How to have true conversations with people we disagree with

Common Ground for Texans advocates positive solutions through civil engagement (stress intended).

In her TED talk, Megan Phelps-Roper describes how she grew up in —and escaped from—an environment of extreme polarization, and draws some sharp conclusions about how we can engage across ideological lines.

Through her experience she discovered four conversational norms that made real dialogue with people who disagreed with her possible:

  • Don’t assume bad intent or ill motives by “the other.”
  • Ask questions. Questions signal they are being heard.
  • Stay calm.  It takes practice and patience.  Escalation creates road blocks.
  • Make the argument.  We often assume the value of our position is or should be obvious or self evident.
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Civility and US political discourse

The Annette Strauss Institute For Civil Life at UT-Austin compiled research into a two-page graphic on Civility and US Political Discourse for the June 22 Texas Lyceum meeting, “Is Civility Lost? When Did Compromise Become a Dirty Word? Finding Common Ground in a Fractured Society.”

Common Ground for Texans is not surprised that the survey found that 8 in 10 Americans said the lack of civil discourse in our political system is a serious problem and that incivility is linked with:

• reduced trust
• less reasoned discussion
• polarization
• difficulty reaching bipartisan compromise
• gridlock

 

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CG4TX Meeting on Redistricting

Photo of panel members.

Harriett Harrow, Stefan Haag, and Frances McIntyre sharing their experience in Austin’s redistricting.

Beginning with the 2014 election, members of the Austin City Council are no longer elected citywide. In response to a 2012 amendment of the City Charter, the city was divided by an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission into ten geographic districts. The Mayor is elected citywide, and each of the other ten Council Members is elected by residents of one of the districts.

On Saturday April 1, 2017, Common Ground for Texans hosted a panel discussion among three folks who are intimately familiar with the replacement of Austin’s citywide elections by single-member districts:

  • Frances McIntyre (League of Women Voters — TX Redistricting Issues Chair)
  • Harriett Harrow (member of the Commission)
  • Stefan Haag (ACC retired professor of government and Commission member)

Each of the Commission members told of the great pains they took to ensure that the Commission would be free of political influence. At the end of the day, how did they know they had succeeded? No suits were filed against the process! Continue reading

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Thoughts on Increasing Voter Participation

Last week, I was honored to participate in a panel discussion sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Dallas, on ways of increasing voter participation. Also on the panel were Dr. Matthew Wilson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, and Toni Pippins-Poole, Elections Administrator, Dallas County.

My points were organized into three sections:

  1. The pros and cons of moving the date of elections to November.
  2. Increasing competition by creating the conditions for a multi-party system — using multi-member districts and proportional representation.
  3. Making the electoral college more fair by adopting the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

For anyone interested, the slides I used in my presentation may be viewed here: Ways to Increase Voter Participation.

I really enjoyed sharing my thoughts with the Dallas League and I think they found them worth listening to.

Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section.

 

Posted in Electoral reform, NPVIC, Redistricting | 1 Comment

Immigrants in America: Concerns, Resources, and Priorities

CG4TX Immigration Panel

On Saturday, February 4 Common Ground hosted a panel discussion on Immigrants in America: Concerns, Resources and Priorities. Our panelists were:

  • Megan Sheffield from Texas Here to Stay, who hold “Know Your Rights” clinics for  immigrants.
  • Sarah Woelk from Casa Marianella, a homeless shelter serving recently-arrived immigrants and asylum seekers.
  • Elaine Cohen from the Austin Sanctuary Network, a multi-faith coalition seeking justice and dignity for immigrants by providing sanctuary.  Elaine brought with her Hilda Ramirez who receives sanctuary at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin.  Hilda’s story was made public by the Washington Post.

Texas Here to Stay (THTS) is a coalition of immigrant legal services providers and advocacy groups dedicated to strengthening our diverse community by ensuring access to legal information and services for all immigrants. They host Know Your Rights free clinics given by immigrant attorneys with presentations and immigration consultations for any individual seeking immigration information and legal services.

Casa Marianella is a volunteer-driven emergency homeless shelter in east Austin, serving recently-arrived immigrants and asylum seekers from around the world.

Austin Sanctuary Network is a multi-faith coalition of congregations in and around Austin that have been invited to join the larger immigrant rights struggle. Together with those at risk of deportation and their families and allies, they seek justice and dignity by opening their doors to provide sanctuary as a tool to achieve those goals.

The panelists helped us understand the different ways folks can immigrate to the U.S., the relevant government agencies that are involved, and the terminology used by these agencies and by the media.

During the Q&A there were several questions regarding Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s position on ICE detainers.  What is an ICE detainer? Continue reading

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Our Op-ed on the National Popular Vote

Our drive to elect Presidents by popular vote continues with an op-ed written by Elaine Wiant (president, League of Women Voters of Texas) and myself. In it, we explain how the Electoral College makes most Americans’ votes less relevant in presidential elections, and how the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would let the popular vote decide without requiring a constitutional amendment.

The op-ed was published online by the Austin American-Statesman on March 14, and in print on Saturday, March 18. It has also been published by the Galveston County Daily News and the Odessa American. Find it here:

If you agree, please share with your friends and family!

 

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Action Alert: Two Texas House Bills on the Electoral College and Campaign Finance

We’ve been closely following two bills that have been referred to the Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility:

  • HB 496 (Rep. I. Minjarez) calls on Texas to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
  • HCR 34 (Rep. R. Anchia) calls on Congress to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

We’ve visited with all but one of the legislators who sit on this committee to advocate for these two bills. Now, we’d like your help to get a public hearing on both bills.

  • This week (March 14-17), take action to make every vote count equally by making the Electoral College irrelevant.
  • Next week (March 20-24), take action to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

We are not alone. Several states have NPVIC bills in their legislatures.

  • Green — states where the NPVIC is already signed into law
  • Orange — states will bills under consideration


If you are a constituent of one of the following legislators, please email or call them. If you have friends in any of these districts, ask them to email or call. Legislators listen to their constituents.

This week’s (March 14-17) message might be something like this — but in your own words:

Congratulations on your appointment to the Select Committee on State & Federal Power & Responsibility. Thank you for representing my district on the important matters that come before you. As one of your constituents, I would like to urge you to call for a public hearing on HB 496 calling on Texas to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Texas is not alone. Nineteen other states are considering legislation to join the NPVIC.

Next week’s (March 20-24) message might be something like this — in your own words:

Congratulations on your appointment to the Select Committee on State & Federal Power & Responsibility. Thank you for representing my district on the important matters that come before you. As one of your constituents, I would like to urge you to call for a public hearing on HCR 34 resolving that Congress should amend the US Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. (Note: this is NOT a call for an Article V Convention of the States.)

Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility:

Chairs:

Members:

Thank you for taking ACTION to improve our democracy!

 

 

Posted in Constitutional Amendment, Contacting Legislators, Electoral reform, Legislation | Leave a comment

Texas Redistricting Commission bill submitted

Craig Tounget

Craig Tounget

Common Ground for Texans hosted a community conversation on Sept 6, 2014 titled “Should Austin’s redistricting plan be duplicated in other Texas cities?”  Craig Tounget, the former Executive Director of the Austin Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, participated on our panel.  After the 2020 census, districts will be redrawn.  Who should be in charge, citizens or politicians?  Now, Mr. Tounget is moving forward with his state-wide initiative, Texas Citizens Redistricting Initiative, to make sure that voters choose their elected officials rather than politicians choosing their voters. 

Rep. Donna Howard, D–Austin

Rep. Donna Howard, D–Austin

Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) continues to submit legislation calling for a Texas (bipartisan) Redistricting Commission (HJR 32) consisting of seven members:

  1. one member appointed by the member of the Texas Senate with the most seniority
  2. one member appointed by the member of the Texas Senate with the most seniority who is of a different political party than the member described under (1)
  3. one member appointed by the member of the Texas House with the most seniority
  4. one member appointed by the member of the Texas House with the most seniority who is of a different political party than the member described under (3)
  5. one member appointed by an affirmative vote of note fewer than three of the commissioners selected under (1-4) above.
  6. two members appointed by the member appointed under (5), who must be retired federal judges appointed to the federal bench by presidents of different political parties.

Although this joint resolution (HJR 32) does not call for a citizens’ independent redistricting commission, it is one step closer to reaching that goal.

Wikipedia, the modern day encyclopedia, has a listing of the 13 states that use either bi-partisan or non-partisan redistricting commissions to exclusively draw electoral district lines.  Questions have been asked whether a redistricting commission process independent of the state legislature is constitutional.  In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission decided that in the affirmative.

Texas is conspicuously absent from this table.  Shouldn’t we help make this a reality?

Posted in Electoral reform, Legislation, Redistricting | 5 Comments

National Popular Vote Update — We Have a Bill Number!

We have some good news! Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) has submitted a bill for Texas to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

The bill number is HB 496.

Please email, call, or write to your state rep to ask him or her to support this important bill! If you are not sure who your representative is, click here and look for “Who Represents Me?” in the lower right column. And please, help us spread the word — pass this news on to your friends and family, and ask if they’ll demand change from their state rep.

We need a massive surge of support for this bill, so that we finally have a fair process for presidential elections. Every vote should count equally.

We’ve heard positive noises from the following reps. Two of them (marked with *) are poised to co-author the bill.

  • Rep. Richard Peña Raymond * (D-Laredo) — email or call 512-463-0558
  • Rep. Celia Israel * (D-Austin) — email or call 512-463-0821
  • Rep. Raphael Anchia (D-Dallas) — email or call 512-463-0746
  • Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) — email or call 512-463-0668
  • Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) — email or call 512-463-0631
  • Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) — email or call 512-463-0674

If one of these represents your district, thank them for their support of a fairer democracy where every vote is counted equally, and encourage them to become a co-author or co-sponsor of the bill.

We’ve also talked with the following legislators who haven’t committed YET. If they heard from you maybe they would co-sponsor the bill.

  • Rep. Cindy Burkett (R-Garland) — email or call 512-463-0464
  • Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) — email or call 512-463-0389
  • Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) — email or call 512-463-0331
  • Rep. Charlie Geren (R-River Oaks) — email or call 512-463-0610
  • Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) — email or call 512-463-0728
  • Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Kerrville) — email or call 512-463-0536
  • Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin) — email or call 512-463-0652

If one of these represents your House district, please encourage them to co-sponsor the bill.

Although we have spoken with several Senators, none has filed an NPVIC bill on the Senate side yet. When we receive notice of a Senate bill number, we will let you know.

Thanks for helping us ensure that every vote counts equally in our presidential elections!

 

 

Posted in Electoral reform | Tagged , , | 2 Comments