Our View: Look beyond political labels

By Triplicate Staff February 07, 2012 03:37 am

Three spots apiece on the county Board of Supervisors, City Council and Harbor Commission. Two on the School Board. A state Assembly post and a brand-new congressional representative.

It’s not all about the presidential election or the governor’s initiative to generate more revenue through higher taxes this year. Del Norte voters have work to do at the local and regional level as well.

And while those national and statewide elections can be polarizing, here’s hoping the closer-to-home decisions can be based on issues and candidate qualifications instead of labels.

A recent letter to the editor complained that while the local electorate leans conservative, most of our leaders are liberals. To which we reply: Huh?

Then come more elaborate follow-up questions: How exactly does one determine the overriding political philosophy of Del Norte elected officials? And even if we succeed in doing so, should that determine how we vote in local elections?

These are nonpartisan offices, so we can’t vote a party line even if we were lazy enough to want to. Maybe certain criteria could be employed to determine whether someone qualifies as a liberal or conservative: how a School Board member voted on the relocation of the teen health clinic, perhaps, or whether City Council members and county supervisors are calling loudly enough for rollbacks in the prices of garbage collection that were negotiated during a recent contract extension.

The letter-writer lamented the departure of Charles Slert from the City Council, saying we’d lost a conservative. Well, maybe, but it’s difficult to see what role his alleged conservatism played in helping to run the city. He generally voted with the majority – do all the City Council members qualify as conservatives?

Slert was the staunchest Council supporter of maintaining the downtown Business Improvement District — since renamed the Downtown District — with its mandatory fees administered by City Hall. Does that make him a liberal?

And how does one establish the liberal or conservative credentials of Harbor Commission members? Perhaps by whether they voted to hire attorney Fred Kelley Grant to help cut through bureaucratic red tape regarding tsunami recovery assistance?

Grant declined the $10,000 commissioners wanted to pay him, saying it wouldn’t be money well-spent since harbor officials already seemed comfortable with the timeline for repairs. So were the commissioners who sought to hire him the conservatives or the liberals?

If citizens want to decide how they’ll vote based on candidates’ stand on a particular issue, that is certainly their right. But we will be best served if voters worry less about assigning labels and more about candidates’ qualifications and willingness to work hard in leading Del Norte during particularly tricky times.

What’s so tricky about them? After all, government agencies, especially at the state level, are cutting spending and services, and isn’t a reduction in the size of government something the majority of Del Norters want? The truth is, however, that we are more government-dependent than most areas — many of our more-affluent residents are employed at the state prison or by grant-funded institutions, and many of our poorer residents are heavily dependent on social services.

So maybe we don’t necessarily want less state spending in Del Norte, but plenty of us do want less state and federal control over what we do here when it comes to land-use development and access to natural resources. Again, however, it’s tricky. Federal and state regulations aren’t going to magically disappear, so we have to figure out how to work through them, or around them, to make this a better place to live and work now, as well as a viable legacy for our children.

A place with more opportunities and fewer vacant storefronts.

Meanwhile, the School Board members we choose in November will help direct education reform efforts vital to our young people. Perhaps their stand on the various reform possibilities is more important than the relocation of the Teen Health Center?

 Attaching political labels and voting accordingly is a flawed approach. Let’s find the candidates who are most capable of navigating Del Norte through rough waters churned by economic turmoil and seemingly endless layers of government regulation.

Through its reporting and organization of upcoming candidate forums, the local newspaper stands ready to help.

— Del Norte Triplicate