At a moment when many Americans hold Congress in contempt at unprecedented levels, an accomplished congressional consensus builder shared his insight into leadership with members of William & Mary’s Election Law Society.
Evan Bayh, who served as U.S. senator from 1999-2011, and governor of Indiana from 1989-97, visited the Law School on Oct. 9 as one of three Leadership Fellows of the third annual McGlothlin Leadership Forum. The three-day event is designed to give William & Mary law and business students an opportunity to hear from pre-eminent leaders in their fields.
Bayh was the keynote speaker at the 1996 Democratic National Convention, served as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council from 2001-05, and founded the Moderate Dems Working group in 2009. Currently he is a partner at McGuireWoods in Washington, D.C. During his time in elected office, Bayh established a reputation for bringing republicans and democrats together on significant legislation.
“Evan Bayh embodies many qualities we need right now in Washington,” Dean Davison M. Douglas said during his introduction at Bayh's seminar for law students. “Senator Bayh is proof that building relationships across the aisle is key to success. Especially now at a time when the political leadership of the nation is broken, the insights of Senator Bayh are so valuable.”
When Bayh announced his retirement from the Senate in February 2010, he called for significant reforms to the institution. One reform called for requiring 35 senators to sign a public petition for a filibuster, and then actually debate, not merely threaten to debate. He also called for reducing the number of senators to end a filibuster to 55, citing an earlier reduction from 67 to 60 during the civil rights era.
Erica Clark ’15 asked Bayh how he dealt with fiscal dysfunction in Indiana, noting the current Federal Government shutdown and threats of defaulting on the nation’s debt. Bayh stated two things need to change. First, good people should consider going into public office and good people should be more involved. He told students the next generation of leaders was in the room.
Further, he urged the students to build relationships with those who hold opposing ideologies. Bayh recounted childhood memories of attending dinner with several senators who vehemently disagreed with the policies of his father, Senator Birch Bayh. He recalled the deep impression their friendly and respectful interaction made on him. He noted that his strong relationship with fellow Hoosier Senator Richard Lugar provided a great base for building bipartisan consensus during his own Senate career.
While many leaders gain the spotlight for eloquent and passionate addresses, Bayh advocates a more soft-spoken approach. He noted that public service is not about grabbing headlines; rather public service is about making a difference in people’s lives, something Senator Bayh has done in abundance.
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