Tom Fulks

Tribune Columnist Tom Fulks says goodbye to readers — for now

This will be my last column before the June 5 Primary Election.

I’ve found myself involved in several local political campaigns and I want to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest in what I write here.

These races are personally important to me, so I’ve chosen to get involved rather than just opine. In my mind, the outcome of this election will determine the kind of county we’re to have — the kind of society we’re to be — going forward in this era of Trumpism.

We’re living in a time in which the norms of a moral, just society — and the objective truth about facts and science — are disregarded by a significant majority of Republican voters. Elected Republicans, locally and nationally, have abandoned principle in their defense of an unfit president and engage in a frenzied rush to reward their corporate masters with tax cuts and favorable public policy.

As I’ve noted before, they’ve forsaken common decency, respect for traditional American values, the rule of law, the Bill of Rights, and the defense of our nation against its enemies.

Those things matter to me and just about everyone I know in San Luis Obispo County. The June 5 primary — the first election since Trump’s rise to power — will indicate what this county’s voters think about the direction of both our nation and community, how we feel about the soul of our society, and whether we’re going to accept the Trumpian ethos of “self above all else.”

I’ve been a strategist for 2nd District County Supervisor Bruce Gibson’s campaigns since his first in 2006. He’s a friend and I want to help him win re-election because, as a District 2 voter, I think he’s one of the best, brightest and most compassionate politicians ever to inhabit the board’s dais.

I’m also helping Greg Clayton’s campaign for county sheriff and Judge Mike Cummins’s campaign for District Attorney. Both are well qualified for their respective positions.

Their causes are important to me: Reforming this county’s criminal justice and mental health systems, shining a public light into and demanding accountability from these opaque bureaucracies that have the capacity to take people’s freedom and lives.

I’m profoundly curious about the case of Andrew Holland, whose jailhouse death a year ago — after being strapped to a restraining chair for more than 46 hours — triggered a $5 million payout to his family but scant investigation of civil or criminal wrongdoing at the local level.

His was one of 12 in-custody deaths in the past five years that, in my view, warrant robust public soul searching about the state of our county’s criminal justice and mental health systems.

It’s an uncomfortable subject for a lot of people, and many hold the attitude that those people wouldn’t have died had they not done something criminal to put themselves behind bars to begin with. Perhaps, but these deaths reveal a deeper problem — an institutional and cultural pathology that appears to devalue the humanity of people unfortunate enough to find themselves ensnared in the system.

Inmates are human beings, our neighbors, friends and family members. They’re entitled to their dignity — and their lives.

This system needs examination in a rigorous public debate that only a campaign can bring about. There’s no other incentive for public officials to explain the decisions and actions they take behind closed doors. This is precisely why we have local elections: to hold our officials accountable.

Politics is clash of ideas, a contest of philosophies. It’s messy and it routinely makes people irritable and angry.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman put his finger on the problem: “America in 2018 is not a place where we can disagree without being disagreeable, where there are good people and good ideas on both sides, or whatever other bipartisan homily you want to recite. We are, instead, living in a kakistocracy, a nation ruled by the worst, and we need to face up to that unpleasant reality.”

Not everyone wants to engage in the rough and tumble of politics, but it’s the most fundamental ingredient of our republic. However, everyone should perform the one essential political act required in a working democracy: vote.

That some two-thirds of eligible voters in this county historically cast ballots is nothing to celebrate. It means one-third of eligible voters don’t.

Winston Churchill was right when he quipped: “Democracy is the worst form of government – except all the others.”

We may not like politics, but it’s elemental to our freedom. Please pay attention.

See you after June 5.

Liberal columnist Tom Fulks serves on the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee. His column has been running every other Sunday, in rotation with conservative columnist Andrea Seastrand.

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