By Kaye Thornbrugh // Coeru d’Alene Press (CDA)
After Bonnie LePard was elected president of her seventh-grade class, the vice president, a boy named Bruce Reed, tried to have her impeached so he could take her place.
“The little worm,” she said with a laugh. “It didn’t work.”
Instead, it was the beginning of what would become a lifelong partnership and two careers spent working to find solutions to serve the common good.
The two began dating while they attended Coeur d’Alene High School. He graduated as valedictorian; she was salutatorian. At age 23, they married.
LePard studied law, clerked for two federal judges and served in the U.S. Department of Justice as a trial attorney in the Environmental Crimes Section.
“I believed so much in what I did as an environmental crimes prosecutor,” she said, adding that she drew inspiration from her late father-in-law, Scott Reed. “It makes a difference.”
Bruce Reed went on to work in the administrations of presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and was chief of staff for Vice President Joe Biden. He was recently named the deputy chief of staff for the administration of President Biden.
Last week, LePard was named deputy director for the National Institute of Civil Discourse, a nonpartisan organization that promotes healthy and civil political debate for the benefit of all Americans.
LePard said the organization’s purpose speaks to her, especially in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
“We’ve got to get people to engage in differences in a civil way,” she said. “I think the best way to do that is with bipartisan solutions.”
With a new administration and the Senate split between Democrats and Republicans, LePard said this is an important time in history.
“I think we’ll see some changes and breakthroughs, things that are long overdue,” she said.
LePard will also lead the NICD’s CommonSense American program, which aims to identify issues with the greatest promise of attracting bipartisan support. Members review policy briefs on each issue, then share their thoughts with their members of Congress.
Of the 25,000 members nationwide, about half identify themselves as Independents, while Republicans and Democrats make up about a quarter of the membership each.
With the support of CommonSense American members, Congress passed legislation in December 2020 to end surprise medical billing. President Donald Trump signed it into law as part of the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021.
Civil conversations paved the way, LePard said.
“When members of Congress are contacted by thoughtful individuals who are well-versed in the issues and know the facts, it makes a difference,” LePard said.
She pointed to other examples of bipartisan issues, including infrastructure and internet access. The so-called digital divide isn’t just a challenge for red states or blue states. It affects Americans both urban and rural.
“We’ve seen with this pandemic that if you don’t have decent internet, it’s hard to hold a job,” LePard said. “It’s hard to go to school. It’s a fairness issue.”
LePard previously worked to protect the Tregaron Estate, a 20-acre historic landscape in Washington, D.C., from being developed into a subdivision.
The land is now open to the public, much like Tubbs Hill, which LePard’s father-in-law helped save.
“That’s all inspired by what Scott Reed did,” she said. “He cared so much about the environment.”
NICD Executive Director Keith Allred praised LePard for her ability to advance the organization’s nationally recognized efforts to engage the country’s political differences more constructively.
“Bonnie’s distinguished career in finding solutions wise enough to attract broad support set her apart in the highly competitive national search we conducted,” Allred said. “We are confident that Bonnie’s leadership will significantly increase our impact at this critical moment of division.”
Though her work has taken her across the country, LePard said she keeps North Idaho close to her heart.
“We love Coeur d’Alene,” she said. “We go back as often as possible.”
Though it may not be possible for some time, LePard said she looks forward to flying home to Coeur d’Alene to see her mom.
In the meantime, there’s work to be done. “We like to move the dial a bit,” she said.