Part 12: Is it all about Politics?

Without doubt, these are challenging times for all of us.

Like you, I have a point of view on many of the crazy issues out there and frankly, having opinions and being able to freely express them are part of what makes America so unique.  In fact, we should be able to have differing views on various critical issues — yet still get along, still be able to work side-by-side, and still have reasonable, passionate and respectful conversations.

That should be the case, but in these hyper-political times, the ability to calmly debate  perspectives has been lost?

Think about some of the recent pandemic-related issues and how they’ve quickly been polarized.

First, there was the issue of re-opening of businesses.  One ’side’ said it was critical that we re-open as quickly as possible to save the economy, save jobs, and save small businesses.  The other ’side’ said that this was ignoring science and that we should stay closed until certain public health milestones were proven.  Some even advocated for stay-at-home orders until a vaccine was available.

Then, there’s the continuing debate over masks.

This issue pits those who love ‘freedom’ against those who want community safety.   Each side claims that science is on their side.  But neither position fully accepts the inconsistencies. Early on, some health experts, including the US Surgeon General, dismissed the value of wearing masks , then later claimed them to be vital. Additionally, some said maintaining a six-foot separation of ‘social distance’ was safe without masks, but later claimed that masks still needed to be worn even when you are more than six-feet apart.

And now we are in the middle of a debate about how best to return to school, with one side saying in-classroom education is best, while the other is saying online education is the best option. Neither side wants our children to be unsafe – but both sides should admit, you can never make anything completely safe.  So, this is a debate over degrees.

Yet, I have to wonder, are these all political debates?  They shouldn’t be.  And we should be able to freely discuss the perspectives that each of us has on each of these issues without fear of reprisal or harsh judgement.

But just to test you out at this point, here’s a question — do you feel that your position on any of the above three examples is so correct, that anyone who would argue against it is just wrong, naive and uninformed?  That perspective shows that you might not be open to hearing any other point of view.

Throughout my political life, I have come to understand that it is important to hear other points of view.  That doesn’t mean you as an individual or those politicians should necessarily change their minds or positions on everything or anything when confronted with opposing ideas.  But it should mean that you understand that there are contrary positions out there, and in order to understand an issue, you need to hear all sides.

This whole discussion reminded me of a story from my time serving in the California State Assembly.  At a point in 1994, a Republican Assemblyman resigned from his Assembly seat.  The local Republican committee from that area, quickly met and offered a name for a replacement member, who had tremendous credentials.  This prospective selection was a former Democrat from San Francisco, but after law school at UCLA, passed the California Bar and became a prosecutor in the gang unit of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office.  You might know him – Jim Rogan.

Governor George Deukmejian saw his strengths, both as a law and order prosecutor, but also as a powerful orator and deep thinker, who had built a broad base of support throughout the Los Angeles community.

It fell to me, as the Assistant Republican Leader, to review all of these prospective candidates for this position, as they would face a tough Special Election to fill this seat against a strong Democrat opponent.  And the entire Republican Assembly Caucus wanted to unite behind one candidate prior to that Special Election.

So, I coordinated to have candidate Rogan come to Sacramento, to meet with me and other members of the Republican Caucus, to be interviewed and assessed on his positions, his plans and his ability to win.

This was somewhat of a covert operation, as we wanted to make sure that we had the best candidate, before releasing his name publicly, as once it was public, the Democrat campaign team would start their efforts against him.

So, candidate Rogan flew to Sacramento one morning and my office coordinated his meetings for that day.

Midway through the day, John Burton, a very powerful Democrat Assemblyman who was chair of the Assembly Rules Committee and a strong ally of Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, called my office and asked to speak to Jim Rogan.

My staff became very concerned.  How did the powerful John Burton learn that we had Jim Rogan up in Sacramento for that day?  How did John Burton even know Jim Rogan?  Was Jim Rogan a double agent?

Those were my thoughts.

So, I called around to the offices where Rogan was meeting with other Republican Assembly members and finally found him.  I told him that Burton was calling for him.  I asked in an accusing tone, “How does Burton know you are here and what does he want to talk to you about?”

And Rogan answered, “Oh, Uncle John and I are planning on going to dinner together tonight.”

Come to find out that Rogan had known Burton his entire life and that Burton had worked with Rogan’s parents at various bars and restaurants in San Francisco in earlier times.

Rogan was not a double agent, but had simply called Burton ahead of his Sacramento trip to coordinate a time for dinner with his longtime friend.

Jim Rogan and John Burton were dear friends, but they certainly had starkly different opinions on political issues.

I later built a strong and lasting relationship with John Burton, even though he was one of the most vocal, liberal legislators of the day in our state.

Our friendship wasn’t harmed by our contrary points of view on political issues.  In fact, over the years, John Burton and I found a number of issues that we honestly agreed upon.  And worked together on to success.

Today, the pandemic seems to have further divided our already hyper-political country. Emotions can run high when we express divergent points of view as we all try to beat back the pandemic and restore our lives to normalcy.

But even in this time,  we shouldn’t dismiss other points of view, nor choose to silo ourselves from those with different opinions. Listening to contrary views can lead to, dare I say, working together toward achieving some shared goals.  And, when you’re open to other views, you may be surprised to learn that you might not always be right!


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