The more time I spend with people possessed of great certainty, people of obstinate truculence in their thinking, the more I want to examine and test my own commitments. It’s a healthy endeavor except that in times like these, times of stormy attitudes toward the use of authority, it’s easy to find sources of outrage, and then discover that indignation has hardened my words and steeled my disposition.
Thus, I’ve never been partial to manifestos—and that’s not going to change—but this is my fancy way of drawing a fist in the air. In my political conscience, responsibility is pivotal but only if it prompts action. The marshaling of progressives and others deeply concerned about those now in charge of our government has summoned in me a duty to help, to encourage, to fight.
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When Hillary Clinton finally slushed past Bernie Sanders, many of us pragmatists thought this was as it had to be. No way could the cranky socialist become president. Not in this country. He’d just be responsible for the election of Donald Trump, was the nodding reassurance.
How wrong we were is still a matter of debate among some people on the left. But mostly there has been organizing, marches, protests, and an arousal of civic engagement that is growing. It’s much easier to deal with the fear and triumphalist mockery that suffuses much of our political culture when there’s a swell of solidarity among people in your own community. When I see moms and grand-moms and people of incorrigible cordiality insisting that we have to fight to protect our values, I am heartened, and I am moved to join and support them.
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Nationally, we are fighting to retain decent and humane approaches to the future for this country, and the same is so for our county. What many progressive-minded people are feeling is moral anxiety. Thus, the tension. Thus, the sense that everything depends on forcefully resisting. Two months in and it’s clear that the Board of Supervisors majority will do as they please even if it hurts the poor, vulnerable, and aged; weakens environmental protections; deepens divisions among us; and keeps you sitting in traffic. They doggedly repeat their “no new taxes” mantra, even as 66.3 percent of voters supported a self-help tax. Facts aren’t as important as ideological allegiance.
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A reporter from Mustang News asked me: “Do you think the craziness in Washington has affected what’s happening here at the Board of Supervisors?” I answered “No,” and then I answered “Yes,” and at the end of the interview I apologized to the student because I didn’t want her to think the harshness of the times was going to last forever.
But the answer is most definitely “Yes!” now that I hold it to the light, because there is a strategy to what Republicans in power are doing, explicitly testing the system and its balances. Basically, they are stressing the boundaries of tolerance to see what they can get away with. What is going on at the Board of Supervisors is also calculated.
There is an agenda, carefully crafted. It’s formed from the cynical recognition that while many people here have their hearts aligned to the left, their wallets align to the right. In the abstract, we want to be part of a citizenry known for its compassion and generosity, but when it comes down to specifics, we primarily want to protect and enhance what’s ours, sometimes at all costs.
This is where the Tea Party-inspired Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business (COLAB) comes in. With one hand they stir acrimony and suspicion; with the other they pull the strings, fawning over their elected champions and insisting that radical self-interest is the truest form of freedom. COLAB is a secretive group, preaching but not practicing transparency.
The agenda is well-funded, as next month COLAB fetes all three ruling supervisors at a dinner in order to raise money for the further advancement of right wing cronyism and exploitation.
That’s the raw description, but look more closely at the situation of our county government—no doubt it seems ripe for a major hustle. Independently rated as strong in its fiscal governance, we operate in a land of extraordinary richness and regulated restrained growth. Which means, as they say in politics, there’s a lot of money on the table. It’s why, as Tom Fulks pointed out recently, the supervisor races have become so obscenely expensive.
No one has benefited more from this than John Peschong, who ran Debbie Arnold’s and Lynn Compton’s successful campaigns before easing himself onto the public payroll. Chairman Peschong was also paid to promote Walmart in Atascadero (a 10-year hose of wasted money) and to fight the single-use bag ban (the environment won that one). John is a very seasoned political operative, one who has funneled money from all over the country, and now the freshman supervisor runs the Board of Supervisors.
So everything is tinged with tension and our meetings are combative. But this is as it must be because the board’s majority has chosen clientelism as its main governing philosophy. Civil dissent alone won’t stop them. Beyond large turnouts at meetings, protests in all peaceful forms, there ultimately must be strong election campaigns to defeat them.
It won’t be easy, because all three have spent more money to obtain their seats than anyone ever before spent. The hard work has to start now for the 2018 elections. The future of our county is at stake.
-- Adam Hill - San Luis Obispo County supervisor, San Luis Obispo