Golis: Can a new generation move beyond the old politics?

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Say this about the selection of Chris Coursey as Santa Rosa’s new mayor: The new City Council managed to finish the job without the partisans insulting one another in public. It wasn’t always so.

Still, some political folks managed to suggest that newcomer Jack Tibbetts’ political career could be in jeopardy if he voted the wrong way. Since Tibbetts is 26 years old and had not yet attended his first meeting as a member of the City Council, the threat seemed excessive (not to mention mean-spirited), but that’s the way some folks think the game is played. If you don’t vote with me all the time, you are my enemy.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling some trepidation,” Tibbetts told Staff Writer Kevin McCallum.

The two candidates for mayor, Coursey and Councilman Tom Schwedhelm, have shown themselves to be public-spirited people, dedicated to figuring out what’s best for their city. They’ve even been seen being friendly toward one other.

But Coursey is said to belong to the so-called progressive faction and Schwedhelm, to the so-called pro-business faction. Thus, some wanted to portray this selection as a choice between good guys and bad guys. Who is good and who is bad, of course, depends on which ancient clan you drink wine with on Saturday night.

At this point, it seems worthwhile to mention the dictionary definition of tribalism: The behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group …

For the combatants, there needed to be a convenient theory to explain their conflict, and so it was noted that the candidates for mayor have different positions on rent control. Coursey is for it, and Schwedhelm is against it.

This managed to overlook the fact that rent control was approved by the council during the tenure of an anti-rent control mayor, John Sawyer. In city government, if you can count to four, it doesn’t matter very much who the mayor is (though he or she will get to cut more ribbons). The Board of Supervisors solves this problem by rotating the chairmanship from one year to the next.

In the end, Tibbetts voted for Coursey, the former newspaper columnist, and life goes on.

In the recently concluded contest in the 5th Supervisorial District, the self-proclaimed progressive faction had lots of bad things to say about a young newcomer, Lynda Hopkins.

On the day after she was elected, here’s some of what Hopkins posted on Facebook: “And now, the bad news … we are facing a Trump administration. Quite frankly, I think that this election is demonstrating some fundamental flaws about America — flaws that have been there for a long time but have been mostly kept quiet. This won’t be a newsflash to women or people of color or members of the LGBTQ community, but for everyone else … heads up, y’all: sexism, racism, and homophobia still exist in America today.”

Hopkins also acknowledged she voted for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary, not the eventual Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.

It seems laughable now, but this was the candidate the liberal faction tried to paint as the second coming of Ronald Reagan.

Since people in both groups are friends of mine, I know they mean to keep feuding. So, uninvited, let me offer season’s greeting to Tibbetts, Hopkins and another young newcomer to local government, Santa Rosa City Councilman Chris Rogers.

Dear Chris, Jack and Lynda,

Happy holidays!

As you go along, you will learn to cope with these factions. In Sonoma County politics, they’re a fact of life, like acid indigestion or bad traffic. They choose to view every issue through a good-guys-and-bad-guys prism, and they think that noisy indignation and wall-to-wall hyperbole are the most effective means of political expression.

Owing to your own experiences, you understand better than the factions do that the world is changing — and the issues that motivated them in the first place are less relevant today. For some of them, it’s just personal now. They’ve been fighting for a long time, and they don’t know how to stop.

For a new generation, the issues today focus on economic disparity — a housing shortage and the high cost of housing, jobs that don’t pay a livable wage, increased demands on services for people in need.

What you will discover is the most important work of government doesn’t involve the handful of issues that motivate these factions. Governing involves hard work, study and listening — and recognizing that problem solving requires cooperation and compromise.

If you don’t take the factions too seriously, if you use your head and heart to identify the choices that will make life better for people, you will be fine.

Thanks for your public service, and congratulations on your election success. Now, please go to work.

With best wishes,

A voter and taxpayer

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at

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