Press Talk: A Utopian society: Are there guns?

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

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photoLou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor.

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Watch the video of The Columbian editorial board's meeting with the 3rd Congressional District candidates.

I'm guilty.

Guilty of asking marginally strange questions that — yes — sometimes makes folks feel a little uncomfortable.

They often happen during our editorial board meetings when we interview candidates who are running for elective office.

We usually have reporters sit in on those meetings, and there usually is enough news coming from them to generate a story.

But don’t expect to see stuff that I ask about end up in the story.

Hey, remember, marginally strange.

When I sat on our editorial board at The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., the editor wrote a column about the board. He described me as a loose cannon, never knowing what kind of crazy question I’d ask.

I took it as a compliment.

Liberal or conservative, incumbent or challenger, it really doesn’t matter. Putting political types in slightly uncomfortable positions is a good thing. At least I think so.

Today I’m just as comfortable exposing Mayor Tim Leavitt and the liberal Vancouver City Council as I am exposing the conservative County Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke.

I suspect when some folks leave our editorial board meetings they might mutter, "Who was that guy?"

• • •

Take our editorial board meeting earlier this week with candidates for the 3rd Congressional District.

Jaime Herrera Beutler is the Republican incumbent. She is being challenged by Democrat Bob Dingethal and Republican Michael Delavar.

The gun control issue came up. Because we had reporter Lauren Dake in the editorial board meeting we had an option to do a story. She felt the discussion was newsworthy, and the story centered on gun control.

I was one of the board members who asked a question about gun control, but I had no expectation it would make the cut for Dake's story. And it didn't.

Truth is, many of my questions don't make the cut. As it should be.

Still, I have this column thing going, so as a public service here's an example of what doesn't make the cut:

"If you were starting a Utopian society, would there be guns in that Utopian society?"

"Oh, Lou," was the first response I received from Herrera Beutler.

Look, as a politician running for office, I can see how this question could be a little uncomfortable. And Herrera Beutler — who is a moderate Republican — is especially aware of how her Republican base might react to a "wrong" answer. So I knew my chances weren't good. I also am aware that most politicians simply don't like these kind of hypothetical questions. They're troublesome.

Still, I pressed.

Dingethal, the liberal Democrat, quickly dispatched the answer with a no. Delavar, the conservative Republican also dispatched the answer with a quick yes.

But Herrera Beutler struggled.

She brought up "Morlocks," a 2011 movie where an experimental time machine opened a window into the future and the Morlocks used it to come back to the present and go on a murderous rampage.

OK, that didn't go well.

B-grade movies aside, her first response was to not accept my premise and continued with:

"If it's a Utopian society, why would you need guns to defend yourself?"

Later in the answer she brought the issue back to reality.

"I don't think we're going to have a Utopian society, so I believe people need to have guns to defend themselves."

What I learned from this is moderates, as opposed to hard left or right folks, struggle with controversial issues — or crazy questions. So I give Herrera Beutler credit. The world isn't black and white to moderates. They often see both sides of an issue.

It's probably just me, but I found this question intriguing. I'd love to see coffeehouses and diners and classrooms debate it. In the meantime, as many of us in this world believe we need to move to the center, remember the moderates. They may be our best hope.