A lively experiment: Core Program to be led by bipartisan co-chairs

John Harpootian '88 (R) and Myrth York '92 (D) will lead a bipartisan program committee to show that people with ideological differences can find a way to work together.

He’s a former vice chairman of the Rhode Island GOP who has worked on Republican campaigns since he was a teenager.

She’s a former state senator who ran three times as the Democratic candidate for governor of Rhode Island.

Together, John Harpootian ’88 and Myrth York ’92 will serve as chairs of Leadership Rhode Island’s Core Program for 2018, in an effort to show that people with ideological differences can find a way to work together. They will lead a bipartisan program committee consisting of seven Republicans and seven Democrat alumni in planning a curriculum around the theme “Leaders As Hosts.”

Executive Director Mike Ritz ’07 calls it “a lively experiment” in which LRI can set an example for the class, alumni and the nation by connecting the two sides to find compromise, common ground, innovation and ideas.

“It has the potential to inspire so much in others, as leaders wrestle with maintaining their integrity and core values against contrary ideals of others while simultaneously building a better society in service to their fellow man,” he said.

The idea came to Ritz after Harpootian and York shared similar sentiments at separate Jeffersonian Dinners about the importance of bipartisan cooperation.

Harpootian had used the example of national health care as an effort that will not be successful without some give and take between the two parties. “You need to have some statesmanship to be able to get this done,” he said.

York referred to her time in the state legislature, of which most members were people she would not have encountered in her personal life. “You’re forced to have to work with each other,” she said. “You would never choose it. You have to figure it out.”

During the meeting with Ritz and a small group of LRI staff, Harpootian and York sparred over topics like climate change and the current presidency. But the tone was always civil and respectful.

“We are both partisan people, unabashedly,” Harpootian said. “She has her well-founded, well-thought-out views that correspond to the party she’s affiliated with, and so do I. You can’t prevent someone from having an opposing view, and you can’t vilify someone for having an opposing view.”

The pair agreed that co-chairing a bipartisan program committee will have its challenges, but they are hopeful for a positive outcome.

“If somehow John and I being able to civilly work through creating the program for Leadership Rhode Island sends the message that people of opposing and differing viewpoints can work through their differences, then that would be a success,” York said.

Added Harpootian, “I don’t think the love of the state is a Republican or Democrat issue. If you care about the future of the state – I know Myrth does, I know I do – it behooves us to have conversations about the issues of the day. If we don’t, we’re doomed to failure. That’s really the bottom line.”