Saint Mary’s: Political clubs aim to bridge partisan divide
By Lou Fancher
It was right-side/left-side seating arrangements at an event on the Saint Mary’s College campus that sparked “Across the Aisle.” The bipartisan discussion sponsored by two student political clubs Nov. 15, featured Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, and state Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, in a conversation followed by Q&A.
Saint Mary’s College Republicans Club President Kavya Maddali said seating that had Young Democrat club members on the left and Republican students on the right had caused concern. “(Young Democrat President) Matthew Fitzgerald and I talked to each other and agreed, we needed to hold a bipartisan event like this conversation with Glazer and Baker.”
Glazer and Baker have held in the last two years a series of joint Bay Area town halls. They tout their 89 percent agreement on votes cast, 23 co-authored bills, and overall attitude that by engaging in civil discourse, they are able to respectfully “cross the line” on matters about which they disagree without sacrificing principles.
Politics, Fitzgerald told the audience, can be intense. “There are people saying, ‘You’re destroying America,’ on both sides. Politics should bring people together, not divide us.”
Glazer said the fundamental rules applied to leadership roles in politics create corrosive polarization.
“You have to be the strongest advocate for a cause, the most righteous true believer. It means compromise will not move you up in leadership,” he said.
Adding fuel: “If you look at politics, you see candidates want to run against someone who is diametrically opposed to them.”
The separation — the widening aisle — has divided the country, and Congress in particular.
Baker congratulated the students for tackling the problem prior to the 2018 election and early in their lives. Team competition pervades everything in Sacramento she said, including size of staff, office location, where she sits in the Legislature — even her confidence about accomplishing goals.
The first thing she learned as an assemblywoman is that every challenge facing the state is best solved when parties work together. The second lesson is that collaboration is hard.
“If you go against the party line, you’re threatened on social media, threatened you’ll lose your staff,” and more, she said.
Questions from students addressed ways in which they might build their parties and operate amicably in a hyper-polarized political climate. They asked Baker and Glazer to express thoughts or explain their party’s positions on topics including gun control, sanctuary campuses and other hot-button issues.
Using respectful tones, not interrupting, striving to find agreement in a topic instead of dissonance and separation, the two legislators emphasized not accepting anything at face value, practicing deep thought, relying on original sources to discover truth on a subject of discussion and reaching across the aisle to find uncommon allies.
“Understand the colleague has given an issue thoughtful consideration,” Baker said. “Don’t start with, ‘Oh, they’re terribly wrong.’”
Glazer dismissed “sanctuary” as a framing device that interferes with the country’s efforts to define and deal with immigration.
“California’s richness comes everyday from people all around the world. Our economy is dependent on immigrants. They are wonderfully and beautifully tied to our state.”
At the same time, he said local law enforcement charged with keeping residents and communities safe should not be involved. While supporting immigrants “as if they are my own children,” he said about people violating the country’s laws, “Throw the book at them.”
A vote Baker cast against a bill to seize legally-held, high-capacity magazines in firearms without compensation she said was because the bill violated citizens’ Fifth Amendment rights. Glazer, who also opposed the bill, said it had amounted to gun confiscation, not constructive control or reform.
Following the 2016 election cycle, Fitzgerald said in an interview that contentious conversations happened in classrooms, dining halls, social gatherings and other locations. For that reason, the bipartisan event was greeted by his peers with surprise and relief.
“Even in an academic setting, it can be intense to talk politics.”
Maddali said that while Republicans and Democrats must soften enough to talk, they don’t have to give up their values.
“That’s not pushing aside principles, it just incorporates respect. We feared students had stopped seeing humanity in people of the other party. That’s a horrible environment to be in. We wanted to take one step across the aisle to change that.”