Tom Fulks

Will partisanship determine who chairs the SLO County Board of Supervisors in 2017?

It’s New Year’s Day. I’m hoping for good things in 2017, but not holding my breath.

While I have a deep sense of foreboding that political and societal apocalypse awaits our nation this year, I’m holding out hope for a better year here at home.

That’ll depend in some measure on whether the new hard-right majority on the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors can resist its partisan impulses and do what’s right. It could happen.

The board’s putative majority — North County’s John Peschong and Debbie Arnold, plus South County’s Lynn Compton — can, if they choose, play partisan games, as Arnold and Compton have done so brazenly before.

But it would be a lousy way to start the year. Let’s hope they don’t.

Their test will come Jan. 10, when the board is scheduled to elect its chair and vice chair for 2017. This annual ritual was long considered a routine, nonpartisan, non-newsburger, with each district serving in a rational rotation.

That changed in 2015, when then-Supervisor Frank Mecham, Arnold and Compton — all Republicans — decided “nonpartisan” county supervisor victories deserve partisan spoils, one of which is who chairs the board for a year.

Taking direction from the Coalition of Agriculture, Labor and Business (developers masquerading as farmers), Arnold and Compton abandoned long-standing tradition in order to “punish” 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill for a variety of amorphous offenses, primarily being a smart-mouthed liberal Democrat.

Beating its hyper-partisan drum, COLAB packed the board chambers with its flock to demand Hill be denied the vice chair seat. Instead, it went to rookie Compton.

The rationale in 2015 was that if Hill were vice chair, he’d be in line for chairman in 2016, somehow providing him advantage in his re-election bid.

Hill was eventually appointed vice chair at the beginning of 2016 and went on to win re-election in November. He’s now in line to be appointed chairman Jan. 10.

Don’t be surprised to see COLAB show up demanding protocol be violated again to deny Hill the chairmanship. Rather than admitting the partisan hackery it is, the excuse this time likely would be “the public” demands it, evidenced by the angry mob of tea partiers.

After all, “nonpartisan” victories demand partisan spoils, right?

I hold a sliver of hope that a few sane voices — maybe even some newly energized “Bernie Sanders progressives” — pack the board chambers Jan. 10 to demand the collegiality and compromise that’s fundamental to good governance. We’ll see.

Locally, alas, political tribalism is gaining ground, fostered by an ever-shrinking local news media to hold government accountable. Facts are being displaced by feelings and ideology replacing reason at the county Board of Supervisors, local city council chambers and other elective bodies.

As traditional news media are supplanted by tribe-oriented, politically like-minded social media, an us-vs.-them dynamic has taken root here and at the national level. Everything is good vs. evil, black vs. white.

Passions might subside enough locally to accomplish good government if we, as a community, begin supplementing our diet of “social news” — such as Facebook — with real news and some critical thinking.

Social media is an emotional opioid, encouraging intellectual indolence while the civility that glues society dissolves away. To me, Facebook is like a shopping mall: Lots to browse but nothing to buy, a place to malinger instead of doing something constructive.

Sometimes the mall gets crowded, the going gets slow, the mood sours and mall fights break out. Some days, it feels like I’m fighting my way through a Wal-Mart flash-sale mob, people coming at me as if shot from a fire hose — overwhelming, amusing, bewildering.

Sometimes I engage, challenge obvious lies, snap back at deliberately obnoxious “friends of friends,” check out that puppy video, express my opinions hither and yon, tell some people to bug off, always wary of triggering a figurative mall melee.

I’m going to try to kick that habit, though, admittedly, it’ll be tough. Thus, I pledge these Resolutions for 2017:

▪  Avoid Facebook as much as possible.

▪  When on it, chill out. Don’t go for the bait.

▪  Try to stay positive. Seek good news.

▪  Read more newspapers.

▪  Pray Donald Trump doesn’t destroy the world.

▪  Hope the right stops claiming exclusive ownership of the American flag, the Constitution, freedom, the military, patriotism and Jesus.

▪  Focus on local government, knowing it affects me directly.

Here’s to the New Year bringing tidings of good cheer, a 5-0 vote for Hill as board chairman, Trump not blowing up the world, and me loitering less on Facebook.


Liberal columnist Tom Fulks is a former reporter and opinion writer. He has been a political campaign consultant for many local races. His column runs in The Tribune every other Sunday, in rotation with conservative columnist Matthew Hoy.