Mark Udall’s Civil Seating Arrangement Turns Into a Hit

January 2011

Republicans continued their assault this week on the health-care reform plan passed by Democrats and President Barack Obama last year, seeking to "prune" the law "branch by branch," as House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp tells Reuters. But there is at least one measure gaining widespread bipartisan support: Colorado U.S. Senator Mark Udall's idealistic notion that his fellow Democrats sit alongside Republicans in the House chamber during Obama's upcoming State of the Union address, instead of sitting on opposite sides, alternately cheering and jeering. 

As the Wall Street Journal puts it, "The prom—or what passes for one in Washington—is coming up, and everyone is scrambling to get a date." Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat and chairwoman of the Small Business Committee, will sit with her Republican counterpart, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, a "small reflection of the friendship Olympia and I share," Landrieu says. As for Colorado’s seven members of the House—four Republicans and three Democrats—they'll be seated as a group for the speech, according to the Denver Post. (Earlier this week, none of Colorado's Congressional delegation had yet signed Udall's petition for the seating arrangement.) Now, their battle is merely logistical, as the group attempts to find seven seats together.

The calls for greater political civility came in the wake of the shootings in Tucson, Arizona, where Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was seriously wounded and several others were slain. It's not the first time a politician has asked for a more civil dialogue. As the Post notes, state Representative Tom Massey, a Republican, drew up a pledge six years ago that called on lawmakers to get along regardless of their party affiliations.

In recent years, lawmakers at the state Capitol have passed the civility pledge each session, but this year, some in the GOP don't think it's necessary. As House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, a Monument Republican, says, "I think it's important to be civil, to have a good tone. But with all due respect, if we cannot be civil or kind to one another on the House floor, I'll have the person removed until they get their civility together."