In a book about the famed Nebraska Senator George Norris, he recounts his childhood in Ohio, where through wide cracks in his bedroom ceiling he could see the stars at night. On some winter nights he would wake up under a white blanket of snow. This motivated him to advance his thinking on large-scale innovation to improve the human condition. He immersed himself in agriculture policy and public power pursuits, emerging as the driving force behind the Tennessee Valley Authority. At home in Nebraska, Norris is perhaps most noted for his efforts to lead a state constitutional amendment that gave Nebraska the nation’s only unicameral legislature.

A lesser-known story about George Norris came during his time in the U.S. House of Representatives. If you have traveled to Washington, you might have visited the Cannon House Office Building named after Joe Cannon, a former Speaker of the House.

On Saint Patrick’s Day in 1910, George Norris launched an effort to challenge Joe Cannon. At the time of the revolt, many Members of Congress were frustrated by the Speaker’s authoritarian rule. According to his detractors, he stifled creativity, managed forcefully, and centralized power.  George Norris seized the moment to bring about reform in the House.

While the current vacancy in the Speaker of the House is not comparable to what happened 100 years ago, the idea of reassessing congressional power structures is underway. When the Speaker announced his resignation, one day after Pope Francis gave his historic address to Congress, the decision surprised nearly everyone. Perennial controversies and clashing personalities have roiled the House of Representatives for some time, but no one predicted this particular moment for seismic leadership realignment.

As a matter of procedure, the election of the Speaker of the House is now scheduled for next week. The opportunity before us is to not only elect a new Speaker, but to reset the congressional process. An arthritic and unresponsive legislative system cannot achieve strategic guidance for our country. The solution is a decentralized leadership model where Congress preserves a hierarchy that can sustain order and good governance, while also liberating each representative to apply their unique backgrounds and experiences in imaginative problem solving.

This will not overcome all difficulties. The recurring debates over the right healthcare reform, proper budgeting, and social issues will necessarily continue. For example, President Obama just vetoed a defense authorization bill that had strong bipartisan support.

The duty to govern well should be the guiding principle of each Member of Congress, and the political process should empower that principle. Congressional fights can become petty and merely tactical when we need hard, serious debates about America’s deepest needs.

Change can be painful. It implies leaving something behind and venturing into that which is unknown. But sometimes change leads to an honest reassessment of what is wrong.

My impression of George Norris is that he devoted himself tirelessly to public service. I think he would appreciate this moment in the House. It is a chance to rethink, reclaim, and regain the fundamental purpose of the legislative process.