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One Small Step is an effort to reconnect Americans, one conversation at a time.

One Small Step: Reno residents find connection through their fiscal differences

A screenshot of a man in a home office is side-by-side with that of a woman in her living room.
Natalie Van Hoozer, Crystal Willis
KUNR Public Radio
Brett McLane (left) and Susan Mazer participate in a One Small Step conversation virtually from their homes in Northern Nevada on Nov. 5, 2021.

Brett McLane is a banker in Reno who describes himself as a fiscally conservative, independent voter. He participated in KUNR’s One Small Step program to connect with someone in the community who has different political views.

He was matched with Susan Mazer, a musician and business owner who describes herself as liberal in all aspects. Their conversation touched on many topics, including their opinions on taxation.

Brett McLane: So, let me ask you, politically, you said you're a liberal in all ways, but describe your political values, socially, economically, everything. Is it liberal in all ways, or how would you describe it?

Susan Mazer: When I look, for instance, at the tax code, if I'm making good money, I'm happy to be taxed. I'd say 50% of our collected income, we donate, because we don't need it all. There's so much money in this country, that everyone should have a good education, everyone should have a home, every kid should not be hungry. I mean, we can afford all that, but it's all kind of harnessed in one area, and it's upsetting to me. I look at social justice being not so much about money, but about the quality of living. So, that's liberal, huh?

Brett: Well, these days, I think it classifies as that because everyone's got to label everything, right? And that's probably exactly what we're supposed to be having this conversation about because, you know, I fall on the other end of the spectrum economically, in that I genuinely believe in lower taxes and the whole idea that the government that governs least governs best. But, I also believe that, yes, education and healthcare are not things that we as allegedly the leader of the free world should be ranking where we do in the world rankings.

The question always comes, ‘Well, how do you pay for it?’ That's sort of, I guess, where there's a bit of a question mark, because the liberal answer, if you follow the mainstream media is, ‘Well, just tax everything. We'll tax everything and we'll use taxes to pay for everything.’ The conservative answer is, ‘Well, if we don't tax things, then people will have more discretionary income and trickle-down economics, etc.’

There's theories on either side, and I think the reality is, and the reason I probably describe myself as independent, and am registered that way, or registered unaffiliated, is because I don't fully subscribe to either side of those. There's somewhere in between that I think we are, for some reason, missing. There's room for a healthy debate around what is the right level of personal taxation, what is the right level of corporate taxation, and what does that come with? I think, too often, these issues are looked at in a vacuum, of taxation is bad if you're conservative and taxation is good if we use it for health and human services and welfare, if you're liberal. I wish I had the answer, I guess.

Susan: So, from where I'm sitting, my conclusion is, we agree on most things.

Brett: We probably agree more than we disagree, and that's rare these days, right? I think sometimes people just take a position and aren't willing to back down. They're in that echo chamber, where they follow only those that share their beliefs on social media, and I think having these conversations is an eye-opener. Like we said, we've had a divisive election and divisive social media and news channels, so after all this and after the pandemic, how do we come together as a country?

Susan: So, [some] of the work I did working on my Ph.D. was studying social conflict, and there's value in it because if there's no conflict, there's no progress, right? It's like trying to light a match on glass; you've got to have a little friction.

Brett: I haven't heard that; I like that.

Susan: Yeah, but what we have now is blatant hostility, meaning that, ‘I already hate you before you open your mouth. I already feel you're dumb, stupid, biased, before you say a word,’ and until we stop and have conversations the way you and I are, where we realize we have much more in common than not, I think we have to stop thinking of "the other" as an enemy and start thinking in diversity of opinions and that democracy is messy by intention, and that we need that diversity of opinion. I don't have a formula, you don't have one, but I'd love to have dinner with you and your wife.

Brett: I agree. We'll hash this all out over dinner.

Susan: I look forward to it.

After this recording, Brett and Susan did get together for dinner to continue talking. This conversation was facilitated by Natalie Van Hoozer and produced by Michelle Billman. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and, for awareness, Susan Mazer is a member of the KUNR Advisory Council.

KUNR and Noticiero Móvil are working with StoryCorps on One Small Step, a program made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. Nevada Humanities is a key community partner for this program. 

Natalie is a freelance journalist and translator based in Reno, Nevada, who reports in English and Spanish. She also works for the nonprofit SembraMedia, supporting independent, digital Spanish-language media in the United States.
Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.
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