How Healthy Conflict Can Strengthen Nation

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, a Democrat, recently joined former Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, to participate in a conversation regarding ways “healthy conflict can unite us, improve communities, and strengthen the nation.” The event was hosted on the campus of the University of Hartford, home to the Governor M. Jodi Rell Center for Public Service, which was established after Rell’s gubernatorial tenure to help promote integrity in government and responsible participation in public life.

Connecticut Public’s Lucy Nalpathanchil moderated the panel discussion, “A Bipartisan Conversation with Governor Ned Lamont and former Governor Jodi Rell,” as part of an ongoing series Connecticut Public is leading to help foster conversations focused on how individuals and lawmakers can encourage civility in public discourse.

During the event, Governors Lamont and Rell spoke about the incivility impacting the United States, the role of policymakers in civil discourse and ways all citizens can learn to bridge divides regardless of political affiliations. The Governors also spoke about the importance of healthy collaboration between political parties, noting their working relationship and participation in the panel discussion as an example of how Republicans and Democrats can come together and engage in respectful conversations, especially when discussing policy differences, that can help create good policy results and address the hyperpartisanship impacting the nation.

Former Governor Rell expressed appreciation for “having a forum like this tonight” where political leaders from different parties are “able to talk, and frankly to be able to show that people do get along. [Governor Lamont and I represent] different parties, where you know we disagree on some things, but we do get along, and we try to work together when it’s important for the state to move that ball forward.”

Governor Lamont agreed with Governor Rell’s thoughts about the value of elected officials working together and engaging in constructive conversations as a way to improve relationships, sharing, “In the legislature, we have real differences back and forth, but at the end of the day, we can sit down and break bread.”

Throughout the panel discussion, the Governors underscored the value of working across the aisle and forming thoughtful relationships with people of different political beliefs as an antidote to the increasing political divisions seen across the United States and, ultimately, as an imperative to help strengthen the nation. Governors Lamont and Rell acknowledged these measures can seem challenging given the current political climate, touching on frustrations they hear from many citizens who express a belief that political discord and partisanship seem to have permeated too many areas of American’s daily lives, noting examples such as TV commercials, school board meetings and social media feeds.

Governor Lamont encouraged the audience that maintaining one’s convictions does not have to be incongruent with engaging in more thoughtful political discourse, saying, “stand up loud and clear, but I think you’re much more effective if you stay within yourself and respect the conversation [… and] listen and respond to what people are saying. Don’t respond with a preset response. Respond to what people are saying, and I think you move the ball down the field a lot more effectively that way.”

Engaging in healthy conflict, Governor Lamont noted, is something Governors have proven successful at doing, sharing that this topic is the focus of NGA Chair Utah Governor Spencer Cox’s 2023-2024 Chair’s Initiative: Disagree Better. The initiative, much like the panel discussion Governors Lamont and Rell participated in, aims to help address Americans’ concerns about hyperpartisanship and polarization by modeling better ways to work through differences and find solutions to difficult problems.

The panel discussion Governors Lamont and Rell participated in served to model what healthy conflict can look like, with both Governors repeatedly emphasizing a shared belief that improving conversation skills, especially by thoughtfully listening to others with differing beliefs, is a key component to having more civility and healthy conflict that can strengthen the nation.

Governor Lamont said he believes civility includes “treating people with respect, listening to what they have to say. Never attack their motivations. Discuss where you stand on the issues. I think that’s what Jodi Rell epitomized as our Governor. I think that’s what integrity and character is all about. [ … ] It’s really important to know people and know where they’re from, [to] know about their family circumstance and listen. And when you do that, as fellow Governors I can tell you, a lot of the tension goes out of the room, and you realize how much you have in common.”

Echoing Governor Lamont’s sentiment, Governor Rell stated, “You really need to listen, and I think that’s what makes civility work.”