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Arts & Culture

Four In Boerne Who Dared To Listen

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(left to right) Stephan Rogers, Marilyn Harrington, Mike Schultz, Bill Hogan

Texas Public Radio introduced its Dare To Listen project in recent weeks. Its upshot: Americans should try harder to listen to those of opposing beliefs.

With that in mind, TPR's Arts and Culture Reporter Jack Morgan put on his political hat and assembled a group of three Boerneites and one person from Canyon Lake to talk about politics. Two of them tend to lean right and two tend to lean left. All told we talked about an hour and 10 minutes. But things got the most interesting when we began to talk about whether immigration was high on their list of concerns.

"Needs to be on that list, Jack! It's a huge problem."

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Boerne Mayor Mike Schultz

Conservative leaning Mike Schultz is Boerne's Mayor.

"How many of them are there out there?  We always go back to the melting pot--look at all the people that put together what America is today," Schultz says.

A pair interjected, "All of us!" Schultz agreed.

"All of us. But all of those people came here with a willingness and wanting to be able to become a citizen of the United States," Schultz says.

Schultz seemed to be referencing immigrants from a bygone era--those in the last century coming through Ellis Island. But were Syrians fleeing war really that different from the immigrants who built this country?

Retired executive and conservative Bill Hogan said no--but with qualifications.

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Retired executive Bill Hogan

"No, but when the Italians or the Spanish or whatever came to the United State, their families insisted that they learn English. That they're part of the United States of America.  They didn't expect you to set up a special school program just for Spanish speaking kids or Italian speaking kids. They came to the United States because they wanted to be part of the United States. The language of the United States is English. I think everybody ought to speak English," Hogan says.

Left-leaning Stephan Rogers thinks those views obscure something that most Americans miss about immigration.

"One of the things I think people need to understand about immigrants is that they are a vital and important part of our economy. For example: our social security system has benefited greatly by the fact that there are so many illegal immigrants here, undocumented workers who pay social security, but can't claim any of the benefits," Rogers says.

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Stephan Rogers

Rogers brought up a Kendall County Commissioners vote that bothered him.

"In Kendall County a while back when we had a surge of children from Central America fleeing terrible violence crossing the border, some people on the right whipped up this thing 'Oh, my God--they've got ebola!'"

Hogan hadn't heard about this. "Oh, jeeze, really? Seriously?" Rogers continued.

"The Commissioners Court of Kendall County adopted a resolution that none of these children would be allowed in Kendall County."

Retired dean and professor at the School of Health/UT Health Science Center Marilyn Harrington was shocked by Kendall County's move.

"That particular vote was actually one of the things that made me cry about living here. How could we possibly think that way about these children, who are desperate?" Harrington asks.

Still, Hogan wonders why immigration reform continues to stall.

"We've been talking about immigration for 20 years. This isn't a new topic. There is a process for immigration. I think we need to be able at least have some sort of safety mechanism in place," Hogan says.

While border security rates high with him, Hogan believes that safety mechanism is not a border wall. Rogers says Congress squandered possible Immigration Reform through petty politics.

"I mean, a lot of these people up there, they don't even talk to each other!"  Rogers' disdain for Congress was apparent, a sentiment that Hogan shared.

"If only the Republican and Democratic people there in Washington would have this discussion, I think we'd all feel a whole lot better, I mean I think that's why everyone is just disgusted with politics."

Rogers thinks the toxic mix in politics right now prevents compromise.

"If you're a leader in the country in congress and you say you're going to work with Joe Blow on the other side of the aisle on this package, you're going to lose your next primary."  Harrington was in complete agreement.

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Marilyn Harrington, retired dean and professor at the School of Health/UT Health Science Center

"If he goes against the party platform on something then that party is going to turn around and shoot him in the back. And you're gone. And that's not why we sent him. We didn't send him to defend a party.  But to defend his values."

As we wound down the conversation, Schultz reflected on what had gone down.

"What I found today was an openness to be able to say, 'I'll listen to you. Tell me where you're coming from, or why you think the way that you do.'"  

The participants have stayed in contact over the last few weeks. They e-mail one another fact-checked urban legends, still trying, it seems, to whittle away at the political disinformation dysfunction that plagues the country.