INNOVATIONS: STRENGTHENING THE LEGISLATIVE INSTITUTION: Lessons from history inspire Idaho lawmakers to work through their differences.
At NCSL's Legislative Summit in Boston last summer, Moss delivered a well-received case study for majority and minority leaders from across the nation. His topic was the debate over James Madison's proposal to empower the federal government to veto any law passed by one of the several states (the "federal negative") during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Hill and Bedke, who attended the presentation, were impressed by Moss' insights.
"I knew immediately that Dr. Moss' analysis and perspective should be shared with Idaho legislators," Bedke said.
During Moss' presentation in Idaho in February, lawmakers discussed the historical setting of the debate and the crises the fledgling country faced at the time, which ultimately led to the convention, where Madison's proposal tailed.
Idaho Senator Dean Mortimer (R), chairman of the Education Committee, noted that Moss' presentation was an excellent reminder of the work that went into crafting the U.S. Constitution and the collaborative, bipartisan efforts required to arrive at a consensus. "I would recommend that presentation to any legislature," he said.
Hill found the talk helpful on multiple levels. "The case study," he said, "illustrated that the nation's founders, of course, had strongly held views and beliefs; that the setting and time were critical to the very existence of our young country; and, obviously, that it was a highly charged political environment."
The 1787 convention offers many examples of conflict resolution. Despite plenty of political attacks and harsh words among convention delegates, they managed to move forward, to keep their eyes on the policy issue at hand, to consider, debate and reach a solution--and then to move on, because, as Hill said, "Solutions to the next policy matter will find you allied with the same people you've just opposed in debate." He added, "I hope that particular lesson is considered and understood by our members today--that although we each have strongly held views, it is our duty and obligation to work through our differences to find solutions to today's challenges."
Bedke says Moss' presentation drew praise from legislators on both sides of the aisle and "reminded me personally of Benjamin Franklin's admonition to 'keep the republic,'" he said. "I think Dr. Moss gave us all new energy, enthusiasm and resolve."
A Lesson for Civics Teachers, Too
While in Idaho, Harvard government professor David Moss participated in a discussion with the state's public education stakeholders, including the superintendent of instruction, the chairs of the Senate and House education committees, several school superintendents, and high shool history, government and civics teachers. Moss described how his high school civics project incorporates the Harvard Business School's case-study approach. That left many in the group interested in adapting the approach to their civics-related high school classes. The Education Committee "looks forward to working with Dr. Moss in the future regarding teacher training on his case-study method project and applying that approach in our schools in Idaho," Senator Dean Mortimer said.