Sunday, March 9, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Congress To Get Civility Lessons At 3-Day Retreat


HERSHEY, Pa. - Rep. David Skaggs hopes a weekend of lawmakers talking in Pennsylvania's countryside will prove to be an important first step toward restoring manners and mutual respect among members of Congress.

Civility is "not an end in itself but is a necessary prerequisite to getting our work done," the Colorado Democrat said. "If we can't talk to each other decently, we can't compromise."

Roughly half the members of the House were scheduled to board a train today and flee the partisan pressure cooker of Washington for the three-day program in Hershey.

The privately financed retreat comes amid lingering animosity over the reprimand of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and a scandal in the capital involving 1996 campaign fund raising.

"Too many members don't know members from the other side," said Skaggs, an organizer of the retreat.

He said lawmakers should identify "problems in our congressional community that have made debate and behavior go south recently."

Hershey, as Derry Township is unofficially but better known, is the home of giant Hershey Foods.

The gathering's $700,000 price tag is being covered by the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts. The Aspen Institute, a nonprofit educational organization, is in charge of the program.

Among House leaders who will attend, Skaggs said, are Gingrich of Georgia and Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., Democratic Whip David Bonior, D-Mich., and Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif.

Skaggs said the efforts will begin on the train ride. Historian David McCullough will speak to give a backdrop. Over history, political passions in Congress have prompted fist fights and even an occasional gun duel.

No guns have been brandished recently, but a lawmaker grabbed another by the necktie last year, and, in another incident, a pair jostled each other on the floor.

"There really is a difference between heated debate on issues and this elusive notion of civility. We are not talking about not having disagreements and party debate," Skaggs said. "What we are talking about is being able to do all of that, not question the honor and motives of people on the other side."

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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