Ok, so now what... 

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Editor’s note: When Rep. Garry Mize, R-Guthrie, learned that Oklahoma Gazette would resume printing, he extended an olive branch and offered to pen a semi-regular column in an attempt to bridge the ever-deepening political divide in our culture between the left and right. In the spirit of the true community paper we hope to morph Oklahoma Gazette into over the next few months, after a few background checks, we took him up on his offer.

click to enlarge Rep. Garry Mize, - R-Guthrie - PHOTO PROVIDED
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  • Rep. Garry Mize,R-Guthrie
When I was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2018, I was very new to the political environment. There were many things (and still are, for that matter) that I did not know.  As with any new endeavor, especially those with steep learning curves, you become a quick learner. Holding public office is no exception.  

Decorum, caucus politics, continued fundraising, resources both inside and outside the Capitol, constituent relations, county resources, city resources … the list goes on.  Contrary to popular belief, they do not hand you a board of fix-it buttons that you can push for every problem that you encounter (how nice would that be).  That said, one of the most difficult problems to solve, especially in the last year, has been navigating my way as an elected official in an environment riddled with political discourse that in no way, shape or form resembles civility.  I don’t believe I am alone in this opinion and I don’t think we have to look very far to find truth in it. Is it just an age-old struggle that has lain dormant, or am I just now so keenly aware because of my position? Regardless, it saddens me, and I don’t believe that we as a society are putting our best foot forward nor are we headed down a path of finding real solutions leading us towards life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Make no mistake, I am under no misconceptions about the number of differing opinions and ideas of how to move forward.  I would argue that those individuals that helped to create the government under which we live and breathe designed it in such a manner. Those differences in opinion help to produce best practices while helping as many people as possible. In a word, utilitarianism. However, one thing I don’t think we disagree with is that the hatred and disgust seems to negate any good that could come from those disagreements. Instead, what seems to be playing out now on a federal and state level is the swinging of the pendulum back and forth creating an environment of exhaustion, political unrest, encroachment into personal preferences and a growing hatred for those that might disagree. Folks, this is a losing strategy and one that will never produce the desired unity reflected in the name of our country.

So what is the path forward? How do we get better, be better, do better given the current state of unrest and dissension in our country? I will pose two potential solutions as a jumping-off point. First, I believe it would benefit us to remember that differences are part of who we are as a people and country. Many people of different backgrounds, religious beliefs, skin colors and ideologies came to this country in its early days. I believe this reality made our country great and still can today. We must remember that it was this diversity that led to the ingenuity and creativity which helped pave the way to present-day America.  These differences can be appreciated and even respected if we weren’t so offended all the time, so fragile and insecure in our own skin. That goes for both sides. Secondly, I say this often and will say it again: We should try walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. I don’t mean we have to buy into all of the ideas that are being thrown at us, some of which I disagree with wholeheartedly, but that doesn’t stop me from listening, I am not so closed off that I can’t try to understand someone’s experience and how that idea may have led them down a totally different life path producing a very different result than even my neighbor across the street. If we are so unwilling to entertain these simple ideas, how are we to ever have a community?

A good example that we need to come together and discuss is in the arena of mental health and substance abuse. As a state, we have a huge need in both of these areas and would benefit from collaborative efforts at conversations and real solutions. This is a simple example of an opportunity to work in a bi-partisan manner because when these issues touch an individual or family, it does not reveal itself as red or blue.

This isn’t easy to do and I’m not saying it will be easy to change our current state of unrest.  You can be firm in your beliefs and stand up for what you think is right and the best path forward.  But ask yourself: Do I have to turn my back on my neighbor in an effort to convince them I’m right?  What if we actually appreciated some of the differences afforded us by the First Amendment? The worst that could happen is that we start the conversation.

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