HELENA - Top national Republican Party and congressional leaders on Friday endorsed an idea by Gov. Marc Racicot to conduct a series of "Listening to America" meetings to hear what issues are important to people in different parts of the country.
Racicot was asked by Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson to serve as chairman for the first meeting in Denver, with details to be worked out in the near future. Some GOP governors and congressional leaders would participate at each of the potentially eight meetings to hear what American people are thinking about issues.
In a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., Racicot said he suggested the idea at a meeting with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, new House Speaker Robert Livingstone of Louisiana, other GOP congressional leaders and Nicholson. Four other Republican governors attended, George Pataki of New York, John Engler of Michigan, James Gilmore of Virginia and John Rowland of Connecticut.
"The hope is to take advantage of the designs and hopes and intuitions of the people around the country," Racicot said.
The governor said he hoped the public hearing process could "produce the kind of consensus and policy formation that will serve the majority of Americans."
The idea, then, is to "galvanize" some of these ideas advocated by American people into political action through Congress and state legislatures.
These ideas would be in addition to recognizing issues that already are important to Americans such as education, Social Security, tax revision and crime, Racicot said,
Racicot said he has always believed it is necessary for elected officials to meet regularly with the people who elected them. It's impossible to effectively represent people without listening to them regularly to learn what they think and what policies they want elected officials to carry out.
The Montana governor said the purpose of the meeting with congressional and national GOP leaders was to "reconnect the various components of that partnership that are so necessary for policy formulation this country."
There has been criticism nationally over congressional Republicans' failure to deliver an effective message beyond possible impeachment of President Clinton. As a result, House Republicans lost some seats in a year they had expected to score big gains and Senate Republicans failed to show any gains.
GOP governors generally were more successful, and congressional and national GOP leaders have been looking for ways to involve governors more in the national policy debate.
Racicot, one of the most popular governors in the country, was asked to stay over until Friday so he could attend the GOP meeting. He had been on a trip to Israel with Gov. George W. Bush of Texas and two other governors, and then attended the annual meeting in Washington of Jobs for America's Graduates, a program of which he is chairman of the national board of directors.
Remaining in Washington on Friday for the GOP meeting meant Racicot had to cancel scheduled appearances in Great Falls at the Montana Grain Growers Association convention and the dedication of Davidson Plaza.
Racicot said he regretted missing the Great Falls stops, saying he believed it was the first time he had to cancel scheduled events. However, he said he believed he could do more to substantially benefit Montana in the long run through his efforts in Washington.