Common ground group

From left, Leader letter writers Vance Garber and Linda Lyons, Leader Teen Advisory Board members Joseph Andrews and Trinity Hileman, and Leader letter writers Brian King and Dale Scott.

Editor’s note: The Leader invited four frequent letter writers of different political persuasions and two members of our Teen Advisory Board to a dinner meeting on Nov. 13. All were asked to search for Common Ground on divisive national political issues. Read the participants’ reports on how the evening went in today’s Editorial section, and expect more Common Ground sessions ahead. The first step toward understanding is a willingness to try. Thanks to this first courageous crew, who didn’t hesitate to serve as guinea pigs in a new venture. Well done, all.

In a world where political impatience and discord continue to grow, a search for Common Ground is a welcome change.

The Leader panel invited people from different walks of life and different perspectives to discuss their viewpoints about current events with openness and respect toward one another.

The meet-up turned out to be a safe place to disagree.

It provided an opportunity to unite around the values of respect and civility, even when we could not unite on the issues at hand.

The Nov. 13 Common Ground session was unlike any other current events discussion I have ever participated in.

Along with dinner, today’s hot-button issues were on the table: the economy/trade, the environment, health care, immigration and impeachment.

While these current events sparked very passionate discussion, the conversation remained grounded in respect. Everyone had equal talking time and was able to fully express his or her concerns in the flow of conversation.

The gathering left me with several impressions.

■ Searching for Common Ground offers a great foundation for civil discourse.

■ If you get invited to a session like this, show up with facts that go beyond the common talking points of the nightly news.

Accurate information is one of the best tools in searching for Common Ground because it helps us learn from one another.

In addition to bringing facts, don’t forget to be open-minded. The goal isn’t to change or control each other but to hear out one another.

■ Lastly, looking for Common Ground is so necessary in today’s polarizing world. It has the power to be a guidepost in restoring healthy discussions.

At core, all Americans need to recognize the privileges and responsibilities we share.

Our country offers an opportunity for free speech unlike any other country in the world, and it is something we should all protect and cultivate.

-Joseph Andrews, Crystal City, Teen Advisory Board

Concern about national deficit was Common Ground

I was honored to be invited by the Leader to participate in the Common Ground discussion group.

Four frequent letter writers (two right-leaning and two left-leaning) and two members of the Leader’s Teen Advisory Board made up the panel. Gordon and Peggy Bess were the moderators.

Burgers and beer provided a great first step in establishing Common Ground. Sharing a meal at a local restaurant created a congenial atmosphere.

Five topics were presented for discussion: The U.S. economy/trade; the environment; health care; immigration; and impeachment.

Each person around the table got to voice his or her views and opinions on each subject, with a bit of back-and-forth discussion following.

We were trying to derive what, if any, Common Ground could be found.

I was assigned to report about the discussion regarding economy/trade. As could be expected, there were widely differing opinions.

However, we did ultimately agree on several things.

■ The economy is humming along and when this happens, a sitting president, in this case, Trump, is given the credit.

■ There are winners and losers in this trade war.

■ The skyrocketing federal deficit is very worrisome. A Teen Advisory Board member said the deficit is a problem since his generation is going to face the consequences.

All in all, it was an interesting meeting, although I don’t believe any hearts or minds were changed.

-Linda Lyons, De Soto

Some agreement on immigration

People on both sides of the Common Ground panel, left and right, agreed legal immigration is a good thing, as long as the newcomers are vetted, tracked upon entry, and willing to abide by the laws of the USA.

However, when the discussion shifted to foreign nationals who sneak into our country, the participants in our roundtable saw things differently.

I explain this complex issue with an analogy of an American family living in a house. With legal immigration, a visitor knocks on the front door and asks to be let in. The owner can say yes or no. With illegal immigration, people sneak into the basement of the house, then demand the family living upstairs feed and clothe them.

Suddenly, the American family is on the hook for food, health care, schooling and college for multiple people hiding in the basement. The hiders then bring in their parents, brothers and sisters – all of whom become members of the homeowner’s family, due to America’s broken immigration laws.

Put in that context, it shocked me to learn there was support from the left for those sneaking into the basement. In fact, one opinion suggested the U.S. border means nothing, and every person in the world should have the option of walking into our house and settling down.

Left and right found pieces of Common Ground in a desire to increase the number of immigration judges, better track illegals inside the country to get them out of the shadows, and a general desire to have illegals better integrate into the American system of laws and governance.

We all agreed there are already so many lawbreakers inside our borders, it’s impossible to ever remove them. A recent Yale study suggests there are anywhere from 16 million to 29 million illegals living in America.

This tells me the leftists have already won the war. Illegals have flaunted our borders for so long, and leftist progressives have facilitated this influx with such vigor, our system is hopelessly broken.

It was nice to hear the opinions of other letter writers to the Leader, and everyone was civil and pleasant, but what middle ground is there when one side wants to let the whole world in, and the other says we’ve already taken in enough foreign nationals?

For my part, I believe we need a robust defensive barrier at our southern border which funnels migrants to our border crossing sites.

If you’re coming here for a legitimate reason, you won’t fear coming in the lighted front door, leaving your name on the register and following our laws. We might allow you in, or we might not. It’s our choice.

If you prefer to climb our barrier, swim the Rio Grande, or sneak in some other way, you obviously aren’t going to follow our laws. I’d prefer you weren’t here at all.

It isn’t a total shutdown of all immigration behind a minefield and crocodile pit, nor is it an open-armed, come-one come-all shotgun blast of alien invaders.

This, to me, seems like a reasonable, middle-of-the-road solution we, as Americans, should all find as Common Ground.

-Brian King, Imperial

Health care problem needs solutions

Thanks to the Leader for coming up with this idea. We can’t solve all of the world’s problems, but we need to start somewhere. Plus, I got a pretty good pulled pork sandwich out of it.

I also thank all of the participants in the Nov. 13 Common Ground panel. Although the opinions on some topics were polar opposites, everyone was civil and willing to listen to others with differing opinions.

My assigned topic was health care, and there was agreement that something has to be done.

There is no reason why the richest country in the world cannot provide health care to all of its citizens.

Currently, people who do have health care insurance are paying for those who don’t.Whether everyone realizes it or not, hospital costs for the uninsured are built into the cost that everyone else pays.

We found some Common Ground:

■ A majority of panelists did not like the “Medicare for all” plans being proposed by Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

■ Most at the dinner believe it will probably have to be a government-sponsored program if we are going to deal with the problems in our current health care system.

■ No one was happy with the way things are now and agreed there needs to be a better way to deal with health care.

■ Everyone agreed that health care and prescription drug costs are too high. One example given: Diabetics should not have to ration their insulin.

■ If we go with health care for all, we will have to figure out the cost and how to pay for it.

We heard a real-life example from a member of the panel about a family that does not have health insurance and is now faced with exorbitant costs after something serious happened.

We talked about how countries like Canada are able to drastically reduce the cost of prescription drugs. If other countries can do it, the United States should be able to achieve that goal also.

Countries that currently have health care for all have a better system than ours, overall.

But, as in all things, those other countries still have problems, primarily with the wait for elective procedures and how those are defined.

-Dale Scott, Hillsboro

‘Agree’able on environment

At 16, I was the youngest person attending the Common Ground forum, and it was interesting to hear the opposing views from those seated around the dinner table.

I was assigned to report about the discussion on the environment. I and the other member of the Teen Advisory Board started off the topic by stating what we personally thought, then we went around the table, giving everyone the chance to express their beliefs and concerns.

There actually was quite a bit of Common Ground on this topic, making this probably the one that found the most agreement.

One thing everyone could agree on was the legacy we want to leave for future children and grandchildren: We do not want to leave this world polluted for the generations to come.

Those who attended acknowledged that climate change is an issue to contend with, although there was disagreement on its causes, its severity and what could or should be done about it.

There also seemed to be some agreement that everyone needs to work together – not just one person, one family, one country. The environmental crisis is seen as a global issue that needs global action.

It is incredible how we were all able to find some sort of Common Ground on most of the topics, despite having extremely different mindsets.

Being able to talk over dinner and hear each other out was truly a great experience. I am so happy I got to participate in the trial round of this effort and would love to do it again.

-Trinity Hileman, Teen Advisory Board

No consensus on impeachment

I enjoyed a mind-stimulating evening on Nov. 13, debating some major topics facing our nation. My topic was impeachment, with an underlying theme of trying to reach respect for others’ opinions and searching for Common Ground.

Impeachment of a president is the most serious calamity our nation can face. Therefore, it should only be used in the most extreme situation.

President Donald Trump’s potential impeachment was the last discussion point of the evening, and was the most contentious topic.

After our dinner discussion and after watching the impeachment hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives, I don’t see a Kumbaya moment. We will not have a group hug between Republicans and Democrats on this subject.

Democrats have spent the last three years with a case of impeachment fever. They are unified in this crusade. The lines in the sand have been drawn. Common ground on impeachment is unachievable.

The public impeachment hearings have been embarrassing and painful to watch. They center on a phone call from Trump to the president of Ukraine, and, to my mind, the hearings have been about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Since Trump’s presidential upset in 2016, the Democrats have been obsessed with his removal from elected office. They have introduced accusations of collusion, obstruction, tax evasion, morality and quid pro quo (replaced by the Democrats with the term “bribery.”)

The hearings, chaired by Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, look to me like an assault on our system of law.

Under questioning, the first two witnesses (Ambassador William B. Taylor and State Department official George P. Kent) both testified they never had any contact with Trump, but had been told that a conversation between Trump and the Ukraine president was inappropriate.

As for the third witness, fired ex-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch – ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president. Her feelings were hurt over the manner of her removal; Schiff exploited this.

I wish these three witnesses would stand in front of Judge Judy. She would throw them and the entire circus out of her court. This, however, is not about evidence but about Washington power politics, where the end justifies the means.

How did we get to this point? It started when a whistleblower went to a CIA lawyer, then to a Democratic U.S. House aide, and then to an inspector general, raising concerns about the phone call, alleging that military aid would be held up if Ukraine did not dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who was paid more than $50,000 a month to sit on a corrupt Ukrainian gas company board.

Note that Hunter Biden does not speak the language or have any previous experience or knowledge of this industry. Note, also, that Trump has sent more military aid to Ukraine than Obama did. Go figure.

The hearings have produced nothing of substance. A president can only be impeached for treason, bribery, high crimes or misdemeanors.

Does a phone conversation between two sitting presidents meet the threshold to throw our country into a constitutional crisis?

Both presidents are on record stating there was no quid pro quo, and the released transcript proves that point with firsthand evidence.

The Democrats, on the other hand, have only second- and third-hand hearsay evidence to support their accusations.

Does this rise to the level of impeaching an elected president?

-Vance Garber, Festus