by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In December, right before the government shutdown began, a surprisingly broad bipartisan coalition united behind long-discussed legislation on criminal-justice reform. The First Step Act won more than 350 votes in the House of Representatives and 87 votes in the Senate, and it was the rare time that the ACLU, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the NAACP, and Kim Kardashian all applauded legislation signed by President Trump — while scholars at the Heritage Foundation hailed it as “a conservative victory.”
One year ago, attendees at the Koch Seminar Network’s winter meeting talked up the criminal-justice reform and prison anti-recidivism programs relentlessly, when they were considered second-tier issues by most of Washington. At this year’s winter meeting, the network of activist groups and nonprofits headed by Charles Koch have pointed to the push for criminal-justice reform as evidence that their playbook can work in an era of intensely divided government.
Addressing attendees Saturday night, the 83-year-old Charles Koch called on the network’s members to “unite with people across the whole spectrum of viewpoints, of different ideas, including those who have been adversaries.” He paused for a surprisingly long moment. “This attitude of holding against others who have different beliefs is tearing our country apart. What we’re planning to do, and what we’re doing, is bringing people together.”
“Uniting broad coalitions is much more effective than partisan politics,” said Brian Hooks, chairman of the Koch Seminar Network. In the coming year, the network will “really focus on uniting broad-based policy coalitions,” Hooks said. “The next step forward is to go with what’s working” as demonstrated in the passage of the First Step Act.