The entrees were ordered, the wine poured.
And Dan Stein, longtime president of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, was seated at the head of the u-shaped table. He is the affable wizard behind the curtain of many harsh immigration measures coming into vogue state by state.
Before Arizona's efforts stole the media spotlight, Oklahoma tried to tackle immigration. And FAIR's input in that state is what brought Stein to the recent dinner in Norman, Okla., to meet with a group of journalists.
Stein called Oklahoma FAIR's "gold standard."
A bit tarnished, I'd say.
Many Oklahoma measures passed in 2007 and meant to chase illegal immigrants from its borders are still caught up in costly court challenges.
And enough time has passed that assessments are being done. One study said Oklahoma will lose an estimated $1.8 billion annually in productivity and wages if 50,000 illegal immigrants leave, more than what FAIR once asserted they cost the state.
Contrary to what people wish to believe, illegal immigrants do contribute in property and sales taxes, by buying goods and running small businesses.
I suspect Arizona will eventually find itself much like Oklahoma, back to square one.
Immigration is like that, similar to stacked dominos. Move one piece and a whole other set of issues falls, often with consequences those tired of "press one for English" don't fathom.
Like the federal warning that the new Arizona law will undercut goals of focusing on violent illegal immigrants, people with criminal convictions, as well as their immigration status. Remove the fellow washing dishes, or the rapist?
What can't be repeated often enough is that despite heated passions on both sides, only the federal government has the ability to enact overhauls resolving immigration’s issues — balancing security, economic and humanitarian concerns.
States like Oklahoma and now Arizona are tinkering around the edges of that reality.
The interconnected, too numerous moving parts are why the real solutions must come from the U.S. Congress.
Stein knows as much.
Which might be why, in hindsight, his collegial talk was often void of direct replies to questions and references to real people.
As the journalists continued to report in the days following, several kept wondering, "What would Stein say to this person?"
Such as the Oklahoma City entrepreneur whose business acumen rapidly developed a chain of 11 restaurants, a tortilla factory, a bakery and an ice cream plant. He had planned on continued expansions but is stymied because he can't find enough U.S.-born or legal immigrants to staff new sites, despite competitive salaries.
His situation undermines the often-stated belief that every unemployed U.S.-born person is directly affected by each undocumented one. As if a lost middle management position correlates to a landscaper or a restaurant server.
Or the families with both legal and illegal members who spoke of curtailing trips to the big box stores because of rumors local police are rounding up immigrants in the parking lot.
They aren't leaving Oklahoma but still have no way to gain legal status, and the state is losing their economic input. Nobody wins.
The benefit of breaking bread is it allows for time to drift to the personal. Stein is passionate about jazz, having once aspired to a musician’s life.
When he evoked an appreciation of Lester Young's artistry, I pointed out that Kansas City is home to the American Jazz Museum. Young made much of his name here, coming to prominence with Count Basie.
Stein's heartfelt reply was that he would "love" to visit Kansas City. Welcome. Dinner's on me. But it will include people who can relate the impact of the laws FAIR is pressing onto the states.
Kansas City would do Stein's soul good — the jazz aficionado and otherwise.