Wichita Chamber Board member David Hodge (Sunflower Bank) characterized the 2019 Chamber Annual Meeting as packed with “energy, engagement, relevant and challenging speakers and a wonderful sense of community.” It was a history-making evening with 2019 Chairman Michael Monteferrante (Envision) sharing the year’s achievements with attendees and then introducing the Chamber’s 2020 Chair, Junetta Everett (Delta Dental). Everett received a standing ovation for being the first African American and the sixth woman to be elected as Chair of the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Nationally-known political analysts Michael Steele (Republican) and Paul Begala (Democrat) were the guest speakers for the evening and both provided thoughtful remarks from the podium about the global political landscape. Sharing the stage for a spirited and engaging discussion that followed their remarks, they covered topics that ranged from leadership lessons to trade issues. Moderated by Chamber Chair Michael Monteferrante, the discussion provided some quotable moments about the responsibility Americans have to be much more involved in the election and governance process.
Both analysts urged Americans to reserve their anger and frustration for their favorite sports team rivals rather than those they differ with politically. Steele counseled those attending to avoid “losing your humanity when discussing political differences.” He believes bipartisanship works and that “we can do so much more together.” But we need to stop the obsession with the things that divide us and refocus on the business at hand. It’s about “we the people” not Democrats or Republicans. Disagreement shouldn’t spiral into hate. Begala shared the three magic words that change the game, “I hear you.”
Steele believes that we each have a role and a responsibility to keep America strong and move it forward. We all lose if we don’t carefully and thoughtfully choose the right leaders. He encouraged Americans to take full responsibility for the current situation. “If you don’t vote, you have no skin in the game,” he said. Actively changing the narrative and shaping America’s priorities is our responsibility. We cannot abdicate our roles as citizens. He said it’s not an option to sit back and pretend that “someone else has got it.”
Begala and Steele spoke about the pressure that political leaders apply to those in their parties to avoid compromise. Begala believes it’s imperative to provide opportunities for congressional delegates to spend time together and forge personal relationships with those across the aisle. Listening and learning from one another is key. Begala shared that, “I never learn anything from a vigorous agreement.”
Begala believes the “endless diversity in our country is our greatest strength.” He pointed out that the most recent two-term U.S. Presidents, Bush/Clinton/Obama, all ran on a platform of unification, not division. Begala said that Russian President Vladimir Putin believes he can weaken our democracy with division and that we must be in sync to prevent that from happening.
Both analysts agreed that China plays the long game, while the U.S. is only focusing on short-term trade results. That shortsightedness will hurt us in the world economy and we need to ask for more long-term thinking from our elected officials since exports and imports impact the economy of every state.
FAITH AND FAMILY
When asked how they keep their differing political views from impacting their long friendship, both Begala and Steele answered that they were grounded in their faith and families. Begala said that most faiths challenge us to love everyone, not just the people who look, think and speak like us. Both said they believe in life beyond this one and in the greater good. Their love for their own families and their concern for each other’s families are an important part of their relationship.
“Maybe it’s not a good idea to hate your brother because of how he votes,” Paul Begala reminded the crowd. It was a powerful and thought-provoking discussion to reflect on with less than a week before so many American families gather for the national holiday devoted to sharing food, conversation and fellowship. And an important reminder about the critical role each one of us plays in changing the current narrative, removing hate from our interactions and ultimately preserving our democracy.
Our thanks to the Wichita Educational Foundation and our many partners and sponsors who made the event possible, especially our Presenting Sponsor INTRUST Bank and our Premier Sponsors: Cox Business, Spirit AeroSystems, Inc. and Evergy.
Check our Facebook album to see photos from the event.