Thursday is my birthday, and I must confess that I’m approaching it with mixed feelings. I’m not afraid of getting older, because there are only two choices. I’m extremely grateful for my beautiful family, and all the love and respect they give me throughout the year. But the state of the world around me is unsettling, and it’s hard to ignore if you care about the future of this planet.
Let me start with the good side. I get up each day feeling that I can reinvent myself and do something different, and that’s how I have lived my life. Thirty-plus years of public service have been very rewarding. Continuing my professional life is energizing. Being active in politics, and trying to make new laws from afar, is part of what keeps me motivated. But once I search the internet or turn the pages of the few newspapers still in print, things change dramatically.
We all know the political system is broken and the country is badly divided. What is more distressing is that there is no one person or group out there that is capable of fixing things, because the divisions are so deep. Let’s start with the U.S. Congress. There are 535 elected officials showing up each day at the Capitol, and many of them are happy to do nothing. Politics has always been about power, but in my lifetime, the powerful have occasionally done some great things.
It’s one thing to do nothing, but on top of it, many of the players are just nasty. The meanness didn’t start in recent weeks. It dates back to the mid-1990s, when Newt Gingrich became speaker of the House. He told his Republican colleagues that there could be no bipartisanship. He directed them not to sponsor legislation with any Democrats, and declared the Democratic Party the enemy. It took only a year or two before that same meanness trickled down into almost every legislative body in the country.
In my eyes, there are two Republican parties. Here on Long Island there are Republicans and Democrats who talk to each other, even if they can’t agree on everything. There are hundreds of local officials who show up at work each day and serve all the people without any distinction. I can name dozens of officials on the other side of the aisle whom I consider to be friends. They are pleasant and willing to talk about projects and programs. We can’t always agree on everything, but they are civil and gracious. At the highest level of government, however, life is a daily slugfest.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.