Building bridges across party lines

By Courtney Lombardo

Calvin Harris, MPP’10, Heller Alumni Association Board Member, is the senior manager of public affairs for the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that combines the best ideas from both political parties to promote health, security, and opportunity for all Americans. Harris also previously served as press secretary and speechwriter for StudentsFirst, a lobbying group founded by education reform advocate Michelle Rhee. In his role at BPC, he oversees media strategies for the senior fellows and national campaigns. He also takes part in writing talking points for speeches, messaging and remarks. BPC’s list of senior fellows includes Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Trent Lott (R-MS) to name a few.

Harris’ work often involves bringing together people from both parties in an effort to create actionable policy solutions. “It’s not an easy task, especially in today’s polarized nation. But embracing and engaging differences is the only way real progress can be made,” he says.

“Neither political party has a monopoly on the best ideas. And the only way to get anything meaningful done in Washington is through the constructive collusion of ideas,” he adds. BPC’s various projects reflect this internally by assembling stakeholders with different political ideologies and interests, yet tasked with making detailed consensus recommendations. “Americans embrace bipartisanship because they rightfully believe legislation that appeals to politicians on both sides of the aisle will amount to better and more resilient public policy,” he says.

Not only does Harris work with politicians, he connects on the national level with multinational companies. During the 2016 election season, BPC partnered with Marriott and Starbucks to mobilize their employees to register, vote and even volunteer at polling places – proving that even corporations have a role in building citizenship and engagement in the political system.

 Harris concludes that he never intended to get into the communications field but was inspired by a course at Heller that got him thinking about how to share such complicated policies with people in much simpler terms. He fell in love with the methods of sharing information so everyone could take part in the conversation, so it’s no wonder he works at the Bipartisan Policy Center. 

Moving forward, Calvin tries to keep the big picture in mind. “The well of bipartisanship in Washington is not entirely dry. But we must focus on those shared values that bring us together rather than the small things that divide us.”