The Plain Dealer from Cleveland, Ohio (2024)

THE PLAIN DEALER SUNDAY, JANUARY 21, 1996 13-A Issues forum hears from 'ordinary ary people' By JOE FROLIK and TOM BRAZAITIS PLAIN DEALER REPORTERS AUSTIN, Texas Mary Ellen Cox remembers being asked 1 to be part of the National Issues Convention, this weekend's big political science experiment at the University of Texas. And she remembers thinking it sounded like a scam. A woman from the National Opinion Research Center came to her door in Rising Sun, Ohio, near Bowling Green. She wanted to ask a few questions for a "political poll." That took half an hour. Then the woman invited Cox to Austin.

It would be all expenses paid, plus $300 in cash. Cox, a 49-year-old secretary for the Wood County building inspection department, decided to do some research of her own. But even after she found out the invitation was on the level that the conference was being organized by government professor James S. Fishkin with $3.9 million from major foundations she wasn't sold. I'm no political activist, Cox protested when someone from Fishkin's staff called late last fall.

You should ask my son he's mayor of Rising Sun. "But they said they wanted ordinary people," Cox recalled Friday after the opening round of discussions at this first National Issues Convention. "And I'm about as ordinary as they come." So, at least in the aggregate, were the other 475 Americans who participated in this weekend's conference. In terms of race, gender, income and education, they roughly reflected the American public, which is exactly what Fishkin and his supporters had hoped for. Their grand experiment in "deliberative polling" was supposed to assemble a microcosm of America, randomly divide it into small groups and let them talk for hour after hour about some of the most important issues facing the country: The U.S.

role in global affairs. The state of the economy. The condition of the family. Before they depart for home this afternoon, they'll take another survey. Fishkin hopes to see how much their opinions have changed by having participated in some nine hours of deliberations.

And so Friday and yesterday, in 30 small groups, the delegates engaged in conversations that were sometimes pointed, sometimes rambling, often inconclusive. But were almost always, most participants said, illuminating and civil. "It was a little heated at times, but we never really got upset," said Connie Zimdars of Grand Junction, Colo. "It is kind of enlightening to hear all the viewpoints." Few delegates seemed to have their core views changed dramatically. Some indeed said the most gratifying and surprising aspect of the entire experience was to find out how many people shared their opinions.

"It reassures me," said Steve Olsen, a 21-year-old cement finisher from Allegan, Mich. "A lot of the facts and opinions that I have are things I share with these people. It's helped show me I'm not the only one who thinks like I do." Olsen's 11-member group included Cox and Rita Humphrey, a kindergarten teacher from Kansas City. Humphrey, too, was struck by how much the five women and six men, ages 18 to 72, had in common. On every topic, the group found numerous elements on which everyone agreed, even as they recognized areas of conflict.

Take, for example, yesterday morning's session. The subject was family values. Many participants had felt it would be the most heated of their three discussions. And 1 while there was much intensity as the group wrestled with matters such as family breakdown, sex education and welfare, there was also agreement. Modern America, these delegates believed, has become a less respectful, more dangerous place and that the position of parents has been eroded by economic and social change.

They weren't sure what to do Thousands are routed as floods sweep East FLOODING FROM 1-A The Susquehanna River at Wilkes-Barre had reached 33.72 on levees that stand 36 to 39 feet high, and was expected to crest at 35 to 36 feet. Water submerged Pittsburgh's Point State Park, the downtown site where the Monongahela and Allegheny join to form the Ohio. The river began spilling into Three Rivers Stadium's parking lots and lower levels. Steelers players preparing for the Super Bowl had the day off and were not affected by the flooding, but staff members were forced to park on pedestrian plazas near the top of the stadium. Most of the stadium's public and private lots were under water, and the water nearly crept onto the stadium's playing field.

The flood will not damage the stadium's artificial turf, which is scheduled for replacement before the Pirates' home opener April 8. copper factory in suburban Leetsdale exploded when it was hit by flood waters, sending molten metal all over the site. The plant had been evacuated, and no injuries were reported. Downstream from Pittsburgh, the Ohio also was flooding along West Virginia's northern Panhandle and authorities urged 7,500 people to get off Wheeling Island, a low-lying urban enclave connected by bridge to Wheeling, W.Va. The river was expected to crest 10 feet above flood stage there today.

West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton declared a state of emergency in 29 counties and sent National Guardsmen to help evacuate residents in several areas. In Trenton, N.J., the recently renovated Statehouse annex and its parking garage were flooded by waters from the Delaware River. The annex houses the Statehouse bill room and the Office of Legislative Services Library. It was not immediately known if any documents were damaged.

In upstate New York, hundreds of people were evacuated from Binghamton as the Susquehanna flooded downtown streets. Flooding also hit Schoharie and Port Jervis, N.Y. In many areas of the Northeast, temperatures plunged yesterday into the 20s and 30s; the cold weather was helping to refreeze what was left of the snowpack and ease the flooding. Come see the many sides of Sears SEARS CALL SEARS FOR ALL OF YOUR HEATING NEEDS finance charge till April 1996 HOME MOVEMENT PROFESSIONALS EMERGENCY INSTALLATION AVAILABLE NO BILLING NO FINANCE CHARGES NO PAYMENTS UNTIL APRIL 1996 Furnaces Call now and have your new Kenmore system installed by Boilers a Sears professional. Offer expires Jan.

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"We were from all country and we don't really each other and for us to be same wavelength was amazing," said the single mother. "That's something about this the people in it. For us agreement means these ist everywhere and the cians need to listen. We live see it and we don't think do because of their income position." Unlike so much political America these days, the were remarkably free of eering and posturing. face with one another, seemed free to wrestle with opposing positions, their own doubts.

David L. White, a sales neer in Fort Wayne, ally insisted that government too large and that people accept primary responsibility their lot in life. But as he to Karen Roberts, a of two from northern fornia, describe how difficult to squeeze out the medical ums for her kids, he said, the outside of that situation, ing in. You're on the inside, "Getting down to the gritty on these issues is tough," said White, who in Mentor and still has season tickets, 15 years Ridge Park FREE GIFT With Every Purchase! ALL GLASS 10 GALLON BLACK FINISH AQUARIUM With $10.00 One Customer Per Purchase HAGEN. FLUVAL I CANISTER I FUNAL FILTERS 39.99 No.

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But then you get down to the children. I reassured don't want to deny children food." White said he had always folaround the lowed politics and tried to be acknow tive in his community. But the on the only delegate here from Clevepretty land, Karen Borges, 26, described 40-year-old herself as apolitical at least untelling me til she got here. world and Before coming to Austin, to be in Borges, the single mother of a issues ex- 6-year-old daughter who has been politi- on welfare while studying to beit, we come a licensed practical nurse, they said she would feel uncomfortand able if the PBS TV camera focused in on her. After two days of talk in deliberations, Borges said, "If sessions is politics, I've been doing slogan- this for a long time." Face-to- Borges showed no shyness people when it came to participating in not only the discussions.

By yesterday but with afternoon, she had volunteered to ask not one, but five questions on engi- TV, if moderator Jim Lehrer gener- chose her as one of the questionwas ers. had to Her questions ranged from for war issues can listened we make our military more cost disabled effective and still remain Cali- to reforming welfare it is the welfare system be repremi- structured to require education "I'm on and look- Borges complained about living wasteful government spending. "It makes no sense to build new nitty- billion-dollar airplanes when pretty we've got perfectly good planes." up She mourned the breakdown of Browns' neighborliness. "People don't after he care about other people as much AQUARIUM AUTHORITY A Division Of Petland. Inc.

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