Civil Discourse and Elected Women


with Jody Thomas of the National Foundation for Women Legislators


Mar 07, 2018

There is a current trend toward incivility dominating public discourse in the United States. A grassroots campaign is working to reverse that trend, encouraging civility to improve collaboration, compromise and productivity in legislative bodies. Jody Thomas, Executive Director of the National Foundation for Women Legislators discusses efforts by NFWL and partnering organizations to encourage civil discourse for elected officials.

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Traynham: Over the past several years, there´s been a shift in the political landscape. Are politics today being overshadowed by a lack of civility? That´s the question. Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Robert Traynham. Joining me is Jody Thomas. She´s with the National Foundation for Women Legislators. Jody, welcome to the program.

Thomas: Thank you for having me.

Traynham: You know, um, maybe it´s just me, but it feels like more and more people are, uh, engaged in politics. They´re engaged in the public policy discussions of the day. But it also appears that name-calling, it appears that a lot of, uh, just back and forth and anxiety, is on the rise. Is it me, or are you feeling the same way?

Thomas: Oh, no. It´s absolutely that way. I mean, in some ways, it´s become toxic. Um, I remember when you used to have campaigns and pledge that you weren´t going to do any mud-slinging. And now, it´s like no holds barred, just anything goes. And you add in, um, the social media and the Internet. And now anybody can say anything they want, and there are no repercussions of it. So it -- it has, um -- It´s almost become unbearable.

Traynham: So, speaking of which, uh, Jody, what is the solution? How do we get back to a place where, quite frankly, you and I can have an honest disagreement but still be civil to each other and respect each other, and even just as importantly, um, listen to each other?

Thomas: Yeah. It isn´t going to be easy. Um, I´ll tell you a couple of things that we have done. There is an organization called the Bridge Alliance, and it is only for organizations that are involved in bipartisanship and civility. And I was so thrilled to find out that there are -- there are 72 members of the Bridge Alliance now, all working toward the same thing. We´ve taken it a step further, and we´ve partnered with the National Institute for Civil Discourse and the State Legislative Leaders Foundation. And we are actually participating in seminars and summits and conferences on civil discourse.

Traynham: Jody, let me interrupt here for a second. Is it -- Are they seminars between folks that are running for office? Is it for, uh, the lay person that perhaps maybe is not running for office? Who is the seminar for?

Thomas: Ours specifically are for -- for our elected women. And National Institute for Civil Discourse is elected officials, primarily.

Traynham: I see.

Thomas: So, it´s not lay people. It´s not campaign managers. It´s already elected.

Traynham: Why are so, uh, passionate about this topic? I think I know the answer, but for the -- for the benefit of our views that are watching on their smart device or at home, um, why are you so motivated? And quite frankly, what can the folks that are watching right now, what can they do?

Thomas: Um, we are so motivated because, initially I thought, "Well, women are already civil to each other, and they´re civil to other people. And we´re the ones who cross party lines and s-- You remember in 2013, um, the women in the Senate all got together, and they were having pizza and beer and decided, you know --

Traynham: Which is pretty common.

Thomas: Mm-hmm.

Traynham: I must say, um, in my years in politics, it´s always the women who are saying, "You know, guys, just cut it out."

Thomas: Mm-hmm.

Traynham: "Let´s -- Let´s get together here and figure this out."

Thomas: Mm-hmm.

Traynham: Um, yeah, there´s something about that that is so refreshing, so thank you for reminding us about that.

Thomas: And so I thought, "Well, our women don´t need training in how to be civil." But we decided we needed to train our ladies, at least in NFWL environments, um, to be leaders on civility. So we have even established a civility ambassador, where we do leadership training on how to -- We inherently know. Women are just inherently -- and we love men. Don´t get me wrong.

Traynham: Got it.

Thomas: Love you guys. But we´re just better at negotiating, at compromise, at saying, "You know what? I´d rather have 80% of something than 100% of nothing."

Traynham: Jody, it -- it feels like 2018 is going to be a really big year on so many different levels. Uh, two things -- One, happy anniversary. As I understand it, you all turned 80...

Thomas: That´s true.

Traynham: ...this year, meaning your organization.

Thomas: That´s true.

Traynham: Any big plans in 2018? Especially in the context of my second point -- It feels like a lot of women will be running for public office this year.

Thomas: Yeah. Two things -- um, I see organizations popping up literally every day to help women run for office. Some of them are bipartisan. Some of them are Republican. Some of them are Democrat. They´re all over the place. And I´m thrilled, I´m thrilled. We are only 24% of the elected officials on the state level. Now, our members are city, county, and state. And we don´t have the statistics on city and county, but on the state level, we´re 24%. We represent 52% of the population. So, I´m thrilled to see more women running for office.

Traynham: Jody Thomas, National Foundation for Women Legislators, thank you very much for joining us. Keep up the great work.

Thomas: Thank you, Robert.

Traynham: Really appreciate it.

Thomas: Thank you.

Traynham: And thank you for joining us as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I´m Robert Traynham.

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