Over the past decade or so, a political party divide has developed in Washington politics. It has been so pronounced that our national political party alignment has become similar to Britain’s. In England, members of parliament do not really run as individuals, they become selected members of either the Liberal or Conservative Party. The British voters vote for the party they want in power and the members of Parliament are simply along for the ride and sit in Parliament only because they are members of that party. Therefore, they naturally vote the way their party leadership tells them.

We Americans elect our Senators and Congressmen individually. However, in essence most of our elected national lawmakers vote right down the party line. Very few Congressmen today vote differently than their party leadership dictates. This party loyalty exists in our Alabama Congressional delegation. We have seven congressmen, 5 Republicans and 2 Democrats. If you looked at their voting records and actions, they automatically lean toward the party line. Their vote is totally predictable and predetermined by the party leadership. You may as well have a computer casting their vote. It would be a lot cheaper.

The voice of independence on the national level is Senator John McCain from Arizona. He is one of the last true independent moderate Republicans. By being an independent as well as thoughtful and unpredictable he has become a media magnet. You can never guess how he is going to vote or where he will land on any national issue. He has become like the old E. F. Hutton commercial, when McCain talks people listen. He is like a breath of fresh air in Washington. His straight talk and independent approach to each issue is refreshing and longed for.

In past decades, one would see a moderate Republican like Howard Baker from Tennessee have a similar voting record as a moderate Democrat from Alabama like John Sparkman. They would sit together and work together to iron out a difficult issue, and then vote together. It never crossed their minds that one had run as a Democrat and one as a Republican to get elected. They were more interested in getting things accomplished for their constituents because they shared some of the same concerns and needs as neighboring states.

Today’s Washington finds Republicans and Democrats in separate corners with little camaraderie or friendship. They simply sit on separate sides of the aisle and very seldom cross that line, almost as though it is a line of demarcation.

The partisan divide will not be resolved when you have the Senate Republican leader, Bill Frist, going to the home state of Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, and campaigning against Daschle. This is the first time in history that the leader of one party has campaigned against the other one, especially in their home state. Daschle, the longtime Democratic Senator from South Dakota, is in a close reelection campaign against Republican challenger, John Thume. If Daschle prevails, it will be hard to get bipartisanship exhibited come next year.

This partisanship rivalry has reached the Statehouse in Montgomery in recent years. There is a real party divide and rancor in the state legislative halls that I have not seen in my lifetime and certainly not during my 16-year legislative career. When I went to the Legislature in 1982, we all ran as Democrats more out of practice and tradition than out of ideology. There was only a handful of Republicans usually from suburban silk-stocking districts, and they just seemed to fit in with those of us who were probusiness conservative Democrats.

Today there is a bitter party division in Montgomery. The Democratic dominated Legislature has made it their mission to ignore and strangle any initiative offered by the Republican governor. It is especially pronounced in the budget process.

We need to have less partisanship on the national level and on the state level. The electorate wants an independent government, one that functions to best serve their needs and not a party or dogma. Most voters are middle of the road and are independents. That’s why they will elect bipartisan branches even if they are doing it subconsciously. Their vote will result in a surprising balance of power.