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A series of public forums at Lower Columbia College will pose a simple but challenging question: Can local people have polite and productive political discussions about hot topics — even if they strongly disagree?

“Community in Crossfire:  Seeking Civil Dialogue in Uncivil Times” is a five-part series organized by a group of community leaders. It will focus on homelessness, drug addiction, the economy and the environment and the causes and troubles of political polarization.


The goal is not necessarily to come to a consensus about the issues, but to discuss them honestly and without acrimony. Its guiding principle is reflected in a phrase coined by former area state Sen. Joe Zarelli: It’s ok to argue, as long as you argue toward a solution.


“My hope is that this series will model and encourage the exchanging of diverse political views in a manner that fosters greater respect and understanding for opinions different from our own and which helps us remember that first we are Americans who all want a healthy and safe community for our children and grandchildren,” said Alan Rose, former Community Relations & Development Director for Lower Columbia CAP and one of a group of a half dozen organizers of the series.

All of the 90-minute forums will start at 7:30 p.m. in the lecture hall at Lower Columbia College’s Health and Science Building, across Maple Street from the Longview Public Library. The public is invited to attend live, and the forums also will be available on Zoom. KLTV will broadcast the forums (live or recorded)?

The forums will feature four panelists of differing viewpoints. All forms will be moderated by retired Cowlitz Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning. LCC faculty members will be “resource persons” to provide background and context about the issues and help shape questions for the panelists.

The first forum takes place Aug. 18. It will address the nature of political polarization, its causes and how it can be overcome at a local level. Panelists who will debate and discuss the topic are Republican state Sen. Ann Rivers, Deputy Cowlitz County Republican chair Jerry Cooper; Longview democratic activist Jim Young; and former Democratic state Sen. Dean Takko, also of Longview. Alex Brehm, coach of LCC’s highly successful “Fighting Smelt” debate team, will be the resource person for this forum. Subsequent forums will take place Sept. 8 (Economy and the Environment), Sept.  22 (Homelessness), Oct. 6 (drug abuse, treatment and decriminalization) and Oct. 20. The topic of the Oct. 20 forum still is under development but may feature a candidate debate ahead of the November General Election. Panelists for all these forums will be announced at a later date. 

“Lower Columbia College President Chris Bailey said LCC is “pleased to be one of the sponsors of this event.  As the only higher education institution in Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties, LCC plays a unique role in both the convening and framing of ideas that impact the community in which we live. The amazing faculty at LCC play a significant role in shaping the conversations as well as the minds of our residents,” Bailey said.

The organizers of the series are George Raiter, Alan Rose, Stephen Warning, Sen. Ann Rivers, LCC Vice President of Communications Wendy Hall, retired Episcopal priest Richard Green, and former Daily News City Editor Andre Stepankowsky.

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