WASHINGTON -- Tenacity. Grit. Partisanship.
Those are some of the words that first come to mind when Washingtonians think of U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Lindsey Graham.
But for Allegheny College president James H. Mullen, images of the feisty Senate partisans evoke thoughts of civility even as they spar over controversial issues such as gun control.
That's why he and a group of college trustees and advisers selected the pair for the college's second annual Prize for Civility in Public Life.
"They strive for civility in the heart of the political arena," Mr. Mullen said. "We felt it important this year to shine a light upon civility where it is most difficult to find -- and where it is needed most: at the epicenter of American political conflict."
Mr. Graham, R-S.C., is a former Air Force colonel and a member of the Air Force Reserve. He was elected to the Senate in 2002 after four terms in the U.S. House.
Ms. Feinstein, D-Calif., is in her 21st year in the Senate. She is a former mayor of San Francisco and served on the city's board of supervisors when a political rival assassinated then-Mayor George Moscone and board member Harvey Milk, California's first openly gay elected official.
She has been a gun control advocate since that shooting in 1978. She wrote the 1994 federal assault weapons ban, which expired almost a decade ago. She recently reintroduced a more stringent version of the bill, drawing the ire of gun-rights advocates, including Mr. Graham, who has an A-rating from the National Rifle Association.
The two often disagree on the Senate floor and over public airwaves, including during a recent polite exchange on "Fox News Sunday" when Ms. Feinstein advocated for a prohibition of the kind of rifles used in the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Mr. Graham, meanwhile, said he owns the kind of rifle used in that shooting, and said school violence is better addressed by putting armed guards in schools.
Allegheny College, located in Meadville, Crawford County, chose Ms. Feinstein and Mr. Graham not for their political positions but for the ways they argue their points. While they are at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, both provide a strong example for how to engage civilly in public life, Mr. Mullen said.
"They fight the hard fights, take on the big issues and strive mightily to win. But they do not seek to win at all costs," Mr. Mullen said.
As steadfast as they are in their arguments, they avoid personal attacks and maintain deep respect for the political process, he said.
"If all of the central figures in U.S. politics were to emulate the best instincts of Dianne Feinstein and Lindsey Graham, remarkable things would happen," Mr. Mullen said.
Neither senator could be reached for comment late Thursday.
The awards will be presented Tuesday at the National Press Club, where former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge will be among the speakers.
The Prize for Civility in Public Life was first awarded a year ago to journalists David Brooks and Mark Shields, co-hosts of PBS's "NewsHour."
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-703-996-9292. First Published February 22, 2013 5:00 AM