a real effort and desire to work together. Nobody has all the answers, and that is why we must collaborate and cooperate. We need bipartisanship in our local communities, in Augusta, and in Washington, DC.

But what does it mean to be bipartisan?

As a veteran school board member, I do not think of my work with others or my desire to understand others’ viewpoints as being bipartisan or partisan. My responsibility as an elected official is to listen to constituents, represent their voice, and work for solutions that are truly helpful for the community.

On any given issue or topic there are undoubtedly opposing views. My job is to find common ground in those opposing views so that we have an opportunity to create solutions to the complex issues that face us. Taking extreme positions, being unwilling to gain an understanding of opposing views, and failing to communicate effectively often leads to inaction and organizational paralysis. Sound familiar?

With claims of bipartisanship, I look to examine the evidence of such action. “Bipartisan” is defined as the agreement or cooperation of two political parties that usually oppose each other’s policies. By the very definition of bipartisan, I contest that it is reasonable that the “agreement” or “cooperation” between two opposing parties would be apparent. When there is no agreement and when no cooperation exists, I see that bipartisanship has not been accomplished.

Healthy, respectful debate can guide us to true bipartisanship — a situation where opposing ideas and priorities are understood through meaningful discussion and then compromise can be reached. When everyone is communicating with an authentic goal of informing, listening, and finding a workable solution, solutions can be found.

As an elected official I know what kind of leadership, communication and work ethic is necessary to truly be bipartisan. I challenge us all to consider how we remain true to our priorities and principles, while also recognizing that we will never move forward if we do not acknowledge the priorities and principles of those who oppose us.

Listening and seeking to understand are key. Nothing gets accomplished when finger-pointing, sloganeering and political attacks take center stage. Criticism and disagreements happen, and they are necessary to moving forward and finding the best solutions, but constant political attacks for nothing but the sake of partisan politicking are different, and they are unproductive.

I may not always agree with someone, and they may not like the way I vote, but I will always listen to them and seek to understand their position. In doing so, I always learn something and gain a new perspective that can better inform my work as an elected official.

This is the approach I have taken to my work on the MSAD 75 School Board, and it is the approach I will take as the State Senator for District 23. I am hopeful that as our nation becomes ever more divided, the Maine Legislature can become a role model for civility and true bipartisanship.

Our state is known for ingenuity and a strong work ethic. That combined with a truly bipartisan approach to governance in Augusta could go a long way in solving the problems our state faces.

Holly JP Kopp is running as a Republican for Maine Senate District 23, representing  Arrowsic, Bath, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Dresden, Georgetown, Phippsburg, Richmond, Topsham, West Bath, Woolwich and the unorganized township of Perkins.

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