Scot forgot to mention the waffles

A couple of months ago, I stumbled on an article about Utah Governor Spencer Cox’s program “Disagree Better.” Cox was focusing his tenure as Chairman of the National Governor’s Association to make a concerted effort to restore civility in political discourse, something that has certainly been lacking recently in national politics, but seemingly more so in Georgia politics.

That evening, I showed up at a meeting, invited by former State Senator and Waffle House exec Don Balfour. I had served as Balfour’s campaign manager and Chief of Staff in the State Senate 23 years ago. By the end of the meeting, a few of us had formed a group and pitched an idea…why not do an event in Cobb County (where most of us lived) modelled after Gov. Cox’s program?

We were awarded a $2000 grant and the green light to start putting it together.

My first call was to Michael Owens. Michael, the first Mayor of the new City of Mableton, had served as Chair of the Democratic Party of Cobb County during my first term as GOP Chair. Before the 2018 elections, we met at a restaurant on the Marietta Square and had a beer together. While there were a lot of issues we certainly disagreed on, we found common ground on issues like precinct chairs who wouldn’t do any work but complained the loudest and frustrations on internal party administration. Even though we were both working hard to beat each other at the polls and poked at each other in the press, we developed a strong friendship. Sometimes you will work harder to best a friend than you would to best an enemy. I told Michael about the event and that I wanted him to co-host the event to be held at the Alley Stage on the Marietta Square.

After a quick check of his schedule, he was on board.

Over the next couple of weeks I talked to former County Commission Chairman and Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, former Congressman and Sec. of HHS Tom Price, former Democratic Congressman Buddy Darden, and former State Senator and current State Rep. Doug Stoner. Each one without hesitation agreed. Next was a moderator, Joan Carr, who served as Chief of Staff for Democratic U.S. Senator Zell Miller and Republicans Johnny Isakson and Kelly Loeffler.

The political panel was set, though a last minute business trip meant that Sam Olens had to step down, but former House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey quickly agreed to take his place.

Next was to have a panel of local faith leaders. Rev. Joe Evans of Marietta First Presbyterian Church, Rabbi Steven Lebow of Temple Kol Emeth, and Kerrick Butler of Faith Christian Center made up the panel that was to be moderated by Pastor Tony Lowden a Republican who had served as Pastor to former President Jimmy Carter. Once again, a last minute business trip meant that Lowden was unable to join the panel, but I stepped in to moderate.

We billed the event as “Disagreeing Better over Waffles and Wine” because politicians often waffle and often whine. Besides, with the possibility of free Waffle House waffles, we couldn’t pass up the alliteration.

Michael and I were featured in The Marietta Daily Journal and the AJC, as well as appearing on WSB Radio as part of Scott Slade’s Georgia segment.

Three weeks before the event, all of the tickets were gone!

Scot Turner heard about the event at the last minute and showed up not knowing what to expect. I did not promote the event on Peach Pundit the Blog as we sold out three weeks before the date. What I did not know either was that before coming, he had posted his own article about Gov. Spencer Cox and “disagreeing better“.

Greg Bluestein of the AJC described the evening as “a rare burst of unity in an election year, courtesy of some of the biggest bipartisan political figures in Cobb County.”

He continued, “The ‘Disagree Better’ forum held Tuesday at Alley Stage wasn’t just a memorable evening because of the prominent politicians in the crowd, but the range of consensus they reached over why there’s so much discord.”

After the welcome video from Gov. Cox, a former Georgia Democratic Governor, Roy Barnes, took the stage with Balfour, who served with Barnes both in the General Assembly and during Barnes’ term as Governor from 1999-2003.

Afterwards, Owens and I took to the stage to discuss how, in the heat of the 2018 elections, we found a way to develop a friendship out mutual respect for one another. Despite our differences, we discovered plenty of common ground outside of our political beliefs.

Next was the political panel moderated by Carr.

During the talk, the discussion turned to what Secretary Tom Price referred to as the “producers” and “performers” in politics. In the past, it was the “producers” who were rewarded, those who worked hard and accomplished things for their constituents versus those who accomplished little, but tried to always be in front of the cameras. These days, the tables seemed to be flipped as those who wanted to accomplish things by working across the aisle often found themselves with primary challengers while those who accomplished little or nothing, but stoked discord in the media were rewarded with campaign donations.

Both sides also saw a problem with a redistricting process that created few swing districts in favor of partisan and incumbent protection.

After the event, The Marietta Daily Journal spoke with Cobb Chief Probate Court Judge Kelli Wolk who added, “It is all for a good purpose, and if you put yourself out there to try and be a producer then you deserve the uplift of trying to accomplish good things for good people.”

During the faith panel, the role of faith in politics, the secularization of the American population, and the rise of anti-Semitism, even before the protests in the headlines on college campuses, were discussed.

A full video of the event can be accessed from the original livestream on Facebook, and a professionally edited video will be posted in the coming days and more events like this one will also be announced given the enormous success of the event at the Alley Stage.

As Joan Carr summed it up on social media, “My former boss Senator Johnny Isakson was a champion of finding common ground to get good things done. I know he had to be smiling down from Heaven to see Republicans and Democrats gathered together for this important conversation.”

Or, as Gov. Cox puts it, as Republicans and Democrats, it’s not about disagreeing less, but about disagreeing better.

Leave a Reply