Achiev­ing ‘yes’ Work to­gether on prob­lems

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - CRAIG DOUGLASS Craig Douglass is a Lit­tle Rock-based ad­ver­tis­ing agency owner, and mar­ket­ing and re­search con­sul­tant. He is also ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Arkansas Good Roads Foun­da­tion.

“Just say no.” Re­mem­ber that ad­mo­ni­tion dur­ing the 1980s war on drugs? The prob­lem with the no­tion was a lack of spe­cific ac­tions re­sult­ing in a suf­fi­cient sub­sti­tute for the many causes and con­di­tions lead­ing to sub­stance abuse and ad­dic­tion.

But this isn’t about drugs and al­co­hol. It’s about an­other form of ad­dic­tion. An ad­dic­tion to “no” it­self.

An­other early 1980s pop phrase was “get­ting to yes.” In fact, in 1981 a book of the same ti­tle by Roger Fisher and Wil­liam Ury was pub­lished: Get­ting to Yes—Ne­go­ti­at­ing Agree­ment With­out Giv­ing In. The best-sell­ing busi­ness book came out of what was called the Har­vard Ne­go­ti­a­tion Project. The main idea cen­tered around the con­cept of “prin­ci­pled ne­go­ti­a­tion,” which in­cluded tenets such as “sep­a­rate the peo­ple from the prob­lem,” “fo­cus on in­ter­ests, not po­si­tions,” “in­vent op­tions for mu­tual gain,” and “in­sist on us­ing ob­jec­tive cri­te­ria.”

In a po­lit­i­cal con­text at the state and na­tional lev­els, it seems to me this type of ne­go­ti­at­ing tem­plate could be used for more ef­fec­tive prob­lem­solv­ing. And that’s ex­actly what the or­ga­ni­za­tion called No La­bels is at­tempt­ing to do.

No La­bels is co-chaired by Demo­cratic for­mer Con­necti­cut Se­na­tor and vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Lieber­man, and Repub­li­can for­mer Utah Gov­er­nor and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Jon Hunts­man. The or­ga­ni­za­tion was founded on the be­lief that com­mon-sense so­lu­tions ex­ist for our na­tional chal­lenges, and that our coun­try needs a bi­par­ti­san agenda to set us on the right path. Fur­ther, that govern­ment should be ca­pa­ble of set­ting and meet­ing these mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial goals.

Now, No La­bels is not delu­sional. The lead­er­ship of the or­ga­ni­za­tion un­der­stands there are com­pet­ing ide­o­log­i­cal po­si­tions and philo­soph­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­tween Democrats and Repub­li­cans, many times em­bod­ied in po­lit­i­cal per­son­al­i­ties. But as Get­ting to Yes ad­vised, in or­der to be suc­cess­ful ne­go­tia­tors, the fo­cus must be on in­ter­ests, not po­si­tions, and prin­ci­ples rather than per­son­al­i­ties.

No La­bels has no ex­pec­ta­tion that elected of­fi­cials should com­pro­mise their prin­ci­ples. They do ex­pect, how­ever, that our elected of­fi­cials re­al­ize the ben­e­fits of re­plac­ing the pol­i­tics of par­ti­san point-scor­ing with the pol­i­tics of pro­duc­tive prob­lem-solv­ing. Good pol­icy is good pol­i­tics.

On Wed­nes­day in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., No La­bels is hold­ing a prob­lem-solvers con­fer­ence. I and four other in­ter­ested Arkansans will be join­ing the ex­pected 1,000 at­ten­dees. The agenda, in­tro­duced by Se­na­tor Lieber­man and Gov­er­nor Hunts­man, will in­clude the his­tory of the or­ga­ni­za­tion; a re­view of the new Prob­lem-Solvers Cau­cus in Congress, which was re­cently formed by a bi­par­ti­san group of mem­bers; what was learned from the 2016 elec­tions; pol­icy ed­u­ca­tion; en­er­giz­ing com­mu­ni­ties; and on­line mo­bi­liza­tion. Arkansan and for­mer pres­i­den­tial chief of staff Mack McLarty is on the board of No La­bels and will be in at­ten­dance, as well.

There are two key is­sues that con­tin­u­ally re­ceive bi­par­ti­san head nods: tax re­form and in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment. My pri­mary in­ter­est is in in­fra­struc­ture and the eco­nomic-de­vel­op­ment and pri­vate-sec­tor job-cre­at­ing ben­e­fits of in­creased fund­ing for Arkansas’ high­ways, roads, streets and bridges.

Us­ing these top­ics as a fo­cus for dis­cus­sion and ul­ti­mate so­lu­tion could pro­vide valu­able lessons on how to ad­dress the other crit­i­cal is­sues of health care, ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing, pub­lic safety, ju­di­cial re­form, and more from a con­struc­tive plat­form of bi­par­ti­san ne­go­ti­a­tion and com­pro­mise.

A deeply di­vided na­tion en­cour­ages “no.” Achiev­ing “yes” can come from an equally di­vided na­tion, in search of com­mon ground, com­mon goals, and shared ben­e­fits.

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