Hon. Robert “Bud” Cramer, Center Forward: “We want moderates to know we have their back.”

The Washington-based non-profit aims to foster greater bipartisan dialogue.

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Center Forward is a Washington-based non-profit founded by a group of former members and staff who say they experienced firsthand the destructive impacts of political polarization in Congress. The group describes as its mission to “bring together members of Congress, not-for profits, academic experts, trade associations, corporations and unions to find common ground.”

Former Rep. Robert “Bud” Cramer represented the Fifth District of Alabama from 1991 to 2010. He is the Chairman of Center Forward. 

The Hon. Robert "Bud" Cramer is Chairman of Center Forward.

The Hon. Robert “Bud” Cramer is Chairman of Center Forward.

Q: What are the principal goals of Center Forward?

As a member of Congress for nearly two decades, one of my biggest frustrations was the lack of cooperation among members of the two parties. The pressure to put politics first is tremendous – particularly in the House of Representatives where gerrymandering has resulted in increasingly polarized congressional districts. In the early 1990s, a group of us – both Republicans and Democrats – got together and decided that we would work together to put the country before political party, but the forces working against us were tremendous. We continued to try to forge compromise over the years, but it was difficult given the fact that we really did not have a base of support that could compete with either party base.

That is what Center Forward has set out to do. We not only want to bring Republicans and Democrats together in an open dialogue of the issues, but we want to support those members who are working hard to forge compromise. It is easy to pontificate on national television or vilify members of the opposition party; it is much harder to sit down with someone you do not necessarily agree with, put politics aside and figure out a path forward that is in the best interest of the country. We strive to provide a base of support for those members of Congress who are working to do just that.

Q: Do you feel you’ve been successful in your efforts?

“It is easy to pontificate on national television or vilify members of the opposition party; it is much harder to sit down with someone you do not necessarily agree with, put politics aside and figure out a path forward that is in the best interest of the country.”
I do. The reaction from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle in just a few short years has been remarkable. While we do not take positions on specific issues as an organization, we have had great success in facilitating dialogue among not only members, but also opinion leaders, businesses, not-for-profits, academic experts, trade associations and unions. There is a real hunger out there for people to put aside the rhetoric and talk about the issues in a meaningful way.

The same goes for the general public. We work hard to engage folks from all across the country in our efforts, and from what we have seen, there is a high level of frustration with the gridlock in Washington. People want their representatives in Congress to work together. While it is often difficult to break through the noise coming from the extremes of both parties, Center Forward is working to give those people a voice.

Q: Given the polarization in Congress, how can moderates really make a difference?

If there’s one thing I learned during my time in Congress, it’s that whenever anything significant gets done, it is generally the result of compromise. In a world of party extremism, “compromise” has somehow become a bad word. It should not be. The moderates will continue to play a significant role in Congress because they are the ones who are willing to come to a principled compromise on the issues in the best interest of the country. But they need support, and that’s what we strive to do at Center Forward – to be the outside support that these members of Congress need in the face of so much opposition.

And while we strongly support centrists, we also believe that compromise is not exclusive to Members who identify as moderates. We strongly encourage Republicans and Democrats, no matter where they stand on the political spectrum, to engage in an honest and open dialogue of the important issues facing us today. In fact, Center Forward has facilitated many of those conversations over the past several years.

Q: What does the organization do to support centrists in Congress?

“In a world of party extremism, “compromise” has somehow become a bad word. It should not be.”
In addition to facilitating bipartisan discussions here in Washington, DC, we provide support for centrists back at home. Just last month, Center Forward ran a series of ads in local media markets for members on both sides of the aisle who put partisan politics aside by voting for the “No Budget, No Pay Act,” legislation that would prohibit members of Congress from receiving pay if they fail to pass a budget. We will continue to put significant effort and resources toward supporting those Members who continue to reach across the aisle.

Q. Many commentators would say there are fewer moderates in Congress than there used to be. Compared to when you were in office, is it tougher for moderates to get elected and then to stay in office?  

The number of competitive seats has certainly declined over the years, due in large part to redistricting efforts by state legislatures. This type of blatant gerrymandering takes place all across the country, and both parties are to blame. However, Congress is cyclical. Even in recent history, we have seen the number of moderates rise and fall.

Is it difficult to get elected as a moderate? Yes. The extremes of both parties make it very hard to work across the aisle in a meaningful way without the threat of attack back home. This is why our mission at Center Forward is so important. We want moderates in Congress to know that we have their back, and we will spend time and resources defending their efforts.

“We want moderates in Congress to know that we have their back, and we will spend time and resources defending their efforts.”
Q. Is it possible to get more moderates into Congress?  

It is not going to be easy. There is a lot of money in partisan politics. I would say that first and foremost, we have to stop talking about compromise like it’s in any way a negative thing. You don’t have to give up your principles to compromise; you don’t even have to be a moderate to compromise. We also have to encourage open dialogue. Center Forward is working hard to create an environment in which thoughtful discussion of the issues is a good thing.

Also, the majority of America is somewhere in the middle. So much of the hyper partisanship that defines this Congress is created right here in Washington. We all need to stand up and say, “Yes, it’s okay to talk with someone who doesn’t agree with you all the time.” Will it happen overnight? No. But with leadership from groups like ours, we can make that incremental change.

Q. If, for example, we could double the number of members in Congress who consider themselves “moderate,” how would that change the tenor and substance of politics today?

 It would fundamentally change the substance of politics today. I believe that ultimately, as a people, we are headed in that direction. America will only tolerate overly inflammatory, partisan rhetoric for so long. At Center Forward, we work with individuals, organizations and businesses across the political spectrum. The one thing that brings all of them together is that they desperately want this country’s elected representatives to stop throwing political bombs and sit down in a meaningful discussion of the issues. At Center Forward, we are doing our part to make that happen.

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