Camillo: Can’t Attend Higbie’s Town Hall, But Event is Opportunity for Civil Discourse

Letter to the editor from State Rep Fred Camillo (R-151) submitted Jan 25, 2019

This week we’ve been hearing a lot about free speech, hate speech, inclusivity and divisiveness, and we’ve debated, at length, the fine line between a healthy debate and a political stunt.

Let me make my position on Higbie’s remarks abundantly clear – I completely condemn any statements attacking someone’s race, religion, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, political views, or any characteristic that defines them as a person.

In no way do his comments reflect my personal beliefs. His words were poorly chosen and divisive rhetoric does not belong in the Town of Greenwich or the State of Connecticut.

We’ve all faced some form of discrimination in our lives, and we know how it makes us feel. I hope that any individual intending to use similar language takes a moment to consider the impact their words could have on a neighbor, friend or family member. This is something we all need to get better at doing.

With that said, we are also a community that seeks to reform, educate and renew. We are also a state that addresses conflict in a diplomatic and collegiate way by bringing people from all walks of life to the table to discuss differences in opinion, as opposed to ignoring them.

Although I am no longer able to attend the forum due to obligations in Hartford, I believe this event is an opportunity for members of the public to engage in civil discourse and delve into topics that we often try to avoid.

Since, to the best of my knowledge, representatives from both ends of the political spectrum will be in attendance, a civil exchange of ideas and perspectives has the potential to be productive.

First Selectman Tesei’s decision to allow Mr. Higbie to speak at Greenwich Town Hall reflects his commitment to diversity in all forms. Whether the venue be Town Hall or some other location, how can we be true to the mission of his advisory committee if we refuse to hear from those who disagree with us?

I have difficult discussions each day when I am at the Capitol with members of my own party and from colleagues across the aisle, but I enter each conversation with an open mind because I believe there is value in them, no matter how far apart we may be on the issue at hand.

I believe in the ability of people to evolve beyond their former selves. If we are truly committed to reforming individuals who have said or done hurtful things in the past, events like this must take place. In fact, I think avoiding these discussions will only make matters worse. We may not like what others have to say, but to Mr. Tesei’s point, all ideas, whether good or bad, inclusive or divisive, are better discussed in an open setting rather than behind closed doors where prejudice, bias and dogmatism can remain unchecked.

Bigotry and intolerance can take many forms and they are not unique to any political party, race, religion or culture, but I assure you, they can be defeated if people are willing to make the effort.

I know political discourse has taken a turn for the worse in recent years, including in our own town, but we can use this moment as an opportunity to examine the underlying causes. Leadership at all levels must face these problems directly as opposed to hiding in fear of the potential political fallout.

I, for one, have always chosen to have the difficult discussions, because if public officials don’t, who will?

See also:

LETTER: Coming Soon, Greenwich’s Right Wing Reality TV Show

LETTER: Higbie Is a Not a Good Candidate to Promote Civil Discourse

Carl Higbie to Co-Host Panel Discussion at Greenwich Town Hall, Expects Fireworks

Greenwich’s Carl Higbie Resigns from Trump Administration Over Racist, Sexist Comments

Greenwich Officials Respond to Higbie Resignation from Trump Administration

Greenwich Delegation Condemn Toxic, Divisive Rhetoric

Greenwich’s Carl Higbie Joins Trump Administration as Chief of External Affairs