OUR OPINION: Encourage bipartisan interaction everywhere

The nationally influential journal, State Legislatures, often reports on the best trends and efforts in legislative bodies across the U.S.

The July/August issue’s report by Morgan Cullen on a bipartisanship effort in the Texas Legislature offers encouragement that some lawmakers are willing to pull back from the brink of what he describes as “toxic partisanship.”

Cullen is a Texan, and besides working for the National Conference of State Legislatures as a policy expert, he’s a liaison in the Texas Legislature. Texas, whose legislators deal with a budget larger than many nations, often is viewed as both a roadblock and a bellwether of change among state bodies.

In 2011, the toxin in the air inside the Capitol in Austin led to the beginning of what’s called Purple Thursdays, the day when wearing purple indicates a collegial atmosphere is in process.

By this year, he reported, “Conservative red and liberal blue were overshadowed by bipartisan purple this year at least in Texas, on Thursdays, during session.”

Cullen said after a “contentious, partisan session two years ago, a freshman lawmaker decided to bring in the color guard. He thought a visual, purple prompt would be a good reminder to legislators that, despite their political and philosophical differences, they were all working toward the same goal – to improve Texas.”

At times in recent years, the Mississippi Legislature could have used more than a little purple.

Texas state Rep. Jason Villalba, a Republican, decided what was needed in Austin was “a way to get to know each other as friends rather than combatants.”

Villalba created a freshman caucus that would meet once a week to get to know each other. The movement gradually has spread beyond freshmen lawmakers.

The color is of course only symbolic, but it is a visible reminder of expectations expressed by some who see beyond the views with party enclosures.

The collegiality was strained earlier this summer in Austin in a big fight over abortion restrictions, but the movement didn’t end.

The obvious hope for a parallel in Washington has been expressed. Sen.. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., may have made a start on that with his two successful all-Senate caucuses.

The same energy is needed in Jackson where people may know one another better than in Washington but where partisan stress is high – and counterproductive.