Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Gov. Pillen demonstrates the type of leadership rural Nebraskans want

Man speaking at a podium

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen showed that bipartisanship is possible, writes McElravy.

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

McElravy is an associate professor of leadership at the University of Nebraska and a member of Scholars Strategy Network.

Gov. Jim Pillen’s recent decision to accept $18 million in federal funds for the state’s summer food program demonstrates the type of leadership rural Nebraskans are demanding from our state’s political leaders. As the Nebraska legislative session unfolds, our state leaders should follow in his steps and continue to compromise and find common ground.

In the most recent Nebraska Rural Poll, 86 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that “compromise and common ground should be a goal for state political leaders.” However, given the polarized political environment across Nebraska and the country, there is political risk in changing course after taking a stance, referred to as flip-flopping, because politicians may be seen as incompetent. The courage to change course after initially refusing to apply for the summer food funding should be called out and applauded because this is the type of leadership that rural Nebraskans want to see from leaders.

Specifically, the governor’s actions seem to represent “Both/And” leadership, which requires that people recognize the complexity of issues and the tensions associated with different points of view. Those engaging in Both/And leadership will work to bridge the gaps in perspectives to find solutions that accommodate multiple stakeholders.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

In this case, the governor was able to balance his stance of not supporting welfare while also meeting the needs of kids across the state, earning bipartisan praise for his efforts. Thanks to his decision, an estimated 150,000 kids will consistently have food on the table this summer.

Importantly, this type of leadership is not an individual endeavor and underscores the need to shift focus away from leaders and toward the broader idea of leadership. When we limit our focus to individual leaders, we ignore the reality that leadership is a process, involving leaders, followers and situational context.

A letter sent to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services by a bipartisan group of legislators in December, urging the executive branch to apply for this type of funding, illustrates the role of “followers,” or those not directly involved in the executive decision. By openly articulating their stance and providing clarity on the potential impact of the decision, they provided critical information to facilitate a more nuanced decision-making process. These legislators demonstrated courage to work across political boundaries, and these efforts, too, should be applauded as part of the leadership process.

Unfortunately, it seems all too often we retreat to political strongholds. Other data in the Nebraska Rural Poll demonstrated how polarized civil discourse feels today.

When asked, “Do you think Americans are more divided over politics than they were 10 years ago, less divided or are they about the same?” 94 percent of respondents indicated they thought we are much more or more divided today. That level of agreement on any topic is surprising.

A potential bright spot did emerge from the poll. Specifically, rural Nebraskans have significantly more faith that Nebraska’s political leaders will overcome differences to get things done at least moderately well (40 percent of respondents) than national political leaders (9 percent of respondents).

In 2021, both metropolitan and rural Nebraskans expressed moderate levels of confidence in the governor and the state Legislature in the Rural and Metro polls. It seems encouraging when collaboration and common ground can be established across these branches of government, and it may help improve confidence in these institutions.

The emerging hope is that more effective and efficient decisions lie ahead. Building trust takes time and effort, and perhaps the governor’s recent decision can serve as a foundation for trusting relationships that can facilitate more effective collaborations.

Nebraska is a big, diverse state with a variety of priorities. The’s state political leaders are charged with helping facilitate a prosperous future for all Nebraskans. To that end, our political leadership should continue to engage in compromise and common ground. It’s what constituents want, and our state will be best served by these efforts.

This article was first published in the Nebraska Examiner on March 6.

Read More

Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Don Bacon

Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Don Bacon won the "Life in Congress" award from the Congressional Management Foundation.

The best bosses in an unusual work environment: Capitol Hill

Fitch is the president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

Our nation’s capital is known for many things — but good management practices are not among them. Stories regularly surface of bizarre tales of harassment and abuse by members of Congress. An Instagram feed a few years ago unearthed dozens of stories by staff outing less-than-desirable managers and members for their bad practices. But what about the good leaders and good managers?

Like any profession, Congress actually has quite a few exemplary office leaders. And the beneficiaries of these role models are not just their staff — it’s also their constituents. When a congressional office can retain great talent, sometimes over decades, the quality of the final legislative product or constituent service rises immensely.

Keep ReadingShow less
Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley

Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley won the Congressional Management Foundation's Democracy Award for Constituent Accountability and Accessibility.

Official portraits

Some leaders don’t want to be held accountable. These two expect it.

Fitch is president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

There is probably no more important concept in the compact between elected officials and those who elect them than accountability. One of the founding principles of American democracy is that members of Congress are ultimately accountable to their constituents, both politically and morally. Most members of Congress get this, but how they demonstrate and implement that concept varies. The two winners of the Congressional Management Foundation’s Democracy Award for Constituent Accountability and Accessibility clearly understand and excel at this concept.

Keep ReadingShow less
Woman speaking at a microphone

Rep. Lucy McBath is the first lawmaker from Georgia to win a Democracy Awarrd.

Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Surprise: Some great public servants are actually members of Congress

Fitch is the president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

TheCongressional Management Foundation today announced the winners of the seventh annual Democracy Awards, CMF’s program recognizing non-legislative achievement and performance in congressional offices and by members of Congress. Two members of Congress, one Democrat and one Republican, are recognized in four categories related to their work in Congress.

Americans usually only hear about Congress when something goes wrong. The Democracy Awards shines a light on Congress when it does something right. These members of Congress and their staff deserve recognition for their work to improve accountability in government, modernize their work environments and serve their constituents.

Keep ReadingShow less

Can George Washington inspire Biden to greatness?

Clancy is co-founder of Citizen Connect and board member of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund. Citizen Connect is an initiative of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund, which also operates The Fulcrum.

King George III reputedly said George Washington was the greatest man in the world for voluntarily relinquishing power. The indisputable fact is that Washington’s action remains remarkable in human history. And he actually did it at least two times.

On Dec. 23, 1783, Washington resigned his commission as commander of the Continental Army and returned to Mount Vernon. He did it again when he declined to run for a third term as president by publishing his Farewell Address on Sept. 19, 1796. In June 1799 Washington was yet again urged to run for president and declined.

His reasoning on each occasion was a complex mix of the personal and political, but the bedrock was an unwavering commitment to put the good of the nation above personal gain and the factions that would ultimately become our toxic party system.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joe Biden at the debate

After his disastrous peformance at the debate, President Biden needs to exit the race, writes Breslin.

Kyle Mazza/Anadolu via Getty Images

Getting into the highest offices is hard. Getting out is harder.

Breslin is the Joseph C. Palamountain Jr. Chair of Political Science at Skidmore College and author of “A Constitution for the Living: Imagining How Five Generations of Americans Would Rewrite the Nation’s Fundamental Law.”

This is the latest in “A Republic, if we can keep it,” a series to assist American citizens on the bumpy road ahead this election year. By highlighting components, principles and stories of the Constitution, Breslin hopes to remind us that the American political experiment remains, in the words of Alexander Hamilton, the “most interesting in the world.”

Getting into America’s highest political offices is hard. Getting out is harder.

President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance has intensified calls for him to step aside. Not even 24 hours after his poor showing, The New York Times took the extraordinary and unprecedented position that the sitting president should immediately pass the torch to a more energetic and electable candidate. “The greatest public service Mr. Biden can now perform,” the editorial board declared, “is to announce that he will not continue to run for re-election.”

Keep ReadingShow less