By Michael Konopasek
SEATTLE — Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, are in Seattle encouraging lawmakers to reach across the political aisle and work together. The couple is honoring two state representatives with the first ever “Gabrielle Giffords Award for Civility in State Government.”
Giffords, a prominent voice for gun control, is now on a campaign for political bipartisanship and it’s starting in Washington state.
“It’s the way my wife served in Congress,” Kelly said. “She was one of the people right in the middle when you’re ranked all the way from the left to the right. She reached across party lines in everything she tried to accomplish.”
Democrat Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia and Republican Rep. Hans Zeiger of Puyallup received the couple’s new award for working with the National Institute for Civil Discourse to train lawmakers from across the state to find common ground.
“This is a Republican and a Democrat who’ve been working together to solve serious issues here in the state of Washington,” said Kelly.
Kelly says the outreach to lawmakers is an attempt to tackle a now longstanding issue in American politics.
“What’s been happening lately– I’d say over the last decade or so– we’ve been seeing more polarization,” explained Kelly.
Polarization that has been caused by gerrymandering, according to Kelly. Gerrymandering is the practice of carefully re-drawing legislative districts to help a political party stack the odds in its favor.
“You have a paralysis in government,” said Kelly. “You can’t get things done. You have less people in the middle, and the way people stay in office is they hang out way on the left or way on the right … so they hang out in the extremes of their party and they can keep their jobs forever.”
The sharp political divide has left little room for compromise on issues like gun control in Washington, D.C. and has resulted in extended legislative sessions in Olympia. The couple’s mission is focused on supporting effective government by finding ways to bring lawmakers to the middle.