Castle pushes for bipartisan cooperation: Ex-Gov., Rep. aims to reduce government discord

Mike Castle attends Issue One’s “Renewing the Founders’ Promise” event in Philadelphia on March 15. (Submitted photo/Issue One)

DOVER — Politics is broken, says a man who has spent more than half his life in elected office and is known as one of Delaware’s most accomplished politicians ever.

Partisanship in Washington is dividing the country, and now, Mike Castle believes it’s trickling down to Delaware.

Seven-and-a-half years after a stunning defeat in a heated primary that fractured the Delaware Republican Party, Mr. Castle, governor from 1985 to 1992 and U.S. representative from 1993 to 2011, has joined a group of nearly 200 former governors, lawmakers and cabinet secretaries pushing for good government.

While Mr. Castle has largely remained on the sidelines since leaving the House of Representatives, he did not abandon politics and public life entirely, as some do upon exiting office. Now, he’s part of the bipartisan ReFormers Caucus, a group aiming to lessen the influence of money in politics, promote civility, increase transparency and bring new faces into key positions.

“The bottom line is we are not making the progress that we should in terms of working out legislation for the betterment of the country,” Mr. Castle said recently.

Though he’s not intimately involved with the group, Mr. Castle expressed strong support for its mission. Politicians today seldom reach across the aisle, instead prioritizing what’s good for them over what’s good for the country, he explained.

The First State has a long tradition of bipartisanship: Its two senators both espouse the virtues of compromise and cooperation, and as Delaware’s lone U.S. representative for 18 years, Mr. Castle gained a reputation as one of the more moderate Republicans in Congress.

In Delaware, officials have long touted the “Delaware Way,” founded on collaboration and mutual respect. But there are signs that’s changing, just as politics nationally have become more partisan.

Lawmakers last year failed to pass a budget by the start of the new fiscal year and had to return for an “extraordinary” session for the first time in 40 years. To Mr. Castle, the budget deadline is “sacred,” and the inability of Democrats and Republicans to reach an agreement on balancing the budget is a symbol of the decline in cooperation in Legislative Hall.

Mike Castle with Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One. (Submitted photo/Issue One)

Anyone who’s watched the news over the past decade will have been hard-pressed not to notice the polarization of politics, but it’s not just something backed up by anecdotal evidence. According to data collected by Voteview, Congress is far more polarized now than it has been in a century. More and more officials are moving either to the left or the right, away from the center, and more Americans now identify as strongly liberal or strongly conservative.

Mr. Castle believes that in large part has to do with the media, political action committees and social media.

Fox presents an “ultra-conservative” point of view, while MSNBC provides an “ultra-liberal” perspective, he said. Meanwhile, newspapers such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal also have their own biases, although less so than the major TV networks, Mr. Castle opined.

“That’s the news that a number of people see, so there’s been a radicalization of what happens in the United States,” he said.

Money has become an increasingly heavy factor, something Issue One, the group behind the ReFormers Caucus, hopes to combat. According to the nonprofit, some members of Congress spend hours every day reaching out to potential donors.

That’s foreign to Mr. Castle.

“I didn’t spend five minutes a day thinking about fundraising,” he said.

The presence of Super PACs often pushes politicians away from the center, he said.

Made possible by the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Super PACs allow groups to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections as long as they do not coordinate with campaigns.

“They become the attack agency in many instances,” Mr. Castle noted.

As a result, he said, many Republicans fear being taken out from the right, while Democrats worry about someone swooping in from the left.

Being undone by the more extreme elements in the GOP base is something Mr. Castle knows all too well, having been defeated in the 2010 primary for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate by tea party candidate Christine O’Donnell. She went on to lose the general election, which Mr. Castle likely would have heavily been favored in.

Party politics existed in the 1990s and 2000s, but they have intensified greatly over the past eight years, Mr. Castle said.

Some districts have also been so heavily gerrymandered that incumbents often fear a challenge not from the other side but from more radical elements of their own parties.

Mr. Castle believes the national parties often don’t help matters.

“I’m convinced that the political parties sit there and wait for these votes and analyze how they can attack these votes and rush out with announcements to the local press,” he said.

While he sees both parties as equally to blame, the division seems to have only increased since President Donald Trump took office.

Although Mr. Castle characterized himself as not a big supporter of President Trump, he did vote for him in the 2016 general election with the hope he would listen to his advisers and act more dignified.

That, Mr. Castle said, has not happened.

“I’m of the camp that he should get away from tweeting. I don’t think that’s helpful, I think he should not denigrate his opponents or people in his own political party, for all that matters,” he said. “There are going to be differences, and I don’t think he’s necessarily fair with all the news media.”

With tensions extremely high now, Mr. Castle believes the midterm and presidential elections of 2018 and 2020, respectively, will be “very difficult.”
Energized by a desire to regain control of Congress and the White House, Democrats will likely turn out in force. Republicans, meanwhile, will be hoping to keep their hold on the federal government.

If the 2016 election cycle is any indication, it could get ugly.

And unfortunately for the many Americans who shake their heads and think of days long gone, identifying the issues is the easy part — fixing them is the real conundrum.

“The electorate has to rise up and say, ‘I’ve had enough of this, we need to get things done,’” Mr. Castle said.

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