BILLINGS — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock stopped by Samantha Mayes's Billings Central High School government class Wednesday to give a lesson on political civility and share his view on what widened America's growing political partisanship.
"When they (students) are asking me 'how do we deal with this deep division?', it shows that it is something we as elected leaders have to address. They are deeply concerned about where the future goes and why we can't make it so the government can actually function,” Bullock said.
Bullock listed three things that he believes widened America's political divide: gerrymandering during redistricting, the 24-hour news cycle and social media and dark money in the political process.
“In the U.S. House, when I was getting out of law school, 135 districts were really competitive. Meaning they could go Democrat or Republican at any time. Now it’s, I think, 25," Bullock said. "The way that we’ve drawn legislative districts is if you’re Democrat it’s more important to just talk to the Democrats further and further to the left. And making compromises is actually bad.”
Bullock ended his presidential bid just over a month ago after announcing in the spring of 2019. He ran on a platform as a centrist Democrat who won two statewide races in a conservative state, but his polling barely registered above a couple percentage points.
Bullock said CNN's introduction of the 24-hour news cycle turned the news to entertainment. And social media only served to drive the right and left farther apart instead of closer together.
"If you want Republican news, you can get Republican news. If you want Democrat news, you can get your own channels. I think social media was supposed to get people talking to people more but it has actually made us more confined,” Bullock said.
The dark money influencing America's elections makes it harder for national politicians to enact policy, Bullock said.
“We could talk about climate, we can talk about gun safety, we can talk about income inequality. We can talk about all of these issues, but if we don’t recognize what is holding us back, in many respects, is the corrupting influence of money in the system. If we don’t address that, we won’t get any of the reforms or meaningful stuff done that people want," Bullock said.
There is a way forward to bring the country closer together, he said. Bullock admitted that he doesn't agree with every Montana legislator 100 percent of the time, but still gives respect to his colleagues.
But part of the solution lies in politicians and voters realizing that we all have more commonalities than differences, Bullock said.
"I think in Montana we have demonstrated that we might have political differences but Democrats and Republicans can still work together to get everything done, from health care passed to investments in education and infrastructure. And that can be a model for the rest of the country," Bullock said.
Bullock sees hope in a future president and believes a good example should be set on the national stage.
“Candidly, I’m hopeful that the next president will take a different tone toward trying to find some commonality at the federal level. Because I do think, as we’ve seen in Montana, that the state Republicans and the state Democrats, we may disagree on some things, but what we share in common is greater," Bullock said.
Some of the seniors Bullock spoke with will be old enough to vote in the November 2020 election. Bullock said those students should expect more compromises form their elected representatives.
“As voters, and as that next generation, it's your voices that are going to say ‘I actually expect whoever I send to Washington, D.C., to work with somebody,'” Bullock said.
Bullock thinks America's politicians have forgotten that their children watch their actions, both the good and the bad.
"What we say and what we do matters. Our kids are watching. I think collectively, we’ve forgotten that. Part of it, really, is the tone of every individual and how they are going to make it. Not just trying to burn down your opponent every single day,” Bullock said.
The political strategy of demonizing your opponent is a "zero sum game," Bullock said.