This commentary is in response to former San Luis Obispo Tribune reporter Bob Cuddy’s March 26 New Times commentary, “A change is coming.” Cuddy’s insulting polemic is a foretaste of a protracted attack on COLAB, several county supervisors, and citizens who speak at public comment periods before the Board of Supervisors and other public bodies. The attack, as Cuddy has promised, will be launched against so-called local “reactionaries” by the county’s left apparatchiks, who are unhappy with some recent election results and the growing criticism of local and state land use, tax, regulatory, and water polices. They are even more upset because they can no longer monopolize public policy and civic activism.
The article itself, and separately from the threat, is akin to a drive-by shooting using a machine gun on a crowded street. The bullets fly indiscriminately. Not that Cuddy didn’t have targets. He includes the Tea Party, county supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton, unnamed people who are allegedly “buying the county government,” unnamed citizens who speak at public meetings (whom he vilifies as demagogues, malcontents, and fellow travelers), unnamed bullies, unnamed troglodytes, unnamed ill-mannered big money folks, minions, his former employer and editors at the Tribune, the Coalition of Labor Agriculture and Business of San Luis Obispo County (COLAB), and of course myself as its government affairs director and government watchdog.
This variety of personal attack is characteristic of those who have no valid substantive position or argument. Hypocritically, he supports a “local government scene” that he says could be “returning to civility, discourse, and thoughtfulness.” Presumably, all the listed groups lack civility and the other characteristics he purports to support.
Obviously the guy is a graduate of the Joseph Goebbels School of Journalism, using unsubstantiated broad-brush innuendo, double speak, and invective to characterize some groups in the hope of destroying them. Would Cuddy send Tea Party members, COLAB members, and people who contributed to Lynn Compton to a prison camp? After all, some are anti-socialist (including anti-National Socialist). To label the civic-minded folks who come to speak on agenda items as “demagogues,” “malcontents,” and “fellow travelers” is despicable. Several years ago there were a few people who got personal after news of Gibson’s 4th floor county affair broke, but they came and went.
Cuddy’s bias is clearly evident. He ignores the key fact that it is Supervisor Adam Hill, aided by Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who is the poster child for instigating and maintaining a contentious and impolite atmosphere. He has gone out of his way to chill legitimate public speakers—not to mention news reporters, radio show hosts, some of his colleagues, and others.
Why doesn’t Cuddy chastise Hill for his bullying and, in my opinion, illegal behavior as a public official? Why is censoring Hill, barring him from honorable positions, denying him the ability to preside over public bodies, or better yet removing him from public office altogether not just as “dandy” as it can be? Actually, I don’t remember using the word. It sounds a little embarrassingly delicate for me. (I would probably say “nice work,” or “totally bitchin’,” or “all debts must be paid”) but will accept credit here. Why is it “insulting?”
Cuddy ought to take a breath and watch the public broadcasts of the British Parliament when the Prime Minister is giving his reports. The British have mastered “insulting” political debate. Not only are the jabs hard, but the opposition rudely boos, claps, groans, and rustles papers. In San Luis Obispo County, the public is actually barred from booing and clapping in our board meetings and will be removed by an armed Sheriff’s Deputy if they do. Since the supervisors don’t have real “no holds barred” debates, what is the public to do?
Why is it that members of the public are demonized as “demagogues, malcontents, and fellow travelers” if they oppose current county policies such as “smart-growth,” draconian limitations on agriculture, government expropriation of private property rights, and the oil industry, as well the endless expansion of fees, taxes, and exactions?
Conversely, why is it that those who demand the shutdown of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, the Phillips 66 Refinery, and dunes recreation, and the banning of traditional subdivisions of freestanding homes in the name of climate change are praised as “ordinary, decent, citizens with manners?” Is this Cuddy’s version of “civility, discourse, and thoughtfulness?”
Cuddy objects to the interruption of the good old boy annual board chair rotation at the APCD several years ago and at the Board of Supervisors this past February. It happened because people are disgusted with Hill and object to his being the chief elected official of the county and highest local elected official representing the county as a geographic entity generally. Similarly, people do not trust Gibson, who is dictatorial as board chair and who travels to Sacramento and places the county on record with the Legislature as supporting the Proposition 30 tax hikes even though the Board never considered the matter, let alone held a noticed public hearing. As noted above, his trustworthiness is also questioned because he has had romantic turmoil, which spilled into the workplace—a workplace that actually has rules against such behavior. Consider the double standard. Just a few years ago, a long-term county administrative officer was fired after consensually discussing dating and apparel issues with his female deputy. The board apparently considered this sexual harassment. In Gibson’s case, county officials placidly shrugged their shoulders. Cuddy terms citizens who questioned the double standard as ill mannered.
Furthermore, and according to Cuddy, the other supervisors and the public have no right to question the chair rotation because each supervisor is elected from a district and presumably represents the voters who voted for him or her. He makes a huge leap of false logic here. Once elected, the supervisors are sworn to govern the entire county legally and in the public interest. They don’t just govern their own district. The fact that a particular supervisor was elected by a particular district does not excuse, let alone prohibit, the other supervisors or the people from questioning his actions and taking action themselves if they disagree. Cuddy’s position is an unethical slippery slope because, in the end, he is advocating for the suppression of speech of those with whom he disagrees. Moreover, he is advocating for the perpetuation of a live-and-let-live, mutual backscratching culture among the supervisors, which has existed for decades.
There is a deeper issue here. It is in one which Cuddy, Gibson, Hill, Tom Fulks, and their ilk now understand, despise, and fear. It is that the people will no longer allow the left to monopolize public activism. COLAB and other indigenous voluntary organizations, which have arisen and which are growing, constitute a form of civic insurgence that will not be bullied or marginalized by the left. COLAB is a broad coalition of farmers, ranchers, businesses of all types, professionals, Realtors, and civic-minded individuals, and seeks fundamental policy change. The recent attacks by Cuddy and Fulks are testimony to the success, visibility, and power of that insurgence. Cuddy’s article says a “A change is coming.”
No, Mr. Cuddy, the change has already come.
By the way, Cuddy’s statement that COLAB put money into the supervisorial campaigns of Arnold and Compton is absolutely false. COLAB does not provide campaign contributions or candidate endorsements. This is not a matter of opinion. There are no campaign reporting forms showing contributions by COLAB to candidates or payments for services to COLAB by candidates. Cuddy should correct and apologize in the same space.
Mike Brown is the government affairs director for the Coalition of Labor Agriculture and Business of San Luis Obispo County (COLAB). Brown has 42 years of local government experience, much of it as CEO of large complex jurisdictions. Send comments to the executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.