“There are many paths we can take, but the only course forward will be charted through responsible compromise.”
From city hall, to the county commission chambers, to Tallahassee, to Capital Hill there is, it seems, a gradual and steady decline in the willingness of elected officials to communicate, collaborate and cooperate with each other in pursuit of the common good.
In this era when partisan one-line zingers dominate political discourse, it should be little wonder why many voters have at best a tenuous grasp of the complexity of the issues we face. Seeking to win votes, rather than to inform and educate, today’s politicians carefully package themselves and their messages in exceedingly simplistic terms. By dumbing down the public discussion, and by vilifying the opposition, many politicians are weakening our democracy, which depends on a well-informed electorate.
Increasingly, labels like “liberal,” “progressive,” “socialist,” and “right-wing extremist” are tossed into the discussion like verbal hand grenades. All of this name calling is disingenuous as best, for any thoughtful, intellectually honest, well informed politician realizes there are at least two sides to every debate. Though their handlers and media advisers will not allow them to admit it, politicians also know the simplistic solutions they are peddling will not address in any meaningful way the pressing problems facing our communities, our state and the nation.
Many pundits, political activists and so-called community activists add to the polarization. Convinced of the rightness of their often shifting convictions, they go about vilifying others who may see things differently from them. I could site local issues and name names, but that is not necessary. Anyone who is half-informed knows exactly what I mean.
Leaders in both parties now take oaths pledging not to support or vote for candidates of the other party. Do these stridently partisan Republicans and Democrats actually believe we would be better off with a one-party system?
What partisans on all sides fail to appreciate is that those who hold different views are not simply going to give up their seat at the table. As an example, Libertarians who see nearly all government as an unnecessary infringement of their personal rights and liberties are not going to wake up tomorrow as socialists, and they are not going to allow themselves to be forced out of the discussion. They must be heard, and their views must be considered.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Vero Beach City Councilman Richard Winger to discuss his priorities for the coming year.
I first met the energetic, optimistic “Roosevelt Republican” four years ago, when he was still a member of the Finance Commission. Since then, I have witnessed Winger devote much of his time and energy to serving the community. With its several utilities and enterprise funds, the City of Vero Beach, though small, is a complex enterprise. Of the elected officials to serve the city in recent years, perhaps none has devoted so much of himself to grasping the details and the larger picture.
I also wonder if the City has in recent times seen a more pragmatic politician, willing to work with the cards he has been dealt. One might wish to serve in a simpler, less partisan time, when negotiating a better deal on wholesale power rates would be seen as an accomplishment, rather than as a duplicitous move to be vilified.
“So there you have it,” Winger often says in offering a pragmatic summary of the way things are, or at least seem to be to him. Another of his favorite expressions is, “So what are you going to do?” Winger has addressed difficult and unpleasant realities by doing what has to be done – to lower electric rates, to address the Lagoon crisis, to maintain municipal services, and to shore up the City’s finances while also treating its employees fairly and with respect.
“Working together” became a theme in Winger’s recent campaign, and it is a priority he says he is going to continue to raise.
At some point, the legal challenges by Indian River County Commission and the Town of Indian River Shores will run their course, and all that will be left to do is work together. Eventually, the County Commission will accept that Vero Beach leaders are not going to hand over a profitable, well-run water and sewer utility to the detriment of city customers. Surely the day will come when the County Commission will realize the only realistic posture is one of cooperation.
That day cannot come soon enough, for there is no more time left for petty partisanship, and power plays. At every level of government, we need leaders with the depth and emotional maturity to communicate, collaborate and cooperate with others who may hold opposing views. There are many paths we can take, but the only course forward will be charted through responsible compromise.