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Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Panelists discussed the current state of American government and the influence of  extreme partisan divides at the "Can the Center Hold?" keynote discussion at the 2014 Tribune Festival on Saturday.

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley; Jon Huntsman, former ambassador to China and Utah governor; former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison; Ron Kirk, former U.S. trade representative and Dallas mayor; and Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta spoke on the panel, moderated by Evan Smith, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of The Texas Tribune.

While the panelists have varying backgrounds and levels of experience in politics, they all agreed the current system of government is broken.

Bradley said the problem with today’s government is the partisan division in Congress.

“I don’t know a president who isn’t thinking like an executive,” Bradley said. “They want to get things done. The problem is Congress. You will never defeat power except by power.”

According to Hutchison, who currently serves as president of the Texas Exes alumni association, the party division in the Senate poses a problem.

“I think it is the polarization and the toxicity,” Hutchison said. “I think the Senate, which was very carefully crafted to be the adult in the room in the whole balance of powers, has lost that role. One of the things that protected that was, and this is a different issue, was the two-thirds rule and the 60 percent rules, where you really couldn’t do anything without a supermajority.”

Advocating for an open primary system in Texas, Hutchison also said she thinks the existing primary system in America is broken and contributes to the heavy party divide in Congress.

“If we are going to have the primaries the way they are today, in Texas especially, you do have the appeal to the very narrow primary voters,” Hutchison said. “People who want a different track need to vote in the primaries. Look at the competitive races you care about. You need to vote in that primary so you can ask for a broader appeal.”

According to Reed, the national division that exists between parties is not as prevalent on smaller governmental levels, making city government positions ideal for individuals who want to see action.

“The kind of hyper-partisanship that goes on nationally is not happening in cities, thank goodness,”  Reed said. “Because of that, you’re going to see more highly talented people put their energy and their passion into cities.”

According to Huntsman, who ran for president in the 2012 race but said he has no presidential aspirations for 2016, Congress' mentality needs to mirror that of city government.

“I would say part of our longer term fix is how do you change the culture, the ethos on capitol hill from anger, animosity and acrimony to problem solving?” Huntsman said. “In order to do that, you have to infuse in people who believe in problem solving and then give them something to do.”

Kirk said he thinks the rise in prominence of social media has caused a shift in political culture.

“I think the explosion of social media changes everything,” Kirk said. “We now all get a peek behind the curtains that we didn’t get before – giving more strength to those who are villains.”

Kirk also said the country ought to have a third, moderate party. 

Reed said he is optimistic that change will come.

“Just about every great revolution in the world was started by someone in their 20s or 30s,” Kirk said. “It wasn’t a bunch of 60-year-olds sitting around pontificating about how life used to be.”

Candidate for Texas governor Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, speaks at a discussion with The Texan Tribune at the State Theater Co. on Thursday morning.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Democratic gubernatorial nominee and state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Forth Worth, said she wouldn’t raise taxes to fund programs such as education in a discussion hosted by the Texas Tribune on Thursday.

Davis said she is not worried about facing a Republican super majority if she is elected governor and she said she believes under her leadership, the legislature will become more nonpartisan.

“‘D’ is not a liability,” Davis said. “There are honorable people on both sides of the aisle who really do want to be part of constructive, solution-oriented, future-oriented thinking.”

According to Davis, Texas should make education its single most important priority. Davis said she wants to focus on public preschool education and said she proposes a sliding scale to determine how much parents should pay.

“There will be a tremendous cost to the state of doing nothing,” Davis said. “I don’t think I have all the answers, but I think I have some good ideas.”

Davis said the state already has adequate revenue to fund the programs she proposes. According to Davis, at the next legislative session, the state may have as much as a $5 billion surplus.

“A 21st century education — that needs to be priority number one [with the surplus],” Davis said.

Texas has the largest population of adults without a high school diploma, and by 2040, that percentage is expected to rise to 30 percent. Davis said a less educated population decreases spending power.

Becky Moeller, president of the Texas AFL-CIO union, said Davis’ voting record has demonstrated that she prioritizes education, health care and increasing minimum wage and job opportunities, especially for low-income residents.

“When you tout your state as a low-wage state, you don’t get good jobs in the state,” Moeller said. “When you are excited about minimum wage jobs, and Gov. Rick Perry was, there’s something wrong with that. We need jobs that pay a living wage in this state.”

Moeller said she supports the Affordable Care Act and expanding Medicaid.

“I think that it’s very clear that [Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg] Abbott … does not care about health care for all Texans,” Moeller said.

According to Moeller, an educated population is essential to a strong economy.

“We do need to have an educated workforce, [so] you need to have access to higher education,” Moeller said. “Tuition costs have gone through the roof … we need to make education affordable again.”

Rachel Gandy, public affairs and social work graduate student, asked Davis if she plans to invest in educational programs that would function as effective and cost-efficient alternatives to incarceration.

“I’m a huge supporter of Wendy Davis and especially her education plan,” Gandy said. “She spoke so eloquently about breaking from the status quo, and I wanted to see if that only applied to particular issues or to criminal justice as well.”

Gandy said the only thing she didn’t agree with was Davis’ response to a question about whether she had experienced sexism in Texas. Davis said she had not.

“I was irked … she responded very quickly [that she hadn’t],” Gandy said. “We don’t treat everyone equally in that way, so that was the only moment that I could really disagree with her — that we really haven’t found equality in that way.”

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