Retired Congressmen Dave Obey and Tom Petri have been friends for over 30 years. In the past, friendships were formed with representatives across the aisle.  This civility and bipartisanship led to needed compromises to legislate on behalf of us, the citizens of the United States.

Congressmen Obey and Petri want to renew the spirit of bipartisanship and civility through a series of lectures held at Wisconsin campuses. Through this lecture series, Obey and Petri hope to encourage college students and all citizens to renew their commitment toDave Obey actively engage in the political process through bipartisanship and civility. Dave Obey said, “Politics is a non-violent substitute for war.” The lecture series is designed to listen to the concerns of community members and to address the issues that have brought changes to the political process.

Dave Obey stated Congress has become more partisan. Most Congressional districts have been gerrymandered into safe districts.  Our elected officials are no longer accountable to us because there’s no pressure on either the Democrats or the Republicans to compromise.  Tom Petri said some bipartisanship takes place in House committees. Dave Obey is a strong advocate for a more fair and balanced approach to redistricting reform through a citizen’s commission.

Dave Obey strongly advocates for campaign finance reform.  Obey spoke about spending 50% of the day asking for money like a telemarketer after the Citizens United decision.  He said he couldn’t stand to do that, and this was one reason he decided to retire.  Tom Petri said the use of the internet by candidates to contact contributors and raise money would serve as a counterbalance to the large donations to candidates. Obey was not hopeful the Constitution would be amended to rid politics of the influence of money.

Dave Obey spoke about the influence of the media as another factor in polarizing our nation.  In the past, local newspaper reporters “walked the beat and politicians couldn’t snow them.”

Obey and Petri addressed “the every man for himself” attitude that is prevalent today and the negative effects it has had on society.

Tom PetriBoth men addressed the need for quality education.  Dave Obey is concerned about the cuts to K-12 public schools as well as the $300 million cut to the UW system. The survival of our representative democracy depends on an informed and educated citizenry.  The more education citizens have, the more thoughtful and rational they are.  Consequently, citizens are able to “see through the bull gravy,” said Obey. Obey believes it is the duty of society to invest in people.

Dave Obey spoke about the high cost of a college education.  When Obey was a student at UW-Madison, the student paid 20% of the cost of instruction and the state paid 80%.  In the 2015-2017 budget, the student would pay 80% of instructional costs and the state would pay 20%.

Dave Obey and Tom Petri offered suggestions for changing the political landscape:

  • Get involved by volunteering, working on campaigns, and being informed.
  • Become a candidate at the local level for school board, city council, or county board.
  • Elect the right people who: will compromise; believe we’re all in this together; have      expectations of achievable goals and a plan to accomplish these goals.

Congressman Obey, a Democrat, served the 7th Congressional District from 1969 to 2011.  Congressman Tom Petri, a Republican, served the 6th Congressional District from 1979 to January 2015. We thank them for their continued service.

I am grateful I had the opportunity to join others at a listening session with  Congressman Obey and Congressman Petri  at the University of Wisconsin- Marathon Campus Tuesday, March 10, 2015.