Two things about Rye Barcott: He knows that solving even the most complex problems requires practical approaches, and he isn’t easily daunted.
While an undergrad at the University of North Carolina, he co-founded Carolina for Kibera, an NGO in an impoverished Kenyan settlement that aimed to ease the ethnic and religious unrest that has plagued that country, boosting gender cooperation, and improving health care.
As a Marine, he spent time in Iraq, Bosnia, and the Horn of Africa.
After his tours he earned two master’s degrees at Harvard, and then used his newly acquired skills to helped start Double Time Capital, an investment firm focused on sustainable energy projects at a time when falling fossil fuel prices made the need feel less urgent.
Now he thinks he has a commonsense strategy to help bridge the deep political divide in Congress: Elect more military veterans.
“Veterans as a group, over the last 50 years, have voted across party lines in more ways, statistically, than nonveterans,” Barcott said. “Veteran representation is also at a near-historic low in Congress.”
So Barcott, along with Navy veteran David Gergen, Public Service Professor of Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, formed With Honor in 2017, a cross-partisan movement to get more veterans in office. Gergen, no stranger to bipartisanship, held high-ranking posts in the administrations of both Democrats and Republicans.
Rye Barcott: There's a line in the Marine Corps, "When the country calls you run toward the sound of chaos."
And our country is in a really challenging place. WithHonor.org is an organization that I co-founded with veterans, and we're taking on maybe the toughest problem the United States faces, which is our record high polarization. And that's most egregious in Congress and unfortunately our polarizations are at record highs but our veteran representation is actually at near record lows.
Veterans have served something that's larger than themselves and they have, many of them have, the ability to put the country first, and that's what's so sorely missing right now in our politics.
We are supporting a new generation that are cross partisan, who served overseas after September 11th, and sign our pledge which says that they were going to serve with civility integrity and courage including the courage to work across the aisle and get things done.
Rye Barcott co-founder and CEO of WithHonor.org. I graduated from Harvard with an MPA and an MBA where I was a social enterprise fellow at the Center for Public Leadership.
With Honor Action offers training on how to run for office, raise funds, and network. Veterans, Barcott said, already come equipped with the values required for working across the aisle, qualities that apparently struck a chord with many Americans: With Honor Fund helped nine Republican and 10 Democrat veterans win elections in 2018.
“What we found was that there’s an incredible hunger for something different, for pragmatic solutions, for folks who can put country before party.”
Getting in office is only the first step, though.
“Now they are doing what they said they would do,” Barcott said. “There’s very little that’s passing in Congress right now, but one of the members — Elaine Luria, a Navy veteran in Virginia — introduced the Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act, which reduces the tax burden on families who have lost loved ones in military service.
“That just passed the House,’’ Barcott said with pride.
Though the measure has wide support in Congress and is expected to eventually be approved, it is currently stalled in political wrangling between the two chambers.
Barcott is excited about the prospects for the next election cycle.
“Our goals for the 2020 cycle are to support those 19 members, and make sure they get re-elected, while also growing the numbers,” he said. “We’ve got more than 60 veteran candidates we’re working with, helping them learn the nuts and bolts of running for office.”