Retired legislator: 'A lot of lessons' in new book
In an era where partisan gridlock has become the norm, retired Rochester Republican Rep. Dave Bishop has written a book making the case that politicians who are willing to cross the aisle can be effective and popular.
In an era when partisan gridlock has become the norm, retired Rochester Republican Rep. Dave Bishop has written a book making the case that politicians who are willing to cross the aisle can still be effective and popular.
Bishop's new book, "Finding Common Ground: The Art of Legislating in an Age of Gridlock," details his secrets to legislative success despite spending the vast majority of his career in the minority party.
"There's a lot of lessons in there. That's what it's for. I'm a lawyer, and I made it like a case book," the 86-year-old retired legislator said during an interview at Charter House.
Bishop served in the Minnesota House from 1983 to 2002. He was in the minority party for 14 of the 20 years he served. Nonetheless, he passed more than 200 laws and amendments during his career.
So what was his secret? Bishop said it comes down to being willing to work closely with lawmakers from both parties. Lawmakers who are willing to collaborate with colleagues on the other side of the aisle are "bridge builders." Bishop said they are the third caucus in the Minnesota House, in addition to Republicans and Democrats.
"Those are the ones that work to work things out. They aren't idealogues. They aren't totally partisan," he said.
In the book, the retired lawmaker emphasizes the importance of getting to know lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
"That's the key. I made myself friendly. The Bible says a man to have friends must show himself friendly. And I started out trying to help when I could," he said.
Those relationships paid off. A prime example was when DFL Senate Taxes Committee Chairman Doug Johnson wanted a financial assistance package to help Northwest Airlines. Bishop spent time working on that proposal and, after recommending some changes, ultimately supported it.
Later, when Johnson was blocking Bishop's proposal to renew Rochester's one-cent sales tax to pay for a new government center, library and fire hall, Bishop reminded him that he had helped him out with the airline package. Bishop convinced the tax chairman to let other Democrats on his committee support the Rochester sales tax.
"He agreed to do this and the Senate Tax Committee then approved the sales-tax renewal. The logjam was broken. I had built a bridge that was there when I needed it," Bishop wrote.
The book also has plenty of examples of when Bishop's efforts failed. Sometimes, it came down to simple things like failing to make sure he had the necessary votes before bringing a proposal forward. In other instances, he tried to get around the legislative process only to find out that made people suspicious of his efforts.
Former Sen. Sheila Kiscaden worked closely with Bishop in the Minnesota Legislature and said the Rochester Republican was a master political strategist who knew how to get things done.
"He wanted to get his bills passed and the work done and so he did think about, 'Who is the expert? Who has the influence? What is the strategy that will get me as close as possible to what I think the outcome should be?' And he was very, very effective. He loved it," Kiscaden said.
Bishop said he hopes his book proves to be helpful for lawmakers and political science students who are eager to pass meaningful laws. He writes in the book, "Legislators of the future can learn from lawmakers of the past. It is essential that they reach across partisan boundaries. They must recognize colleagues as collaborators, not opponents. They should be reasonable, avoid most partisanship, and work together for the public good. If they do, the citizens will reward them."