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

Upcoming Events

Sun, January 21, 10:00 AM

Good Times of Olean Events Center, Olean

Greater Olean Area Outdoor & Rec Sports Show


Mon, January 22, 10:00 AM

Cuba Circulating Library, Cuba

Cabin Fever Playgroup


Mon, January 22, 1:30 PM

Olean Public Library, Olean

Needle Felt a Fluffy Sheep

Arts & Entertainment

The Secret to a Positive Outlook in 2018: Stay Local

With each new year, the annual ritual of making resolutions brings promises, goals and hope for a brighter future.

In 2018, the key to that brighter future may lie in spending less time debating divisive political issues, reading troubling stories about sexual improprieties in the workplace and worrying about national economic trends that are beyond our control.

My advice? Spend a few less ...

Don't Read Too Much into the Results of Alabama's Senate Election

In baseball, momentum is the next day's starting pitcher. At least that’s how the Baltimore Orioles’ Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver once described the term.

Weaver’s words also provide solid advice for how we should view the results of Tuesday’s U.S. Senate race in Alabama.

The election was a significant, even historic, victory for Democrat Doug Jones, who ...

That Time I Started My Journalism Career on Columbus Day

For many people, Columbus Day is a time for parades and a celebration of Italian heritage. Others contend that it is wrong to honor Christopher Columbus as a hero.

For me, Columbus Day is significant for another reason. It was on Columbus Day in 1975 that I spent my first day in a newsroom as a working journalist as a reporter for a suburban weekly named The Montclair Times.

It also was a ...

Springsteen on Broadway: Advice from One Showman to Another

With the opening of previews for “Springsteen on Broadway” this week, two conflicting reactions are battling in my mind: “Bruce the boss is back” and “Broadway?”

Okay, I'm curious.

While I have no idea the format of the one-man performance (it looks like a Bruce Springsteen concert from the reviews I’ve read), I still offer some friendly ...

Why Not Understand the Protests?

For a couple weeks now I have done my best to hold my tongue on issues regarding the NFL players' protest and refused to engage in the conversation in an effort to not pollute my Facebook and Twitter followings with unwanted opinions, because we all know there are plenty of those to go around. 

But in doing so, I have sat back and listened to argument after argument, read tweet after ...

A 'Long Strange Trip' I took 45 years ago

When I covered rock'n'roll in the early 1980s, Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia were among the many performers I enjoyed interviewing. But my most lasting memory of the Grateful Dead took place 45 years ago this month long before my career in journalism began.

In the fall of 1972, my friend Bob Boyle and I made plans to see the Dead in Jersey City, New Jersey, on Sept. 19, the day after ...

Gators Advance to Fourth Straight Section 6 Title

On The Gridiron:

Olean was the only local team to win its playoff game, beating Burgard-Math Science Tech 36-24. The Huskies jumped out to an early 29-0 lead in the first half. Senior quarterback Luke Chapman went 9-for-14, throwing for 112 yards with a pair of touchdowns. Olean managed to hold off a fierce Bulldog comeback for the victory. The Huskies will play Medina in the Funke Bowl ...

Playoff Picture Gets Clearer for Local Teams as Season Concludes

On The Gridiron:

Last week Cuba-Rushford kept York-Pavilion off the board with a 28-0 victory on the road. The win was huge for the Rebels as it marked two in a row for the team as they charge into the playoffs. Cuba-Rushford ended the year with a 5-2 record. The Rebels finished as the number two team in the league as they await an opponent for their playoff matchup on Friday. The Rebels will ...

League Play Intensifies With the Playoffs On the Horizon

On The Gridiron:

There was no shortage of offense last week as Olean suffered a heart breaking loss to Depew, 44-41 on homecoming. The Huskies have not won since week two giving them a 2-4 record for the season. The 41 points the Huskies scored against Depew are the most they have tallied all year. On Friday, the Huskies will have a great chance to return to the win column when they play ...

Week Six Looms for Greater Olean Teams

Local football teams will have a challenging week.

On The Gridiron:

Allegany-Limestone bounced back in a big way with a win last week. The Gators were the only Greater Olean Area football team with a win in week five, beating Gowanda/ Pine Valley 40-6 on the road. Allegany-Limestone ended their two-game skid, improving their record to 2-3 with the win. The Gators will have a tough ...

Three Conference Road Games Will Test Local Football Teams.

Three Conference Road Games Will Test Local Football Teams.

As week five approaches three tough road games highlight another full week of action in Greater Olean.

On the Gridiron:

Olean enters week five with a (2-2) record. The Huskies have lost in two straight weeks and have another tough road game against an unbeaten Albion team. Olean will look to end their two-game skid with a win in ...

Hinsdale Hosting Full Slate of Home Games for Homecoming

Hinsdale’s homecoming highlights another full week of high school games in the Greater Olean area.

The Bobcats will host a full slate of games in front of their fans Saturday. The action will kick off at noon when the girls’ volleyball team takes on Archbishop Walsh. An hour later, the Lady Bobcats will have a soccer match against Andover. Finally, the men’s soccer team will ...

Buffalo Chamber Players to Perform “Dreams and Prayers” in SBU Quick Center

January 17, 2018

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY -- Ready for that January thaw?

A performance by the region’s preeminent chamber music ensemble and a special buy one, get one free ticket promotion will make for a warm and cozy combination when Buffalo Chamber Players performs its “Dreams and Prayers” program at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 21, at St. Bonaventure University’s Regina A. Quick ...