Tom Fulks

The New Way for many local conservatives: political fear and loathing

I run into San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson in Sacramento a couple of weeks back.

He promises free beer. And the chance to meet interesting people.

So I join him at a California State Association of Counties reception at its annual May conference.

There’s 1st District Supervisor Frank Mecham. We greet, shake, exchange niceties.

There’s Mecham’s predecessor, Harry Ovitt. We say hey, shake, reminisce a bit about when he was a supervisor and I covered him for the newspaper.

I’m glad to see him. He’s surprised to see me here. We tell jokes, give each other a hard time.

I sip my free beer.

There’s former Supervisor Katcho Achadjian (now state Assembly member, representing the 35th District, and a candidate for Congress). We greet, shake, exchange quick hellos. He’s been buttonholed by some dude I don’t know. I move on.

The patio at the restaurant, two blocks from the Capitol, is hot, packed with sweating county electeds and bureaucrats from throughout California, plus a clutch of lurking lobbyists and obsequious salespeople.

I know some folks, like a Sacramento County supervisor who’s on the California Air Resources Board, where I spend a lot of time.

We share a laugh, clink our beers in toast. To what I don’t recall, but it was funny.

Gibson introduces me to some people deeply into climate change policy, my area of work in Sacramento — why I’m here.

We discuss meetings I attended earlier about a state-mandated 10 percent cut in carbon content of transportation fuels by 2020 and regulations covering vehicle emissions.

Another day at the Capitol, another policy meeting.

Gibson invites me to this reception spur of the moment, to lighten the load after a heavy day. I dive in.

I’m his occasional campaign adviser. But not today.

Today, I’m a homey with time for a pint with a pal. I end up running into other pals with pints.

Whenever I bump into Katcho in Sacramento (fairly commonly), we exchange warm greetings.

We’ve known each other for decades. He knows I’d never vote for him, and I know he’d never agree with me on 90 percent of anything.

But we’ve never let political differences get between personal regard for one another.

Same for Ovitt. We think different politically, but we get along just fine.

It’s the Old Way. How it used to be. Before the change.

Before so many on the right decided they’re required to regard political opponents as their enemy, less than human, unworthy of kindness or even a smile.

Eric Seastrand was a hard-right Republican from Salinas, our assemblyman in the 1980s. He was wrong in most respects politically, but he was a good guy, a gentleman. I liked him.

I feel the same today about his widow, Andrea. She and I probably agree on nearly nothing. So what?

I bumped into her a few weeks ago in San Luis Obispo. We exchanged pleasantries.

The Old Way. The SLO County way.

George Galvan, a staunch North County Republican and fine man, described it best years ago when I asked why we laughed at each other’s jokes.

He replied that no matter what you think of the person’s politics, you always try to think well of the person.

Now there’s the New Way.

The New Way requires insulting people with whom we disagree, attacking not their beliefs, words or votes, but them — personally — via hate radio, partisan websites, online comments on news sites, online commentary below this column.

It’s de rigueur among many of the right: Agreeing to disagree is weakness. Admitting you’re wrong, saying you’re sorry, is effete. Doing what Jesus would do is un-Christian.

Our county was special — we were calm, civil. Now we’re like everywhere else — addled with anger.

Thanks, Donald Trump, silverback peddler of loutish, authoritarian menace.

The New Way.

Gibson is out of free drink tickets, but someone’s agreed to sling another round.

I spot supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton. I’ve never met Compton, but I’m sure she’s nice enough.

They evade eye contact, turn and walk the other way.

They stop, look back, clearly surprised. They don’t know why I’m here.

They shun my eye-catching efforts, like avoiding eye contact with a stray dog for fear of getting bit.

Arnold, not even acknowledging her colleague Gibson, pulls out her phone and snaps a photo of him and me chatting, collecting evidence — for something.

Political fear and loathing is rife in the baking heat, with little chance of letup in the forecast.

The New Way.

I smile, hoist another pint and toast a quiet goodbye to the Old Way.

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.