EVERETT — On Jan. 6, 2021, Snohomish County Council members Jared Mead and Nate Nehring texted each other.
What they saw unfold that day on television, in the other Washington, disturbed them.
“We were just like, I can’t believe this is where we’re at as a society, politically. We’re so divided. People are watching different news, people are hating each other without knowing facts,” Mead said in an interview this week. “It’s all based on politics.”
Mead, a Democrat, and Nehring, a Republican, then sat down and co-wrote a commentary that appeared 11 days later in The Daily Herald. In it, they wrote about division, hatred and political echo chambers. At the time, they’d only been serving on the council together about six months.
“Not engaging with each other on the important issues of the day has made it far too easy to dehumanize those whom we disagree with,” they wrote in the piece. “Rather than making the effort to understand and learn from their point of view, we carelessly discard not only the viewpoint, but the individual holding that viewpoint as well.”
Now, Mead is the County Council chair, while Nehring is vice chair.
That cowritten commentary was followed by more reflection and, eventually, public meetings for a campaign they call “Building Bridges.” This series of speaking events and panels is ongoing. Mead estimated they have visited about 20 schools, rotary clubs and other groups that asked if they would speak, after the op-ed.
On Monday, they will lead another panel at 6 p.m. at Washington State University’s Everett campus. Democratic Lt. Gov. Denny Heck and Republican ex-Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler are also headlining the event.
Tulalip Tribes Chairwoman Teri Gobin and two local mayors — Lynnwood’s Christine Frizzell and Stanwood’s Sid Roberts — are expected to speak, too.
Garry Clark, the CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County, will moderate.
“I think what Jared and I are trying to do and show is that it doesn’t have to be that way, right?” Nehring said. “We can disagree but do it in a respectful and civil way and still treat people with dignity and respect. We’ve tried our best to model that at the county level.”
Not everyone was a fan of them working together.
“When we first started working together, we got a lot of pushback from our parties, and kind of the hyperpartisan part of our parties,” Nehring said. “And then you’d have your civics teachers and those sorts of people who are really excited about the effort.”
In a lot of ways, Nehring and Mead are similar. They’re both millennials with families. Nehring is 28. Mead is 32. Their wives are both teachers, Mead said.
They try to stress those similarities as a way to reach others.
“We both are the parents of young kids and don’t want to see our kids grow up in this real polarized and toxic society, we want to see something better,” Nehring said. “And I think that’s what kind of motivates us to do this work, because we want to be part of building a better future for our kids and the kids of others.”
Much of what Nehring and Mead are trying to stress is part of a broader push to improve the state of American politics. In 2011, the University of Arizona created the National Institute of Civil Discourse in the wake of the attempted assassination of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Former presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton were founding chairmen of that organization.
More locally, an organization called Civility First is also working against political polarization.
Civility First also emphasizes bipartisanship and working across party lines. The word “bipartisanship” can sometimes be misconstrued, Nehring said.
“When I think of the word bipartisanship, I don’t think, ‘Let’s drop all of our beliefs and let’s all sing Kumbaya,’ but it’s, ‘Let’s all find common ground,’” he said.
“Bipartisanship, to me, is being able to compartmentalize basically, that’s the root of it,” Mead said. “I mean Nate and I, we’ve had long, hours-long debates on certain policies that we will never agree on. And we know that. We’ve had the conversations, we’ve teased it out, I know why he believes it.”
How to attend the first ‘Building Bridges’ event
When: 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 4.
Where: WSU’s Everett campus, 915 N. Broadway.
Why: “Let’s come together to discuss overcoming political polarization.”
Who: Hosted by Snohomish County Council members Jared Mead, a Democrat, and Nate Nehring, a Republican; Democratic Lt. Gov. Denny Heck; Republican ex-Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler; Tulalip Tribes Chairwoman Teri Gobin; Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell; Stanwood Mayor Sid Roberts; moderated by Garry Clark, CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County.