Offering forum for civil discourse defines group’s mission

It was Dec. 13, 2007, when then Kennewick police Chief Marc Harden and his wife, Deana, invited Tri-City Herald editorial page editor Matt Taylor and his wife, Bonnie, to dinner to talk about the formation of a group in the Tri-Cities to discuss matters political, social, and on occasion, just plain fun.

All had experienced such a group in Florida where Tiger Bay Clubs were in major cities.

They wrote letters to some 16 people of diverse backgrounds suggesting the formation of what they named a Coyote Club — a community forum for civil discourse — open to everyone.

The format was decided as 60- or 90-minute luncheon, though occasionally dinner, meetings, half devoted to speakers on matters of civic and political importance to the area, and the other half to questions from the audience who were encouraged to “badger” — respectfully — the speakers. Members were to be encouraged to be “tenacious when seeking information but retaining a sense of humor and civility.” Fittingly, the name was changed to Columbia Basin Badger Club. Anyone could attend.

Only members could ask questions.
The first forum was June 27, 2008.

Speakers were two candidates running for state superintendent of public education.

Since then, there have been discussions on everything from death with dignity to lack of irrigation water storage; from drugs, gangs, crime rates and moving the Benton County seat to privacy; prison reform  and political comedy; from addiction and homelessness to the Middle East situation; to a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was a past Tri-City Herald reporter.

The club had about 160 members from all Tri-City communities, governed by a board of about 14 members. Before the coronavirus pandemic took hold, Badger forums were attended by 80 to 100 people.

There were two notable exceptions in the pre-Covid era: first when retired Gen. James Mattis addressed an audience of nearly 160, and last January when Ang Dorjee Sherpa drew well over a hundred for the group’s annual meeting with pictures and stories of guiding climbers on Mt. Everest.

For the time being, Badger forums will be all virtual using our Zoom license.

The good news is that we can present speakers from afar. People like former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, chief executive officer of the Association of Washington Business Kris Johnson, and state Commerce Director Lisa Brown.

Next month, we’re honored that political commentator Peter Wehner, a Richland native whose work appears in The Atlantic, will help us decipher the outcome of the Nov. 3 election. The meeting is at noon Nov. 19.

What’s next for the Badger Club? We will continue to present outstanding virtual forums for the foreseeable future. Once we can meet in person at the Holiday Inn Express adjacent to the HAPO Center in Pasco, we’ll be able to present “hybrid” forums with speakers and audience from anywhere in the world able to interact in real time with guests in the meeting hall. We hope you’ll join us as we continue to provide a forum for “civil civic discourse on important topics of the day.”

You’ll find registration information on our website: columbiabasinbadgers.com.

Jack Briggs is the retired publisher of the Tri-City Herald. He has served as the Badger Club’s historian.

Kirk Williamson is the Badger Club’s current president.

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