When Maine native David T. Flanagan died last week from complications related to pancreatic cancer, the country lost a steward of bipartisanship and comity on Capitol Hill. Sitting lawmakers and staff should study his example.

David Flanagan during his 2002 independent bid for governor of Maine, about three years before he went to Washington to serve as the Republicans’ lead counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ investigation of Hurricane Katrina.

In the midst of his half-century career as an operator without parallel in the Maine energy sector, Flanagan, at the request of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, temporarily left the Pine Tree State to serve as the Republicans’ lead counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ investigation of Hurricane Katrina.

Upon entering the Senate, senior energy executives like Flanagan may be expected to pull rank and demand an office with a fireplace and a view of Union Station (such real estate exists). Not Flanagan.

Shunning the trappings of power, Flanagan burrowed into an abandoned annex, ostensibly the Hart Senate Office Building attic. The annex did not include individual offices or even cubicles. It looked far more like Dunder Mifflin on “The Office” than the set of “The West Wing.” Flanagan did not work there alone. Hardly. He shared the space with about a dozen other people.

But most notably, half of them were not from “his” staff: They were Democrats.

Inside the annex, Flanagan’s office abutted that of Robert F. Muse, a dean of the Washington, D.C., trial bar, who had taken leave from his law firm to serve as lead counsel for the committee’s Democrats on the same investigation. Only a sliver of drywall separated the two men’s offices. Reflecting the leadership of the committee’s chair, Sen. Collins, and its ranking member, Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman, Flanagan and Muse shared the annex, and they insisted their staffs do the same.

Many evenings, Flanagan and Muse weighed the recently gathered testimony, documents and staff reports over a jar of Jameson’s. Irish-American families reared both men in New England, surely a comfort for two men now inside one of the Beltway’s inner sanctums. On occasion, Flanagan found his way to Muse’s Cleveland Park home for dinners and long conversations that would not always focus on work. Both earned each other’s respect, showed it, gave it and made sure the rest of the staff saw it.

This dynamic seems a lifetime ago. It took place nearly a decade before a House committee chairman cut off the ranking member’s microphone at a hearing. It occurred well before the partisan congressional investigations of Benghazi and Donald Trump’s impeachment, where Republicans and Democrats saw the same facts through opposite ends of a looking glass and seldom interacted with each other except to snipe at one another.

America was different then. A House member had not interrupted the State of the Union to heckle the president. Donald Trump was still attending Democratic Party fundraisers. A mob had not attacked the Capitol. And the speaker of the House had not forced the removal of minority members from the Jan. 6 committee.

Passionate as so many of us seem to be about our politics, working across the aisle produces results. Following facts should not be up for debate. Dismissing others’ contributions and perspective is simply harder, after talking with them about their kids, their family, their injuries and illnesses, their war stories and their sob stories.

This approach to congressional oversight produced for the American people. Flanagan and Muse were not without their differences. Each sentence of the 700-plus-page Senate Katrina report was negotiated into the late hours of the evening, for weeks on end. Neither side said everything it wanted to say. But it was bipartisan, united and – along with the committee’s 23 hearings – helped create the foundation for legislation that has made us all safer in the face of hurricanes and other catastrophes. Since Katrina, government has responded more effectively to hurricanes and their aftermath.

That is the job. Taking care of the American people. Working together. Seeing each other as fellow Americans, despite our differences. Congress should honor the legacy of David Flanagan by being more like him.


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