Image credit from BYU Magazine: “Jeffry Flake (left) and Martin Heinrich, senators on opposite ends of the political spectrum, spent six days working side by side on a deserted island to make a point. Photo Courtesy Jeffry Flake.

Partisans Transcend Differences on Eru Island

Transpartisan Note #61

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

Our country’s partisan divide impacts the way we do business, whether we work in commercial, nonprofit, academic, or government programs. The following short article, written with fellow public policy analyst A. Lawrence Chickering, explores one of the many facets of this impact when examined from the “Transpartisan” perspective.

U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, and Arizona Republican Jeff Flake worked together on the Pacific Island Eru in the Marshall Islands using only three tools. Discovery Channel aired the six day experiment as “Rival Survival” on October 29, 2014.

Flake’s Brigham Young University alumni magazine quoted him saying, “’Out here it doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat; …you have to help each other…Republicans and Democrats can rely on each other, can trust each other — that’s what this week proved.’”

Heinrich, wrote the BYU magazine, “says the trip helped build trust, which is ‘[foundational to] find common ground in order to make compromises.’ Ultimately, Flake says, he learned — and hopes others will too — that ’compromise isn’t a bad word, and it should be used.’”

In August of 2017 Flake, a Goldwater Republican, roiled Washington political waters with a full throated attack on his Republican party for facilitating the rise of Donald Trump. Trump struck back, attacking fellow Republican Flake as soft on the border wall and soft on crime.

Simultaneously, Heinrich’s Democrats feature their own split. Progressives led by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren battle party leaders to control upcoming campaigns. A New York Times headline says: “Democrats in Split-Screen: The Base Wants It All. The Party Wants to Win.”

We think these twin splits support our view that a four-quadrant left/ right, order/freedom matrix, with each quadrant contributing to the result, more accurately describes current politics than a two dimensional left/right spectrum. The Flake/Heinreich island teamwork highlights our view.

More voters today register independent than with either party. With unregistered age-eligible voters, they are more than both parties combined. Much of the political angst visible today comes from the efforts of this majority to find ways to be heard. The island lessons help point the way.

Flake and Heinrich introduced The Advancing Conservation and Education (ACE) Act, helping government land exchanges, and the Restoring America’s Watersheds Act, supporting national forest watersheds. They organized a bipartisan lunch for members of Congress and their families.

Today Governors Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Kasich (R-OH) work so closely they had to deny they were forming a third party. “Loving the attention on our bipartisan work but no ulterior motive. Not a unity ticket, just working with a new friend on hard compromises,” Hickenlooper wrote.

After Affordable Care Act repeal failed, Republican Lamar Alexander and Democrat Patty Murray, Senate Health Committee leaders, announced hearings and a bill to preserve the 2010 law’s insurance marketplaces. Forty-three House members, from both parties, moved to support such an effort.

Increasingly, legislators apply the Flake/Heinrich lessons of the island — reliance, collaboration, trust, compromise and friend. Increasingly lawmakers look for common ground. The Transpartisan Matrix integration offers a tool to aid the search. Everyone plays a role moving forward.


This is Note #61 in a series of transpartisan explorations of current issues, written, in part, to promote the Transpartisan Review , a digital journal of politics, society, and culture. Issue #2 now available to download for free.