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Charlie Harman on Bi-Partisanship

Richard Gerakitis, as the AWER program leader for January, presented our speaker, Mr. Charlie Harman, long time political and business leader in Georgia. As a business leader Charlie served as president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia. Charlie said in business one is never far from politics, which in part led him to become the chief of staff for US Senator Sam Nunn, Georgia’s senator, one of the most prominent political leaders in the nation, a Democrat, and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Eventually, Charlie was asked by Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Republican and Georgia’s junior senator, to serve as his chief of staff. Charlie said this is rare (could not name another situation like it) for a chief of staff from a Republican to be asked to hold the same role for a Democrat. That reality formed some of the basis for Charlie’s presentation to the AWER Members – which centered on civility in general and the commitment leaders need to make to work together for the common good of America. He quoted Senator Nunn who remarked, “Little or no legislation can be passed without bi-partisanship.” As an example, Charlie noted that Nunn was very close to Republic Senators Barry Goldwater of AZ and William Cohen of VT who also served as Secretary of Defense under Democrat Bill Clinton’s cabinet. So for Charlie to be a success in his job, a major part of which required getting legislation passed, he had to create confidences among senators on the ‘right’ and on the ‘left.’ One such bipartisan legislative success occurred when Nunn championed the passage of the Special Operations Command, which General William Schwarzkopf noted as critical to the success of Desert Storm in Iraq … this act later formed the framework which enabled the Obama administration to end the life of terrorist Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attack on America. Similarly, he told how Senator Chambliss continued to build respect and support, causing Democrat Senator Diane Feinstein of California to say, upon Saxby’s retirement from the Senate, “It is hard to see you go” reflecting on Saxby’s ability to work with ‘the other side.’ He described how the Chambliss staff daily met with Senator Johnny Isakson’s staff, of which Richard Gerakitis, Jr. was a member, to build consensus, generally based on respect. (Charlie noted a similar level of collegiality between North Carolina Republican Senator Richard Burr and Democrat Mark Warner.) These relationships are forged when, as he reported Isakson saying, bipartisanship is done through friends and whom one sees as future friends – which eclipse at times some of the hard policy issues of bills under consideration. He admitted today this is much harder to do because decisions are ‘base-driven’ and not accomplished through through give-and-take and not based on relationships and trust. Of course, he admitted there’s always elements of party base-driven decisions. Charlie explained that the difference today is that all decisions are base-driven, permitting leaders little room for maneuvering for the greater good. Within hope, Charlie referred to Rotary’s 4-Way Test as a mantra that needs to guide decision-making: He wants the Senate to ask: Is It the Truth, Is It Fair to All Concerned? Will it Build Good Will and Better Friendships? Will it Be Beneficial to All Concerned?


Posted by Neil Shorthouse
January 31, 2020 2:00pm

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