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Discussion Of Politics Will Highlight Annual Chamber Meeting

Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce

Paul Begala and Michael Steele come from different political worlds.

Begala helped get President Bill Clinton elected and worked in his administration, including during Clinton’s 1998 impeachment.

Steele is the former chairman of the Republican National Committee who led the GOP takeover of the U.S. House in 2010.

They will appear together on stage next month at the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting. Begala says people will discover the two have a lot in common.

“We both love our country,” Begala said. “We're both, I think, deeply interested in and frankly concerned about the polarization and partisanship that we've got right now.”

Both Steele and Begala appear regularly as political analysts on cable news shows; Begala is also the author of several books on politics and a lecturer at Georgetown University.

The two will each make opening remarks during their appearance in Wichita and then participate in an on-stage discussion about global politics moderated by Chamber chairman Michael Monteferrante.

During an interview in advance of the Chamber event, Begala talked about the ongoing impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump, the rise of partisanship in Congress and the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.

You're coming up on your second impeachment that you get to see up close and personal. Similarities and differences in the ongoing impeachment episode to the Clinton impeachment?

Very different. I mean, first what sustained President Clinton was that he had an agenda that he believed in that frankly the American people liked. So all through that Clinton impeachment, he didn't talk about it. He didn't have Twitter, thank God. And he didn't every day get up and tell you that, “Oh, Ken Starr is terrible. And Newt Gingrich's a jerk.” He got up every day and said, “I still need to pass my bill to double funding for Head Start … I still need to pass my child care initiative. I still need to pass my initiative for at-risk kids in middle school.” We passed a whole bunch of stuff through a Republican Congress while that Republican Congress was impeaching him.

I grew up in a small town in Texas, and Miss Ann Taylor was my civics teacher. And Miss Ann used to say there's two kinds of politicians: those who want to be somebody and those who want to do something. At the end of the day, Clinton wanted to do something. And even if you were impeaching him, if you were willing to work with him, he would. And I fear that President Trump has given the sense that he just kind of wants to be somebody rather than get something done.?

The 1990s saw the rise of Newt Gingrich (former speaker of the U.S. House), and I think the beginnings of the really hyperpartisanship that we have now. Can you talk about that time and whether there is a path back to bi-partisanship?

I'm as partisan as the next guy. But your obligation as an American is to compromise. It is built into the Constitution. The Constitution mandates and requires compromise, and Newt came in with this hyperpartisan flamethrower, and we're still not completely over it.

I think for both sides the way out is, here's my test: … Do you know, respect, even love somebody who's on the opposite side of this divide from you? Easy for me: My brother voted for Donald Trump. … Doesn't mean I think Trump's a great guy or a good president; doesn't mean anything except I love my brother, no matter how he votes. And then maybe you can expand that circle to your neighbor and then maybe even to a stranger. And I really think that's the way.

You were ringside for this month's Democratic debate in Ohio. Five months from now, who's going to still be standing among the Democratic presidential hopefuls?

I think this is a very fluid race. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I'm old enough to remember Democrats especially like to pick a dark horse at the end. Nobody thought Barack Obama had a chance in the world at this stage in 2007. At this stage in 1991, Bill Clinton had only been a couple of days in the race.

Right now you've got these two big front-runners: Joe Biden, the moderate; Elizabeth Warren, the progressive. I think that's going to change. … I'm undecided, like most Democrats, but I think there's a lot of room there.

If you want a name who is in single digits now who I think could break out it's probably Mayor Pete (Buttigieg). You know, Iowa is a good bit like Indiana, his home state. He's got a ton of money. … He seems to want to organize at the grass roots in Iowa, which really matters. And if Vice President Biden fades, I think Mayor Pete has said, “Well, I'm the moderate who can claim those votes.” In the same way that as Bernie Sanders has faltered a bit, Senator Warren has stepped in and picked up those Sanders votes.

Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting

Featuring: Michael Steele and Paul Begala, “The Global Political Landscape”

When: Nov. 19, 5 to 9 p.m.

Where: Century II

More information: www.wichitachamber.org

Tom Shine is director of news and public affairs at KMUW.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.