Wisconsinites 'Reach Out' To Heal Partisan Divide

Wisconsin's historic gubernatorial recall election is on Tuesday. Republican Scott Walker could become just the third sitting governor in U.S. history to be recalled from office. The recall battle has bitterly divided the state; so much so that some people have just stopped talking politics with friends, neighbors, co-workers, even family members. But two Wisconsin couples — one Republican and the other Democratic — are trying to bridge the partisan divide in the state.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Tomorrow brings an end, at least officially, to a long and bitter fight in Wisconsin. The sharply divided state will vote on whether to let Republican Governor Scott Walker keep his job or send him home early. The recall has so polarized voters that some friends, co-workers, even family members have simply stopped talking politics with one another.

Well, NPR's David Schaper introduces us now to a handful of Wisconsinites who decided to do the exact opposite.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Meet two couples. On the right side of the table, Carol and Scott Grabins of Verona, Wisconsin.

SCOTT GRABINS: Yeah. Yeah, we're both conservative.

SCHAPER: On the left, from Madison, Katie Songer and Ron Dolen.

KATIE SONGER: We both signed the recall petitions the first day they were out.

SCHAPER: You did?

RON DOLEN: Oh, yeah.

SCHAPER: After Wisconsin voters elected Walker governor in 2010, Dolen says he and Songer couldn't understand how or why.

DOLEN: Here in Madison, me and Katie live in our little liberal bubble and we didn't know any conservatives. So, we decided, like how did this happen? Who is the other half of the state?

SCHAPER: So Songer did something bold. She sent an email to the Dane County Republican Party.

SONGER: You know, we don't know any Republicans. We don't want to convert or be converted. We just want to, like, have conversations with people different from who we are.

SCHAPER: Songer and Dolen wanted to meet a couple of Republicans for dinner. Scott and Carol Grabins got the email, and Carol found it intriguing.

CAROL GRABINS: You know, a challenge is always good to me.

(LAUGHTER)

GRABINS: I thought, hey, I don't have to preach to the choir again, you know, that type of thing. And if, you know, when you have an exchange of ideas, you learn something. So I figured why not?

SCHAPER: So, Katie, Ron, Carol and Scott met for dinner shortly after Walker was elected. All admit it was a little awkward, but they agreed to meet again and again. In the meantime, Wisconsin caught on fire politically, but the couples continued to get together, and soon started inviting friends.

Now they've formed a group called, Reach Out Wisconsin, holding monthly gatherings to discuss hot political topics in a civil, even friendly way, attracting 30 to 40 people or more.

Scott Grabins.

GRABINS: Seeing a whole bunch of people that I wouldn't normally get to know, just seeing all those different people show up, that wide spectrum is neat for me.

SCHAPER: Now they haven't changed each other's minds about the recall. In fact, Scott Grabin's Facebook profile picture is of him, Carol and their two children with Scott Walker. Ron Dolen's is a picture of the protests.

Well, while Reach Out Wisconsin may not be able to completely heal the partisan divide, these couples hope they can help the state move on after tomorrow's bitter recall election.

David Schaper, NPR News.

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