Former Congressional Representatives Come to SBU and Discuss Political Divide in Washington

Former Congressmen Steven Kuykendall (right) and Charles Melancon (left) discuss the partisan divide in politics in a forum at St. Bonaventure University Monday. Credits: Bryce Spadafora

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY – While Congress struggles over a wide range of public policy issues, two former congressmen visited campus to share their legislative experiences and their thoughts on the growing partisan divide.

Republican Steven Kuykendall and Democrat Charles Melancon spent Monday and Tuesday at the university, representing the Congress to Campus program of the United States Association of Former Members of Congress. They spoke in classrooms and appeared in two public forums.

During Monday’s forum in the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts – “What Explains the Discord in Washington and What Can Be Done to Restore Bipartisan Cooperation?” – Melancon dated the partisan divide back to Newt Gingrich’s becoming Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1995.

Sign Up for E-News

Melancon, who represented Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District in the House of Representatives between 2005 and 2011, told the audience that Gingrich “ordered” Republican members of the House to visit their families on weekends instead of moving them to Washington, D.C.

“That was the way the minority would become the majority and could hold it,” Melancon said, adding those weekend trips prevented members of Congress from building relationships across political lines.

And Kuykendall pointed to another reason for the divide: Those who voted Congressional representatives into office.

“Congress is very responsive and reflective to who puts them in office,” said Kuykendall, who represented California’s 36th Congressional District in the House between 1999 and 2001.

 “The body has become harder right and harder left due to the constituencies that put them in office.”

During his time in the House, Kuykendall served on the following committees: Armed Services, Science, and Transportation and Infrastructure. He noted that the partisan divide was not always present during his time in Congress.

“You made a deal,” Kuykendall recalled. “You figured out what you were going to do for the country, what you needed to get done. It might not be a perfect solution, but it’s moving you in a direction that’s making it work.”

Kuykendall said such consensus is missing from the current political landscape.

“They have no incentive to do anything other than be absolute because they’re sent there under those terms,” said Kuykendall, who had been a member of the Tuesday Morning group of moderate Republicans in Congress. “They are going to be challenged by somebody who is more absolute than they are. That degree of purity shouldn’t count anymore, but it does.”

Both congressmen said the threat of Republicans using the “nuclear option” to appoint a Supreme Court justice would only make the divide wider. The nuclear option would be a change in Senate rules allowing for a simple-majority approval for President Donald Trump’s nominee Neil M. Gorsuch.

Melancon, who had been a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of conservative Democrats, said he has witnessed struggles between members of the same political parties.

“The moderates in the congress disappeared,” Melancon said. “We were 55 members when I got there. Six years later after that election was over there was enough to count on two hands.”

When it comes to closing the partisan divide, both congressmen suggested part of the solution come from outside of Congress.

“Hold your elected officials accountable. The voter has to stand up to the legislator they sent to Congress,” said Melancon, who served on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, and the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.

The topic for the former Congressmen's Tuesday lunchtime forum in the University Club was “How Should States and Communities Respond to Cutbacks in Federal Environmental Protection?”


TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Greater Olean

'March for Our Lives' Started A Historic Movement

Shoes on the ground. People chanting. Signs held high. Music playing in the background.

It is the start of a historic movement. A moment when every race, gender and age came together as one. A movement that involved change and a March for Our Lives.

As a student journalist going out to the world, taking part in a national movement truly moved me. Reporting the significance of March for ...

Bonnies Historic Season Will Give Community Source of Pride Years to Come

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY -- The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball season came to an end earlier than the team had hoped. Coaches looked disappointed, and players covered their faces with towels. St. Bonaventure’s (26-8) loss to Florida (21-12) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament left many thinking what if?

However, the Bonnies historic season is nothing for the team to ...

Sights and Sounds: The First Four of the NCAA Tournament

Traffic is a common occurrence, but for fans of the Dayton Flyers, it’s a usual event every gameday. A trip across the Great Miami River leads to the Flyers’ athletic complex. It became the same ritual for Bonnies fans heading to the University of Dayton Arena for the team's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012.

Snow, sleet and hail pounded down on the car as we ...

Upcoming Events

Mon, April 23

Olean Public Library, Olean

Mother Goose Story Time


Mon, April 23

Olean Public Library, Olean

Introduction to Spinning, a History of Yarn

Arts & Entertainment

Mon, April 23, 6:30 PM

Olean Public Library, Olean

Investigation Stations


Olean Litter Control Program Prepares for Spring

April 18, 2018

OLEAN, NY – Spring weather is approaching and the City of Olean Litter Control Program is armed with bags and gloves to start cleaning up the litter that winter has left behind.

“This year we are in great need of volunteers” said Lila Ervay, the committee’s chairman. “We currently have a number of volunteer groups consisting of schools, businesses, churches and ...

New Scholarship Dedicated to ALCS Teacher “Bernie” Taylor

ALLEGANY, NY -- The teachers that make learning simple and fun while connecting with students are often the ones most fondly remembered.

Bernadette “Bernie” Taylor was that kind of teacher at Allegany-Limestone Central School for more than 30 years according to her widower, Thomas Taylor.

“She had the skill of making chemistry easy. Chemistry tends to be tough for ...

'A Day in the Life': One Transportation Supervisor Serves Portville and Olean

PORTVILLE, NY – A whiteboard with dozens of destinations and vehicle numbers written in various colors sits inside the Portville bus garage, ready to be changed at any moment. David Youngs, the transportation supervisor of the Portville and Olean School Districts, knows that before 2 almost every afternoon, he is likely to receive an email changing the entire meticulously planned ...

'A Day in the Life' Follows Della Moore of the African American Center for Cultural Development

OLEAN, NY – When Della Moore walks down the street, she greets everyone she passes and makes sure to ask, “How are you doing?” 

From the moment I joined her at the 7-Eleven on a cloudy, cold December morning until we finished making our stops along State and North Union streets, she remained ...

'Day in the Life' Follows Warehouse Selector Justus Elliot

OLEAN, NY -- For Justus Elliot, time and pace are essential. As a warehouse selector for Olean Wholesale Grocery Co-Op, most of the 21-year-old’s job calls for efficiency.

“Everything is time-based," Elliot explained. "One hundred percent is the norm, and it’s what we work for every day. If our score is less, then we are moving too slow, and we kick it into ...

Happy Veterans Day, Mom

What began as an attempt to boost her GPA soon turned into a 22-year career for my mom, Ramona Lee Discavage.

On the first day of her freshman year at St. Bonaventure University in 1989, members of the Army ROTC Seneca Battalion helped incoming freshmen move their stuff into their dorm rooms.  Afterward, they invited all of the freshmen to a lunch.

“When they described the ...

Lynn Kemp: ‘Best Soldier I Could Be’

Lynn Kemp is nearing 95 and knows he has lived a good life.

“The good Lord has been awful good to me,” recalled the lifelong resident of Shinglehouse, Pennsylvania. “I never refused an order. I tried to be the best soldier I could be. I don’t know what your relationship is with God, but mine is pretty close.”

Born Oct. 29, 1920, Lynn grew up in a home on Turkey ...

WW II museum provides role models for young people

When Steve Appleby asks area students if they know Snoop Dog, Eminem, Kanye West, the Kardashians, Parris Hilton or Miley Cyrus, they answer yes. Then Appleby will ask which of them knows Jason Dunham is, and the students will not have a clue.

Appleby will explain that Jason Dunham was a Marine from Scio, in Allegany County, New York, who was killed in Iraq in 2006 after jumping on a grenade ...