Hundreds to urge end to political gridlock at Charlotte forum

Charlotte ObserverNovember 30, 2012 

Jason Goodfriend of Matthews calls himself “a raging moderate” and said Congress rarely reflects his views or those of the country’s millions of other middle-of-the-roaders.

“I’m tired of the extremism on both sides,” said Goodfriend, a 52-year-old marketing analyst. “Americans are generally a pragmatic, problem-solving people and the extremism we’re experiencing – on the left and right – is hurting our country.”

Teacher Mary Jo Shepherd, 43, of Charlotte sounded the same note of disgust with the Washington scene: “It’s obviously a mess and everybody knows it. It’s time for (President Barack Obama and members of Congress) to all become grown-ups and fix the country’s problems.”

Goodfriend and Shepherd are among 400 or so people planning to spend Friday night attending a forum on gridlock in Washington.

The 7 p.m. event – co-sponsored by The Charlotte Observer and PNC Bank and hosted by UNC Charlotte – will feature panels of current and former members of Congress.

Organizers also have set aside time during the two hours for those in the audience at UNC Charlotte’s uptown campus to submit questions.

Expect some tough ones, especially at a time when Obama and congressional leaders are trying to avoid a “fiscal cliff” beginning Jan. 1 that would raise taxes for everybody, take a chain saw to federal programs, and possibly bring on another recession.

“I hope they appreciate that the country’s problems are serious enough that they can’t continue to kick the can down the road,” David Robinson, a 65-year-old retiree in Charlotte, said about Congress.

Current members of Congress on Friday’s panel: Rep. Mel Watt, a Charlotte Democrat, and GOP Reps. Mick Mulvaney of Indian Land, S.C., and Patrick McHenry of Cherryville.

Voters want compromise

“Will we get the same line from each of them or will something real come out of them?” wondered Sabra Perozzo, 66, an accountant in Charlotte, who had this advice for all members of Congress: “Instead of trying to get elected next time and pandering, why not take an honest look at the problem and work together to solve it?”

Friday’s audience will include Democrats, Republicans and independents. And though some interviewed by the Observer found particular fault with Obama or with Republicans in Congress, even the more partisan voters called on those in Washington to compromise, find solutions and act.

Democrat Maxine Eaves, a retired nurse in Charlotte, said it’s “awful how (congressional Republicans) have disrespected this president.” She mentioned a 2010 pledge by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to try to make Obama a one-term president.

Yet 67-year-old Eaves said her hope for Friday night is “to hear that they’re all willing to go across the aisle … and work together.”

On the other side, Republican Henry Panzer of Charlotte is no fan of Obama’s: “We have a president who doesn’t interact at all with Congress. He dictates, he doesn’t negotiate.”

But Panzer, too, said he’s disappointed with the confrontational behavior coming from both Democrats and Republicans in Washington.

“There is no dialogue. Nobody is willing to listen to those with a different opinion,” said Panzer, 79, a retired businessman. “In the past … you had Democrats who would work with Republicans, and vice versa. Now people up there are so divided, so wrapped up in their own positions.”

Gridlock ‘not an option’

All of those interviewed by the Observer had advice for the president and members of Congress – including their own representatives.

Democrat Bruce Hamlett of Mint Hill said he wants those in Washington to know how frustrating it is for him – and so many others – when election-year promises to work together are quickly forgotten after the votes are counted.

“You represent everyone (in your districts), so you need to work with the other side,” said Hamlett, 58. “You’ve got to get something done. Gridlock is not an option.”

Melissa Warsaw, 44, of Charlotte works in financial services. She said members of Congress “forget why they’re up there” and get caught up in a “Washington machine” that has more to do with lobbyists than constituents.

The result: Real programs go unfixed, she says.

One suggestion she had for Washington’s current leaders: Go see “Lincoln,” the movie from director Steven Spielberg, that shows how the 16th president and his allies used political skills to get a divided Congress to pass the 13th Amendment banning slavery.

“It’s eye-opening and you can see some similarities to today,” says Warsaw, a registered unaffiliated voter. “They can look at this (movie) and maybe find some common ground.”

And Twanna Daniels of Charlotte, who’s in her 40s, said it’s simple, really: “Listen to the people, identify the problems and work on solutions.”

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