In politics, the middle is not a bad place to be

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,

Here I am, stuck in the middle with you!

Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan, 1972

Here’s a question: When exactly did the moderate centrist become the political bad guy?

Don’t most voters reside somewhere in the middle, avoiding purist fringe ideologies? Today we are over-exposed to a black-and-white world, where the gray is targeted by social media-driven opinion. It’s frustrating to watch two extremes become the “parties of no.” No, they won’t negotiate, and neither can you! If you do, you’ll become their target! How can good public policy be attained in an environment dominated by fanatic partisans and narrow interest groups?

When conservative columnist Andrea Seastrand blasted Democrats as progressive extremists, it may have rattled her that some moderate and conservative Democrats actually agreed with some of her observations.

I’d like to introduce a great word to Ms. Seastrand and others unwilling to work in the problem-solving middle: realpolitik (noun); a system of politics or principles based more on practical than moral or ideological considerations.

A recent example of realpolitik at work was our governor’s cap-and-trade legislation, passed on July 17 in the California Assembly with the help of eight Republican assembly members. Jordan Cunningham, who represents our own 35th Assembly District, was among them. These Republican legislators labored with Democrats and a large coalition of industry, business and environmental groups to find a sweet spot that allowed them to extend this climate-related legislation. Everyone got something, but nobody got everything.

We should applaud their courage to step up, make a deal and move forward to maintain California’s global leadership in climate change. As a father of four young children, Jordan Cunningham can be proud that he worked for their future. The cap-and-trade program is the only one of its kind in the country. It’s based on an international model designed to provide a financial incentive for companies to pollute less.

Predictably, rather than respecting the efforts of Assemblyman Cunningham, some conservatives are acting outraged and threatening to run a new candidate in the primary. At the other end of the spectrum, due to pressure from extreme environmental groups, some coastal Democratic legislators voted no on the bill. Why? Because industry and business stakeholders were part of the negotiations. That’s not allowed on the extreme left.

The view of many in the middle is that a winner-take-all approach is a short-term victory. It fuels resentment and risks creating a paralyzing log-jam like the one afflicting our nation’s Congress. There, Republicans have used extreme maneuvers to loot and destroy our nation’s healthcare system, whatever the cost to its citizens. Unless true public servants unite against this theft, the few will win and the many will lose; millions of Americans will be subjected to avoidable suffering. Meanwhile, the idealists who refuse to defend any aspect of Obamacare can remain politically pure.

A few weeks ago, Ms. Seastrand noted my failed 2016 Assembly bid, ignoring the fact that my performance was better than any other Democratic candidate for that seat in more than 20 years. Alas, I was not a favorite of the hard left, who view me as an establishment corporate sellout for my work on large energy projects. My perspective and opinions, which are based on an understanding of the real-world challenges of making clean energy viable, don’t always jibe with their purist sentiments.

As Ms. Seastrand pointed out, what is most baffling about the extreme left is their opposition to the California Democratic leadership, one of the most successful Democratic parties in the nation. Democrats have won every California constitutional office since 2008, hold super-majorities in both houses of the state Legislature, and brought California back into the financial black, stabilizing our position as the sixth largest economy in the world.

California has passed laws that expand citizen protections, increase the minimum wage to $15 and mandate a 50 percent renewable energy portfolio, but these efforts appear to have no value to the far-left faction. They claim state Democrats are bought and paid for, which is their overly simplistic retort to every situation that doesn’t go 100 percent their way. And now, since the stars are not aligning for a comprehensive state healthcare system, they’d rather blow it all up than (oh, that hated word) compromise.

I believe it’s healthy to challenge the status quo. But dialogue, bipartisanship and compromise seem to be dirty words in both extremist camps. They appear to prefer battles and destruction over constructive collaboration.

I am reasonably sure there’s a large population of what I call “orphan voters” out there right now: voters with no place to call home.

My hope is that all Democrats will see what’s at stake — our citizens, societies, and planet — and that more members of Jordan’s party will recognize leadership when they see it and start working together to solve the multitude of problems we face as a great state and country.

Dawn Ortiz-Legg has a public affairs company that supports large clean energy infrastructure projects. She was the 2016 Democratic candidate for the 35th Assembly District.