On two occasions I have been an invited speaker at Tuesday noon meetings of the Wing Nuts. We met and et at the Eagles Lodge, a couple blocks east of Cambell Street on Center Street in Rapid City. Good home cookin'. (I really DO like the food.)
Former state senator Bill Napoli wields the gavel at these meetings, but delivers the audience to the whims of pretty much whomever wants to spend an hour presenting and defending a point of view. Bill enjoys conflict and believes, I think, that the conflict over how government should wield its gavel is worthy of continuous discussion.
I first appeared at a Wing Nuts meeting in September or October last year, as a proponent for Initiated Measure 13, a proposal that suggested that South Dakotans should recognize the inherent right of a person to adopt measures necessary to the continuation of a tolerable life, even if such measures include the use of a benign herb. 22 of 30 present at that meeting thought it was better to put such folks in jail for not having the good sense to develop an illness that responded to something you can buy in a drugstore.
At that meeting I "debated" with Jo Prang, who held that a doctor who testified on behalf of his terminal patient that "smoked marijuana is essential to [his patient's] therapy" was "irresponsible."
I appeared again in January, after arranging it with Napoli, to promote an affirmative defense for those accused of possession of marijuana. I proposed that an exception to the prohibition of possession be granted those who could present compelling evidence that their possession/use prevented pain and suffering and/or reduced adverse symptoms of mortal medical conditions. No poll was conducted that time, but it seemed to me I got a little better acceptance for that proposal. Since Rep. Phil Jensen and Rep. Don Kopp, along with ex-senator Dennis Schmidt and another legislator or two seem to steadily attend the Wing Nuts lunch, I thought there was a chance of getting the measure introduced in the 2011 Session. Didn't happen.
I'm on a mailing list to which Napoli steadily sends dispatches. He says the Wing Nuts luncheons are open to anyone with any point of view, He has shown that he's not adverse to arranging presentation of views he knows will conflict with those of the audience (as I view the audience, anyway).
Two days ago (April 5), Kevin Woster, veteran Rapid City Journal reporter, was scheduled to speak. He was half an hour late, bursting through the door saying, "I forgot." The preceding 30 minutes had consisted of a round-table discussion of "Abortion: moral or political issue?"
Among various political/social/moral issues, opposition to abortion except to save the life of the mother is probably the highest on the scale of views held in common by those I've seen at all three lunches I've been to. I suspect that most are uncomfortable with the exception.
The round-table became, as it does in all such situations, an opportunity for seven or eight of the 35-or-so people there to expound a point of view that everyone there agrees with and to get reinforcement for having good sense. My South Dakota Peace and Justice (mostly Democrats, mostly pro-choice) friends have a monthly meeting at which there is much communal hand-wringing; in fact, it seems the hand-wringing is the point.
The Wing Nuts mostly chuckled knowingly at one person's assertion that "liberalism is a disease." Rep. Phil Jensen proudly drew our attention to the Journal's "D" grade for his performance in the 2011 Session. Among the Journal's complaints was Jensen's sponsorship of HB1171, which proposed, in part:
Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person in the lawful defense of such person, or of his or her husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant, or the unborn child of any such enumerated person, if there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony, or to do some great personal injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished.
You can read my comments about 1171 here.
The general concensus, with which I agree, was that it is difficult to reconcile one's moral code, one's sense of justice, and one's choice of political candidate. Then Woster charged in. His appearance in front of the Wing Nuts was why I went. I've never seen him speak to a group before and I was impressed. Since everyone knew him as a liberal voice for a liberal newspaper, he was asked several questions carrying the implication that he and most reporters didn't report fairly, i.e., express the "conservative" view sufficiently. Woster agreed that was often the case.
A commenter from the audience said he thought that conservatives were better able to review and accept the existence of liberal points of view than liberals were able to do the opposite. Woster said, "So you spend a lot of time watching MSNBC, as well as Fox?" The commenter said he didn't. "Where do you go then, to review what liberals have to say?" Woster asked. The answer was obvious; the commenter heard the liberal point of view through the filter of conservative commentators and groups like the one in which he sat.
Even with only half an hour (or maybe because of that), Woster was entertaining and incisive, both condemning and defending his profession and his own performance, and came across as the guy he claims to be--someone who has no particular passion for any particular political issue. I think he said something like, "If I don't have a dog in the fight, I can write better about what happened during the fight that was interesting to a wide range of people." I recommend him as a speaker at any function.
Coming up on April 26, I believe, the candidates for mayor of Rapid City will be invited to hold forth to the Wing Nuts.