I want to thank my friend Chuck Malloy for writing about Sen. Jim Risch’s remarks at Boise City Club on Aug. 8.
But I think Chuck missed the point about the City Club’s focus on civil discourse — and our decision to invite Risch to discuss civility in politics.
Chuck writes that civility is “unattainable” in our society. The City Club respectfully disagrees. Speaking for myself, I just cannot subscribe to a view that our current coarse political discourse will pass for the new normal.
Civility won’t be restored easily, but it is attainable. And the City Club is committed to do its part. Since November, the City Club has marked its 20th anniversary with the Civility Project, a year of events and workshops focused on the importance of civility in public life.
Our board of directors and program committee have spent the past year wrestling with what civility means, and what a year of civility-related events should look like. We came to believe that civility does not mean unanimity. Or the absence of conflict. Or coalescing around convenient compromise.
Civility comes down to a safe climate, one that allows people to discuss tough issues and confront their differences in core beliefs. This requires a willingness to listen to all points of view.
Which brings me to our decision to host Risch.
A number of people have said the City Club should never have invited Risch to discuss civility in politics.
Here again, we respectfully disagree.
Our forums committee believed, and believes, that it was important to hear Risch’s perspective — because he works in the midst of the public policy arena, on Idahoans’ behalf. Risch has spent 45 years in the public arena. Risch has a reputation for being uncompromising, although he has crafted compromise. He has won and lost elections, based in no small part on his public image and his persona.
The City Club has sought as many points of view as possible on the topic of civility, because we believe it is so important to the public process. We don’t expect any of our speakers to speak on City Club’s behalf — and we don’t expect any of our speakers to provide a lecture on how to behave.
Our forums have explored the importance of civil discourse in many settings: the political arena, our schools, our courts, our churches and our social media feeds. We wanted to start a community conversation. With the Risch forum, we certainly accomplished that.
We did not grant Risch the first word on civility, nor the last. We have held six events on this topic so far this year. We have more events in the works, including an October panel discussion on the presidential race. If you would like to check out the Civility Project in full, you can listen to past forums at boisecivilityproject.org.
I can see that Chuck didn’t walk away from last week’s forum a Civility Project convert. As he wrote, “Maybe it would be nice where people can talk out their differences, but in due respect to the Boise City Club, it isn’t going to happen in a free society – or in the near future.”
We at the City Club hold a different opinion. And we have spent this year walking our talk — not just through our civility forums, but by working with the National Institute for Civil Discourse to sponsor workshops attended by nearly every Idaho legislator, and a recent “Civility Summit,” attended by nearly 50 elected officials, civic leaders and journalists.
We firmly believe that change is possible, and critically needed.
And we believe this change begins with conversation — a belief ingrained in our motto, “Things happen when people start talking.”
We hope this conversation continues.
Kevin Richert is a reporter with Idaho Education News, and a City Club of Boise board member.