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posted: 1/16/2014 5:00 AM

Lawmakers at Capitol shouldn't sit by party

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Last spring, my spouse and I drove to Springfield to visit the fairly new (and fabulous) Abraham Lincoln Museum. While in town, we toured the state Capitol and both its legislative chambers, where my (lovely but perturbed) wife whispered a question to me: "Why do the parties sit on opposite sides of the aisle?" Subsequently, I discovered that legislative seating by party in Illinois -- and in Congress -- is based on tradition, not law.

Do seats physically clustered around each party's bosses build bipartisanship? The polarization of the state and federal political parties is too pronounced to be bridged in a single bold step, so why not take a baby one? Let's have our legislators sit alphabetically. After all, their roll call votes are alphabetical. I'd like to think the latter would be based on the traditional view that they vote as the representative of all the people in their district rather than as Democrats or Republicans.

Sitting next to, or near, reps from the other party could lead to a better appreciation of opposing views. Certainly, they would get to better know their new neighbors from the other party and be less likely to demonize them.

We (you and I, and my wife) can now make this improvement happen. Campaigning for the March primary election is under way, followed by the November general election campaigns. Ask all the candidates for state and federal representative and senator seats in your district if they will support alphabetical seating in their legislative bodies. If they will not, ask why they will not.

At the Illinois Capitol on June 16, 1858, Lincoln made his famous statement, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." With just a little effort, We the People can end at least one division in our legislative houses.

Chris Ellis


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