- By Jessica Wehrman Washington Bureau
Their friendship started as a disagreement: then–state Rep. Joyce Beatty was outraged that an Ohio bank was charging check-cashing fees for child support checks, so she demanded a meeting with a banker at the bank.
Steve Stivers, the banker, was aghast when she explained the problem. “We had screwed something up,” he said, “And I didn’t know Joyce, but I knew that we needed to take responsibility and fix what we had done.”
Decades later, Reps. Joyce Beatty and Steve Stivers look back on that meeting: Her fuming in his office, him ready to make it right, and view it the beginning of a beautiful friendship — one that they wouldn’t mind the rest of the nation learning from.
Columbus-area members of Congress Beatty, D–Jefferson Township, and Stivers, R–Upper Arlington, today announced that they were launching the Congressional Civility Caucus, a group that seems to be motivated by former House Speaker John Boehner’s oft-repeated line that you can disagree without being disagreeable.
They do so at a time that is, by most accounts, fraught, with Democrats and Republicans disagreeing over issues once thought to universally agreed upon, with President Trump firing up the base by handing out derogatory nicknames on Twitter; with Democrats and Republicans alike quick to vilify the other side and with a shutdown over immigration in the immediate past.
He’s a 52–year–old father of two small children, a stalwart Republican, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Beatty, a Dayton native and Central State University graduate, is a 67–year–old African–American grandmother, the sort of die-hard Democrat who often shows up at events to support her Democratic colleagues, sitting behind Hillary Clinton during the Benghazi hearings in a show of support.
He says he’s in Congress to get results, not to fight; she says she’s in Congress to be a voice for the voiceless. They are more often to vote on opposite sides of an issue than not.
They’re an odd couple, but it works. Both serve on the House Financial Services Committee, where they regularly pair up on legislation on everything from financial literacy to issues that benefit the region’s banking industry. Their friendship has weathered years when she served as the first African-American woman to serve as House Democratic Leader and he served in the state Senate. They crack each other up, him bursting into raucous laughter when she launches one of the wry one–liners she’s been known to rattle off.
Right now, however, one of the main things they have in common is a desire to end the vitriol. They know it’s a tumultuous time, they say, but disagreements don’t have to lead to contempt.
“People are naturally going to have disagreements,” Stivers said. “This is a tumultuous time in our history. It’s natural to have tensions and it’s natural to have disagreements. We don’t want people to avoid those disagreements. We want people to understand there is a better way, where we can all work together.”
“Steve’s not asking me to change, I’m not asking him to change, but there are some things happening that I believe neither one of us like, and instead of just harping on it, we want to do something about it,” she said.
The two got the idea of the civility caucus in December, after both worked on a video for something called “The Civility Project,” that paired Republicans and Democrats to talk about why it’s important to work civilly.
They thought about how civility worked in Central Ohio — Stivers, Beatty, and Rep. Pat Tiberi, who resigned earlier this month — had forged a friendship despite political disagreements, working together on issues they felt were important to the district.
“We talked about it at home a lot,” Stivers said. “And we decided we should try to figure out how to take that national.”
They’re hopeful to recruit people in nearly every major market — Democrat and Republican lawmakers — in order to send a message of working together despite disagreements.
They’ve recruited eight other ideologically-opposite allies for the caucus: Reps. Fred Upton, R–Michigan and Debbie Dingell, D–Michigan; Tom MacArthur, R–New Jersey and Donald Norcross, D–New Jersey; Dave Joyce, R–Russell Township and Marcia Fudge, D–Cleveland and Steve Knight, R–California and Stephanie Murphy, D–Florida.
“I think this is a path forward that can really help,” said Stivers.