Letter: Civility, Yes; Shell Games and Stonewalling, No

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Some claim national press coverage of recent cop car graphics controversy put our town in a bad light. Instead, my liberal and conservative friends across the country empathized with robust local debate wrestling over left-right dichotomies familiar to all Americans.

Yet, council members Blake and Iseman are being blamed and vilified for “polarizing” this and other issues. Are council members who wait and cast a safe vote with the winning side really more effective? Should we punish leaders who take clear positions, define real choices?

Friends agreeing with my criticism of Iseman on many issues still resent my recognition of her leadership during the 2017 Antifa/Altright showdown. With the nation watching, Iseman stepped up with competence and courage no other recent mayor has displayed. Despite vile behavior by some, national news coverage gave our town credit for preventing predicted mob riots.

Similarly, attempts to shame Councilman Blake for masterful television interviews on multiple national networks about the cop car debate were sour grapes. Political professionals from LA to Washington across the partisan spectrum praised Blake for clearly articulating the merits of his positions with both passion and reason.

Whether one agrees with Iseman and Blake, both are keeping promises made to voters. Both were top vote getters in the 2018 mid-term election, despite being outspoken on controversial local issues. Neither specializes in shell-games with city staff that leave public suspecting backroom City Hall deals.

Whether it’s about undue influence in City Hall by pro-development or anti-development special interests, or irrational School Board governance practices, we still have great city and school traditions worth a spirited but civil local debate. Rather than being a fault as entrenched incumbents self-servingly claim, perhaps diversity in leadership styles strengthens democratic pluralism.

The glare of media attention should not inhibit or suppress robust local debate. So, understanding the interplay of local and national politics is an important civics lesson, especially in presidential election years.

As 2020 looms over the horizon, some are calling for national issues and party affiliation to be the litmus test for nonpartisan candidates seeking nonpartisan local offices. Candidates are free to do that, but there’s a reason city council and school board seats aren’t contested in political party primaries. Before 2020 fever strikes, we need a dialogue about preserving the integrity of nonpartisan local elections for nonpartisan local offices. If interested, stay tuned.

Howard Hills, Laguna Beach

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