The 113th Congress is plagued by partisanship and gridlock, but Mark Kennedy is hoping his students can change that.
The Minnesota Republican served three terms in the House and left Capitol Hill after an unsuccessful run for the Senate in 2006.
Today, Kennedy serves as director of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management and teaches budding politicos how to translate policy solutions into actions.
That focus on getting things done in government is something Kennedy said is missing from today’s Congress, even as he acknowledges that lawmakers face the formidable challenge of bridging a polarized public.
“Congress is a reflection of the people. The people are very divided,” he said.
However, Kennedy said some members of Congress, most notably tea party Republicans, must develop a better understanding of how to accomplish their goals.
“It’s one thing to be divisive, but it’s another thing to not understand how you play politics,” Kennedy said. “There’s too much creating friction and not enough getting things done.”
The former representative said the key is to step outside your perspective and understand those who disagree with you.
“You cannot be an effective politician if you can’t get a slice of the other side to agree with you,” he said. “And you can’t get the other side to agree with you unless you can see their view.”
Kennedy hopes to instill that lesson in his students. He lights up when talking about their projects, such as resolving budget disputes and the immigration standoff.
In addition to teaching courses, Kennedy oversees faculty and staff, gathers financial support and looks to raise the school’s profile.
Prior to joining GWU, Kennedy worked for global consulting firm Accenture, focusing on retail development. He also established the Economic Club of Minnesota, which he said keeps him engaged in his home state. Kennedy also founded the Frontiers of Freedom lecture series at his alma mater, St. John’s University.
After leaving Congress, Kennedy served as a presidential appointee to the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy from 2007 to 2010. He continues to advocate for an expansion of global trade, an issue personal to him.
“A French economist, Frederic Bastiat, said if goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will,” said Kennedy, adding that he’d prefer that “my son in the Navy visit your country on vacation rather than on the clock.”
Kennedy is proud of his family and eager to talk about them, even springing out of his seat to grab a family photo album from the shelf behind his desk.
Pointing to a picture of his wife, Debbie, and their four grown children, Kennedy said, “If your wife is having an exciting career post-children, if all four of your children are gainfully employed and doing interesting things ... how could life be any better?”
Kennedy and his wife, who is pursuing her master’s degree in costume design at GWU, have been married for 34 years. The couple enjoys spending time at their home in Minnesota, as well as in their apartment in Foggy Bottom.
While Kennedy relishes life in the country in his home state, he also likes to explore the array of restaurants within walking distance of his D.C. apartment.
“I’ve been in over 40 countries ... [and] I judge every country by how good Italian restaurants you have,” Kennedy joked.
Pulling out his list of restaurants on his phone, Kennedy said Rialto, Ancora and Notti Bianche are some of his favorite spots for an Italian meal in D.C.
Kennedy is clearly enjoying his role in academia and said it is “highly unlikely” he will run for office again.
However, he hopes that the political atmosphere does not discourage others from running for Congress.
“I don’t want, in this day of divisiveness and gridlock, people to back away from being involved in public life,” said Kennedy, adding that serving in Congress is “more work and more rewarding than you could imagine.”
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