Disagreeing while still talking was once the key to political dialogue
The conversation was welcome — more because of what it wasn’t than what it was.
To be clear, the phone call I received last week from longtime acquaintance Jack Lucas began as criticism of my column on local governmental decision-making. What it wasn’t was one of those disagreements laced with epithets or personal attacks that have come to symbolize most political or philosophical arguments these days.
Jack didn’t spend any time trying to defend the Grand Junction City Council or the District 51 Board of Education. But he certainly wanted me to know he thought I was off the mark in including the Mesa County Board of Commissioners in my criticism of shaky and disappointing decisions by some of our local elected boards.
Longtime locals know or know of Jack Lucas, especially if they’re users of the Mesa County Fairgrounds or appreciate the guys in white shirts and black hats who make up the Mesa County Sheriff’s Posse and run its rodeo.
Jack’s latest accomplishment came just last week, when the county commissioners agreed to once again make certain the name of the fairgrounds reflected its origins as Intermountain Veterans Memorial Park.
Since Jack is past his 90th birthday, he doesn’t waste time beating around the bush. I took a couple of hits early in our conversation last week.
The first was a reminder that, in his view, I’d made some shaky decisions myself as a county commissioner back in the early 1990s in discussions and actions regarding the future of the fairgrounds. Fair enough, though the details of those actions might be a little cloudy in both our minds nearly a quarter-century later.
That part of our talk served as a good reminder that, while we all expect our governmental decision-makers and political leaders to clear the fences with every decision, four out of ten good decisions in the batter’s box will almost always earn a Major Leaguer a nomination to the Hall of Fame. That doesn’t mean that the six less-successful at-bats should be free of criticism. It’s just that, as Winston Churchill once said, “Perfection is spelled paralysis.” Maybe there ought to be some realistic expectations of the human beings charged with making decisions on our behalf.
Jack’s also certain that Commissioners Steve Acquafresca, Rose Pugliese and John Justman are doing a good job. Perhaps that opinion is colored a bit by his recent success making certain that his beloved fairgrounds is formally known as the Mesa County Fairgrounds at Veterans Memorial Park. For me, the jury’s still out, eight months into the tenure of the current Board of Commissioners.
I also have cautious hopes for the other governing bodies mentioned in last week’s column.
John Williams will be a good interim addition to the District 51 school board, and we’ll know in 90 days what a new board will look like. That November election will be a watershed moment for local K-12 education going forward.
Shaky as the start has been, there are signs the new Grand Junction City Council may occasionally get past philosophical differences and grade-school playground behavior and improve its functionality. Responsibility has a way of slapping you hard in the face once in elected office. In the best of circumstances, that trumps ideological baggage.
At the end of our conversation last week, Jack Lucas and I agreed to meet for coffee. We’ll look each other in the eye, likely continue some of our disagreements, and probably find, as I think we did last week, that we agree more than we differ on a lot of issues.
That’s the way local politics used to be most times — direct but cordial, recognizing that the person on the other side of one issue might be an ally on the next. That it isn’t necessary to tear someone down personally to build yourself up.
This requires recognizing that an opposing viewpoint doesn’t mean the holder is a bad person, just that he or she looked at the same facts and reached a different conclusion. And realizing that differences don’t have to be a line in the dirt but could be a starting point for discussion.
And, it’s worth noting, that criticism comes with the job, be that politics or prognostication.