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Wednesday, January 28, 2015  |   Madison, WI: 32.0° F  
CITIZEN DAVE: Thoughts and ideas about city building from Madison's former mayor
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Citizen Dave: Ron & Katie and Scott & Carol

Here's some news. Politics doesn't have to be divisive.

Last night, I was invited to a meeting of Reach Out Wisconsin, a loosely formed group of Wisconsinites of various political stripes who want to prove that you can disagree without being disagreeable.

The group was formed a couple of years ago when liberal Madisonians Katie Songer and Ron Dolen decided to reach out to another couple with opposing political viewpoints. They found Scott and Carol Grabins, a Republican couple with an equal desire to understand the other side.

After a year or so of getting to know each other, they started to find some of their political differences narrowing, but more importantly, they came to like each other as friends. They decided if this could work for them, maybe it could help heal the state, so they started to invite others to their discussions.

Last night's meeting was focused on recall elections and I was a speaker along with former Dane County Supervisor Eileen Bruskewitz. Before we got started, Eileen leaned over to me and, surveying the crowd, said with a laugh, "Ya know, you really can't tell them apart, can you?"

And you know, you couldn't. We had a fun, civil discussion about Wisconsin's recall system. The crowd asked good questions, but there were no snide "gotchas." And I couldn't always even tell based on the question what the ideology was of the questioner.

After our formal discussion, the crowd of about sixty broke into informal conversations, some over a good Wisconsin beer or two. I chatted with Todd, a tea party guy. I'll be honest. I had never actually talked to a tea partier before. He did not seem crazy. I liked him.

Look, I hope I'm not being nave here. If we were a country that worked out all our differences in committee we'd be Canada. Contrasting viewpoints make our politics more interesting and dynamic. That's not the problem.

The real problem is that by not taking the opportunity to get to know those who hold different views it's easy to demonize them. And once the other side becomes the devil, compromise becomes treason.

It seems to me that Reach Out Wisconsin is getting at the root of the problem. Let's start with some basics. We all love our kids, our country, and our communities. We can agree on that. Now, what else can we come together about?

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