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Jim Wright Symposium brings local politicians to speak on civility

Kay Granger begins the panel discussion. Photo by Katherine Love. Pete Geren speaks during the panel discussion. Photo by Katherine Love. Riddlesperger introduces the three guest speakers. Photo by Katherine Love. Copies of "The Wright Stuff: Reflections on People and Politics by Former House Speaker Jim Wright" were sold at the event. Photo by Katherine Love.
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Former Speaker of the House Jim Wright and three other Texas politicians came to campus Friday for the 12th annual Jim Wright Symposium.

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis, Rep. Kay Granger and former Congressman and Secretary of the Army Pete Geren spoke on the topic of “Representing Fort Worth: Civility in Politics.” More than 280 faculty, students and members of the local community came to the Dee J. Kelly Alumni Center for the luncheon and panel discussion.

The panel focused on bipartisan leadership and its importance in today’s society.

“We’re going to talk about polarization in politics and how you transcend that, how you make decisions in a world where everything seems to be divided between Democrats and Republicans,” political science professor Jim Riddlesperger said.

Riddlesperger said he was very pleased to have these three Fort Worth politicians come speak, each representing different political views.

Geren, a moderate Democrat, described Fort Worth as a unique political community, which he said he did not fully appreciate until he started working in the more partisan political environment of Washington, D.C.

“As elected officials, we were very fortunate to grow up in Fort Worth and be shaped by the traditions of public service in this community,” he said. “Bipartisan tradition and civility are long-standing traditions here.”

Similarly, Davis, a Democrat, described Fort Worth as a family community whose members respect each other and see beyond party labels. She said everyone in Fort Worth wants the same things: a good education system, health care, wise investment of tax money and a strong economy with available jobs.

The speakers also discussed how bipartisan views develop and how to breach these divisions in order to reach communities as a whole.

Granger, a Republican, attributed the divisions to parties looking for someone to blame rather than looking for solutions. She described the national unity after 9/11, when Americans came together to find solutions rather than blame one another.

Davis attributed redistricting as the reason for partisan district development.

“We’ve lost the ability to have a conversation,” Davis said. “For Republicans and Democrats alike, the priorities are the same.”

Davis said she is trying to breach this gap by co-sponsoring legislation with Republicans and encouraging Republicans to do the same with Democrats.

After the discussion, the crowd was able to meet the speakers and buy copies of “The Wright Stuff,” a book of Wright’s reflections which Riddlesperger helped compile and publish.

First-year musical theatre major Abbie Ruff said this event was a good way to expand what she has been learning in her international politics class.

“A lot of our class is about history, and these topics are that of the present, so it’s a good place for me to continue my knowledge outside of the classroom and apply the things that I learn in class.”

Junior political science major Missy Hebert, who also attended last year's symposium, said it was interesting to hear local politicians speak and to get a better idea of what they represent.

“The speakers always have really good insight and personal stories about their experiences in politics,” Hebert said. “It’s interesting to look at a more personal aspect of the bigger picture.”

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