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Ex-Rep. Jim Moran looks at partisan polarization and a new generation of leaders

Issues that are important to most families ‘are not partisan,’ he says 

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., talks on the phone in his Rayburn office on Jan. 15, 2014, the day he announced his retirement from Congress.
Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., talks on the phone in his Rayburn office on Jan. 15, 2014, the day he announced his retirement from Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Democrat Jim Moran spent more than two decades in the House, representing northern Virginia from 1991 to 2015 and helped found the moderate New Democrat Coalition, now the largest caucus in Congress.

This week, he is launching Moran Global Strategies, a lobbying firm that will focus on federal appropriations, defense, finance and infrastructure and state and local work in two politically consequential states, Virginia and Florida.

In an interview before the launch, Moran, 77, pondered the increased polarization of politics, Virginia’s shift from red to purple and the rise of a new generation of leaders. 

This interview has been condensed.

As a moderate, do you feel like an endangered species in today’s political landscape?

I don’t know if you’d call me a moderate, but I like to think I’m a pragmatist. I hope we’re going to see some moderation on both sides of the aisle. I think the country … has been looking for some new leadership … Primaries tend to bring out the people who are most passionate about issues, but sometimes they may not be most representative of the mainstream.

Do you see a move toward the middle in national politics?

I hope so, because not to move to the middle means you’re going to have gridlock. Longtime friends like [former Republican Rep.] Tom Davis would have a real tough time in a Republican primary, and I myself would probably have had a tough time in a Democratic primary these days. [Progressive Democrats] are idealistic, and I appreciate their passion, but passion needs to be tempered with pragmatism. If you produce people out of a primary that are not representative of the mainstream, you’re not fulfilling the promise of a real democracy, so we’ve got to have more moderates. You need a balance between liberalism and conservatism, you need debate, you need reasoned factual discourse. Most of the issues that are important to most families are not partisan. 

Virginia is trending increasingly purple. Will that last, or do you anticipate a swing back toward the right?

Virginia will always be a purple state. If it gets too blue, there’s going to be a backlash and it will become more red and vice versa. That’s one of the reasons I like Virginia. Most Virginia voters just want to move forward, to provide greater opportunity for their children, safe neighborhoods, good schools and efficient infrastructure. Those things should be nonpartisan.  I hope that’s the trend. The alternative is dysfunction, and government needs to be functional.

Why do you think that is? 

Virginia is a microcosm of the country. As Virginia’s economy grows so rapidly, you’re going to see a desire for a legislature that is more pragmatic, more focused on the typical bread-and-butter issues. We’ve got to have quality schools, that’s a bipartisan issue. We’ve got to address mental health, which is also bipartisan and something [Republican Gov. Glenn] Youngkin has prioritized. It’s something we can all work together on.

At 77, what do you see on the horizon?

My generation, baby boomers, needs to embrace the next generation, our children and grandchildren. We have husbanded too much of this country’s resources financially, in terms of media attention. This long, almost soap opera virtual reality show at the national level is coming to an end. Baby boomers have to relinquish power to those people who are willing to create a new and better world. That’s going to happen at the local level, at the state level and hopefully at the national level. New leadership, new ideas, people that understand technology and that can use technology for the betterment of everyone. We can provide a higher quality of life and more opportunities if we work together, and it’s incumbent upon people like myself to try and share what we’ve learned. Most of what I’ve learned has been through trial and error, but I’ve lived long enough [and] have made enough mistakes that I’ve learned things worth passing on.

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