Advancing Civility - Because It Matters

Gulf Coast

BY MARK PRITCHETT SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY OCT 21, 2017

What do 10 Florida Republicans, 10 Democrats and one Independent dissecting the voting process after a bitterly contested presidential election have in common? In my experience, more than you might think.

In 2001, I served as executive director of a select task force appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush to review Florida’s election process following the 2000 presidential election. Remember, this was the election of hand recounts and hanging chads, when 537 out of nearly 6 million votes cast in our state ultimately decided the presidency.

With the eyes of the world and the international media trained on us, the panel members were tasked with recommending reforms to Florida’s election procedures, standards and technology in six short weeks. The task force made 35 recommendations—approved unanimously by that group of Democrats, Republicans and an independent—to modernize Florida’s election system, including decertifying the infamous punch-card machines that produced those hanging chads.

But it almost didn’t happen. On the eve of our work, two state legislators threatened to publicly challenge the legitimacy of the panel. In response, I personally called each one on behalf of the task force and assured them of several things: The task force would listen to every member’s input. It would respect the opinion of each participant as well as the process agreed to by all participants. All members would be thanked for their service, and their collective work would make a difference for our state and beyond.

The skeptical legislators accepted my word and trusted the task force to perform its duty. Civility reigned. The task force worked together, and within a few months Florida’s legislature passed a voting reform package based on the panel’s recommendations that, The New York Times editorial board said, “promises to vault Florida… into a leadership role in the effort to modernize voting throughout the country.” 

The point of that story isn’t about elections or politics. It is that we, as Americans, can put the principles of civility first to solve problems. We’ve been doing it for hundreds of years.

Today as much as ever, we must renew the spirit of civil discourse and invigorate the practice of civic engagement. Embracing civility is an antidote to the hyper-partisanship and coarsening communication that our society bemoans on a daily basis. We must advance civility if we want to advance our communities.

For our part here in our region, Gulf Coast Community Foundation this month launched a civility initiative, Because It Matters. We are working with our community to introduce ten keys to civility like “listen,” “respect others,” “say thank you” and “make a difference” into our schools and workplaces. Civility is the foundation of community. If we can’t find common ground, how can we build for the common good?

To those who might say this is a soft issue, I say it’s time to push back against trending extremism and advance civility together. I invite you to learn about this movement and ways you can join us, including grant opportunities, workplace training and more by going online to GulfCoastCF.org.

And thank you. Because it matters.

Dr. Mark S. Pritchett is president/CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation. His favorite of the 10 Keys to Civility is “keep your cool.”

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