BY PETE GALLEGO
In any organization, new leadership means change. Good leadership requires setting goals and prioritizing a specific mission. Each day, our Armed Services provide an excellent example of goal setting and prioritizing specific mission. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the U.S. House of Representatives.
My mission over the past 19 months has been to challenge and change the culture of gridlock and petty bickering in U.S. House of Representatives. When sworn into office after the last election, I was shocked to learn that all the bad things said about Congress were true.
The partisan bickering, blaming and finger pointing there is more appropriate for kindergarten. I was determined to be one of the adults in the room.
Having been in the leadership of the Texas Legislature, I can say that Texas does many things better. Most deals get done in the Legislature despite partisanship because people are willing to compromise. Even the not-always-highly-regarded Legislature knows that compromise is a ten-letter word – not a four-letter word. Itâ€™s okay to reach an agreement.
No partyâ€™s hands are clean and no party is blame-free. However, as a guy who just started, I didnâ€™t and donâ€™t carry the baggage and bitterness carried by others. Iâ€™m not really interested in who did what to who last year. Iâ€™m interested in today, but Iâ€™m even more interested in my sonâ€™s tomorrows. What kind of country will our children inherit?
In a quiet but methodical way, I reached out to other members of the Texas delegation in Congress. I was surprised that the delegation never met as a group (because of a partisan fight long ago).
Because many Texans in Congress had been my friends in the Legislature, I invited them all to breakfast. This “breakfast taco diplomacyâ€ was featured in the New York Times.
Now, the breakfasts take place every four to six weeks. Over tacos, we talk about how we can help each other and how we can help Texas.
As a freshman on Armed Services, I was often frustrated that I and other freshmen sometimes didnâ€™t get to ask questions because the hearing ended before it got to our turn. So, rather than complain, I worked with both Republican and Democratic freshmen to invite senior leaders from the Departments of Defense and State to join us informally for breakfast. Yes, more breakfast tacos. These breakfast meetings were so successful and so informative that others now ask to be invited to breakfast.
Working with new members of Congress and sharing early morning meals has another benefit – the benefit of building relationships based on trust.
It may take a while, but over the next few terms the halls of Congress will be filled with members who have broken bread and worked together since the beginning of their service. This is the first step to breaking the cycle of petty partisanship and replacing it with patriotism and practicality.
In truth, Congress occasionally cooperates and takes action. The recent VA legislation is a good example. However, this is rare. I am not satisfied when cooperation is the exception – I want it to be the rule. Anyone who is married knows that compromise and cooperation are keys to a lasting relationship. I want our country to last forever.
Lt. Governor Bob Bullock used to say that it was amazing what could be done if no one cared who got the credit. My own mentor, Texas Speaker Pete Laney, always exhorted me and other Texas lawmakers to “vote your district.â€ Two good pieces of advice from two of Texasâ€™ best leaders in our lifetime. I try to live by this.
Much work remains to be done, but I am proud of my bipartisan record — and the fact that several publications have taken note of it. Bridging the gap between Republicans and Democrats is important. The future of our children — mine and yours — depends on it. Literally.
For more information on U.S. Rep. Gallego, visit www.gallego.house.gov. Learn more about U.S. Rep. Gallego by liking his Facebook page or by following him on Twitter.
U.S. Representative Pete P. Gallego, D-Alpine, represents the 23rd District of Texas, which includes all or parts of 29 counties in southwest Texas, stretching from San Antonio to El Paso. He serves on the House Armed Services and House Agriculture Committees.