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Opinion | In politics, more than ever, conversations are important

Josh Moon

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Terry Lathan was not happy with me.

That tends to happen, I guess, when you say in a column that someone believed a dumb thing. The believer of that dumb thing, it seems, very rarely shares the opinion that what they believe is, in fact, dumb.

And that was pretty much Lathan’s position.

In a column published in APR on Monday, I wrote that Lathan, the chairman of the state’s Republican Party, had turned over sensitive voter information to President Trump’s ridiculous “voter fraud commission,” circumventing Secretary of State John Merrill, who had declined to release that information. And I said that she did so because she believed a dumb thing — that in-person voter fraud is a rampant problem.

The basic facts cited in the column were all first reported by ProPublica, using emails obtained from a federal watchdog group. Lathan’s emails with the chairman of the voter fraud commission, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, were part of the batch obtained, and sure enough, there she was agreeing to turn over the info. And agreeing to do so a full month after Merrill had declined the request.

But those emails didn’t tell the whole story, Lathan said.

And to be fair to her, she had a point. And she also had a fair reason to be upset. Actually, she had two reasons.

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The first was that the headline I placed on the column didn’t match the information in the column. And the second was that I should have called her before running the column.

There was no way to know from the emails between Lathan and Kobach whether Lathan and her staff ever carried through with the promise to provide the voter rolls. And I was careful to say so in the column. I was not so careful with the headline.

It was a mistake. And it has been corrected.

The second problem, though, that’s one I shouldn’t have made. Calling Lathan was something I should have done, even if it wouldn’t have changed the column I wrote.

I didn’t call her because of a few reasons — mainly because it was Sunday night when I wrote the column and because it was based almost entirely on the basic facts contained in her emails with Kobach and the ProPublica story.

I talked with Lathan for an hour on Tuesday. She told me that she was very concerned with protecting the data, and that the rolls she agreed to turn over didn’t contain extensive information, such as driver’s license numbers. And she said the commission never followed through and collected the rolls.

None of that would have changed the column I wrote. Because, again, the point was that Lathan agreed to do this because she believes something that is simply incorrect.

We talked about that too — about in-person voter fraud and voter ID laws. I think Lathan would agree with me that we did not find common ground on those issues.

We didn’t yell at each other. We did let each other finish sentences. And I sort of think we at least listened to each other.

I have a better understanding of why she believes the completely inaccurate things that she does. She’s wrong, in my opinion, but at least I know she’s put some thought into it. And I have no doubt she feels exactly the same way about me, which is perfectly fine.

And I also know this: Terry Lathan doesn’t believe the things she does because she’s an awful, ignorant racist. And although I never said she was, she also does not believe these things because she’s dumb.

Lathan, like many Republicans who I disagree with vehemently, genuinely believe they are doing the right things, believing the right things and helping people.

I can handle people like that. Because people like that are usually just a few conversations away from seeing the light and slapping a “Biden 2020” sticker on their SUV.

And here’s something none of us should ever forget: conversations across ideological lines, no matter how inconvenient and uncomfortable, are vitally important. Don’t lock yourself in a bubble. Don’t fail to ask someone why. Don’t skip the phone call.

Because you never know, you might find some common ground that changes your perspective. I did with Lathan.

While we will likely never agree on the conservative-liberal, hot-button issues, we at least agree on college football.

And we agree that Alabama fans are the real problem in this state.

 

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