Ruth Baker and Peggy Stabile: The need for civil discourse

Signal File Photo: Congressman Steve Knight answers questions from constituents during a town hall at Canyon High School on Thursday, June 1, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

After reading Noah Peterson’s column “A town hall Knightmare” published June 9 in The Signal, we feel compelled to respond.

We are proud Democrats and we must agree with Mr. Peterson that the chaos that erupted at the June 1 town hall was disturbing to many who attended.

We feel, though, that Congressman Knight could learn some lessons from the town hall that was held the following night.

We have been asking ourselves, “Who was responsible for the chaos on June 1?” We are also wondering, “Why was it followed by such an orderly meeting on June 2?”

As life-long educators, we have made setting parameters and expected standards a necessary part of our jobs. Had Steve Knight begun his meeting by acknowledging that the audience had concerns that he genuinely wanted to hear about, perhaps things may have gone much differently. He needed to set the tone.

By contrast, Christy Smith, candidate for the 38th Assembly District and moderator of the June 2 meeting, opened that town hall by stating that rude behavior would not be tolerated. She emphasized the need for “civil discourse.”

Congresswoman Judy Chu – who “adopted” our district for an evening after repeated requests made to Steve Knight to host a town hall went unheeded – began her introductory remarks by letting the audience know that she understood that not everyone attending would be in agreement with her.

When shouts of “Judy Chu go home!” began erupting, Christy stepped in immediately. She reminded the audience that Congresswoman Chu was a guest.

While this did not end the heckling, Congresswoman Chu did not let it deter her from her mission – she was able to answer questions in an intelligent and thoughtful manner.

Questions from those wearing red hats were answered with equal respect and the audience showed appreciation for opposing views.

Yes, there were rude behaviors at the Knight town hall. The congressman seemed unable to change the tone. While serious and sincere questions were asked of him, on more than several occasions he shuffled through sheets of papers searching for responses, once even saying, “I wish I could find my notes.”

Congressman Knight must accept responsibility for some of the behaviors that ensued at his town hall. He did not set boundries; rather, he inferred that many of those present lacked sufficient knowledge to understand the workings of government, spoke down to the audience, and was ill-prepared for many of the questions asked of him.

We have a president who established bullying, name-calling and rudeness as the standard for civic assemblies. Unfortunately, his rallies seem to have become a model for political gatherings today.

Civil discourse is no longer the norm. This is neither the way to run a country nor to set an example for our young people, our future. It is time to “put down the boxing gloves” and put our country first.


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