By PETE GOLIS
Here in Democratic Sonoma County, people brand Washington Republicans as obstructionists eager to see a Democratic administration fail even if it means that the nation’s problems go unsolved.
In 2010, the GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky famously boasted to a gathering of Heritage Foundation conservatives: “Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.”
How unfair and shortsighted, hometown people say. At a time in which the country needs to pull together, what a terrible abandonment of responsibility. Thank God we’re not like that.
Did you read the story recently about the two Santa Rosa City Council candidates, Ernesto Olivares and Erin Carlstrom, who pledged to move beyond their differences and find ways to cooperate?
Once upon a time, a pledge to cooperate would have seemed like endorsing motherhood, apple pie and the flag. Who could be against cooperation?
But this is Santa Rosa, so the two candidates got slammed.
One City Council member said she felt “betrayed” by this offer of cooperation and quickly withdrew her endorsement of Carlstrom. Cooperate with people who don’t agree with me? Never!
Others speculated that there must be some sort of secret agenda to propose anything as radical as cooperation.
Flash forward a few days to another Santa Rosa City Council candidate. Julie Combs felt obliged to respond to an anonymous Internet report that she once voted in a Republican Primary in Ohio.
It is said there are many nice people in Ohio, and some of them are even Republicans.
But this is Santa Rosa, so the candidate feared a backlash from the self-appointed guardians of what people should and shouldn’t think.
“I’m not now, nor have I ever been a Republican,” Combs declared. She sounded horrified. What could be worse than being called a Republican?
Once upon a time, politicians like Mitch McConnell understood that the strength of America comes from a political system willing and able to accommodate our political, economic and geographic differences.
We’re all here together, after all — California and Kentucky, urban and agrarian, business and labor, people who believe in an expanded role for government and people who don’t. If any region or group thinks it will get exactly the government it wants all the time, it’s going to be disappointed.
For more than 200 years, Congress understood its responsibility to find common ground.
But this most elemental of civic obligations — compromise — is out of fashion now, ridiculed by politicians and political groups eager to celebrate disunity. For them, politics has become a blood sport, and compromise is a sellout.
This country is in trouble because politicians of all stripes won’t acknowledge that we compromise because all the other options are both futile and destructive.
Here in Sonoma County, we like to think we’re not like that — even as the usual factions condemn anyone who urges cooperation or otherwise dares to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy.
It’s not news that local government is in crisis right now. We need candidates knowledgeable about education and public safety, about balanced budgets and pension shortfalls, about jobs and taxes, about holes in the safety net and holes in the pavement.
Instead, the same old factions draw lines over development decisions that are few and far between.
In cities such as Santa Rosa and Petaluma, the people who are supposed to find ways to make their city better keep finding big and small ways to fight.
As long as they do, local government will be impaired. Problems won’t be solved. The best people won’t want to work in local government. And the best people won’t want to run for office.
Somehow, some day, thoughtful people are going to put a stop to the bitterness — and it might begin with something as simple as a pledge to cooperate.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane showed up to endorse the two candidates pledging to find ways to get along. “We have to learn to look at each other as human beings that care about the same things and find out what it is that we have in common, rather than what divides us,” she told Staff Writer Kevin McCallum.
Assemblyman Wes Chesbro and a representative of Congressman Mike Thompson were also there to lend support. No one has failed to notice the damage caused by the city’s corrosive politics.
With budget cuts and regular attacks on public service, government isn’t much fun these days. We shouldn’t make it worse by letting City Hall remain the place where cooperation goes to die.
Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at email@example.com.