Former Sen. Nelson Urges Civility in Politics

In these days when people are unsure which news sources are reliable, former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida had an immediate answer: “Turn off the cable.”

Nelson, a Democrat, was honored Thursday evening for his 42 years of government service in an event at Southeastern University  titled “An Evening with a Statesman.“

He was praised by several speakers for his civility, an uncommon skill, during his three terms in the Senate.

In an interview format, Nelson was asked about his years in public service by moderators Dennis Ross, former Republican congressman and director of the university’s American Center for Political Leadership (which invited Nelson), and by former Democratic state Sen. Rick Dantzler.

From left: Dantzler, Nelson, Ross

Ross said the event was part of the center’s mission to promote understanding and civility in government and to pass it on to students and the public.

Dantzler asked what impact social media has had on the current split among Americans.

“If you are doing this,” Nelson said, imitating typing on a computer, “then you aren’t getting news. If you go to someone’s home and they have the news on (the television),  you can pretty well tell what their politics are. Attending town hall meetings are the best.”

Not listening to the other side is a major contributor to the current controversies, he suggested.

 On advice to young adults thinking of a political career, “You have to ask yourself: ‘Am I in this for profit or do I want to serve?’ If you want to be served or do you want to serve. If your answer is latter, then you are perfect for public service.

 One of the most difficult problems with running for office is the money, he said.

“Believe me it isn’t fun scratching with your little tin cup. If you want to run a simple ad in every television station for just one week in the state, that’s $3 million. It has gotten to be that you have to have money or raise money. Of course there is a billionaire running (in the Democratic primary) and he is at 2 or 4 percent. 

Nelson, 77, grew up near what became the Kennedy Space Center, a portion of which had been his grandfather’s homesteaded farm. He later participated as a crew member aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, which launched from there.

First elected to office in 1972, he served as a state representative, congressman, Florida treasurer and insurance commissioner and for 18 years representing the state as U.S. senator.

 He narrowly lost a bid for a fourth term last November to Republican Rick Scott.

 Nelson has not slowed down since leaving the Senate earlier this year. He is on the NASA Advisory Council and on the advisory board to two space companies.

 During a reception before the event, he shook everyone’s hand and began looking around to see if he had missed anyone. 

“For 44 years I have been at full throttle And it has been hard to pull back on the throttle.”

He is currently working on his memoirs and encouraging audiences through local gatherings to return to a civility once known among people of different views.

 “With things as polarized as they are, I don’t know the answer. I know that if ever it is going to change there has to be respect. There is a (Democratic) congressman lying in state in the Capitol, and the ranking Republican on his committee from the other party spoke of his respect for him,“ Nelson concluded to a standing ovation.

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