EDITORIAL: A bipartisan show of common sense

Staff report
Former Pennsylvania governors Ed Rendell (D), left, and Mark Schweiker (R) discuss immigration reform during the inaugural Democracy Challenge debate at York College of Pennsylvania's Waldner Performing Arts Center in Spring Garden Township, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Invite a high-ranking Democrat and Republican to a public debate, tell them the topic is immigration and watch the fireworks fly, right?

Not always.

As former Pennsylvania governors Republican Mark Schweiker and Democrat Ed Rendell made clear last week in squaring off at just such a showdown, opposing parties needn’t always cling to opposing views.

The two took the stage Sept. 18 for an hour-long meet-up called the Democracy Challenge at the Waldner Performing Arts Center in Spring Garden Township. The event’s sponsors, the York County Economic Alliance and Comcast at York College, challenged the two to find common ground on the issue of immigration.

That’s seemingly a tall order, given that federal lawmakers have been at loggerheads for the better part of the past decade over how best to regulate immigration while deciding on the legal status of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the country.

The issue has been particularly inflamed since President Donald Trump took office. His administration’s bare-knuckled and often inhumane policies regarding both those seeking asylum at U.S. borders and those living illegally within those borders have done little to grease the political skids for compromise.

More:'Democracy Challenge' puts consensus building on display

So, good luck Govs. Rendell and Schweiker!

Turns out they didn’t need it.

As the Dispatch’s Logan Hullinger reported, the two declared consensus within 10 minutes of the opening bell.

While national policy needs to be set by the federal government, Schweiker and Rendell insisted, they agreed on a number of steps that could nonetheless be taken at the state level. Among them:

  • Issuing green cards to undocumented immigrants who graduate from college;
  • Allowing anyone who can prove their residency to enter the job market;
  • Providing drive-only licenses to help immigrants commute to work.

Yes, Rendell and Schweiker are that rarest of political breeds: moderates. And yes, they kicked the rustiest cans in this debate to the feds’ side of the street. (Event sponsors should follow up on Rendell’s suggestion that they invite Pennsylvania’s sitting senators, Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Bob Casey, to the stage for a similar debate.)

But the former governors demonstrated something that has nothing to do with immigration: That political consensus can be reached, often quite easily, absent the walls of partisanship.

Rendell and Schweiker weren’t considering their political fortunes, or special interests, or potential challenges from the nether reaches of their parties; they were dealing simply and reasonably with the issue at hand.

Congress had the chance to do something very similar in 2013. A bipartisan octet in the Senate known as the Gang of Eight hammered out a supremely sensible compromise: An improved worker-verification system, new visa options for non-skilled laborers, bulked-up border security and a long-term chance of permanent residency for those living in the U.S. It easily passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote of 68-32.

Cue the partisan warriors. Anti-immigration groups like the Tea Party Patriots lobbied hard and, warry of upsetting his party’s conservative wing, Republican House Speaker John Boehner never even allowed the bill to come to the floor for a vote. (It would almost certainly have passed.)

It was a victory for partisan politics, but little else.

So, kudos to Rendell, Schweiker and the Democracy Challenge sponsors for showing the state what common-sense bipartisan compromise looks like in theory — because it has become all but extinct in reality.