It's time for everyone to fix the political divide
Monday, June 02, 2014 10:00 PM
It's easy to pick on politicians. It's a lot like picking on newspapers. We're both out there, doing our jobs in full public view and are subject to a whole lot of second-guessing. On this side of the ink barrel, we often tell young folks to not get into this business if they don't have steel-toed boots or thick skin. I don't know what they tell the political types, but I'm guessing it's much the same.
But maybe that's a class a few of our hired hands, i.e., elected types, missed. It seems like some of the folks who work for us get their toes stepped on or their feelings hurt pretty easily.
Let's start with a couple of recent written opinions from Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton and County Commissioner Phil Bane. First thing you should know is that both sent their columns to the Journal Review and not The Paper because they were angered by things I've written in this space. (I'll get back to that in a minute.) More importantly, they showed they had no concern about you, the readers, the citizens of this community. Some of you read both papers. Many of you don't. That's fine. It's your money and your time and you can choose what you want. For those who don't read the other paper, neither Barton nor Bane cared if you got their message.
I called our good mayor and asked him why he sent his column to the Journal and not us.
"It's a team effort here," he explained. "You guys have a job to do, just report the facts. If you want to go in your op-ed area and tell people, you know, how you see it, that's perfectly fine. But when you do that you run a risk, that's all there is to it."
Barton added that whenever I write something I just rile up "those people," a thinly veiled reference to the local chapter of the Tea Party.
This might be a shock to some, but this paper isn't here to be on his "team." I've always believed we're supposed to be the watchdogs of government, not teammates. Let me give Barton credit though. After our conversation he sent his column to us and we ran it two days later. Better late than never and at least you got to see and judge it for yourself.
Our readers didn't get the chance to see Bane's offering. I called him a couple of weeks ago to talk about the courthouse parking lot issue. He expressed his feelings on the subject and was kind enough to talk with me about it. The conversation shifted to his political future and I asked him about rumors that he has considered resigning. He neither confirmed nor denied, but did say that he's tired and frustrated with being "micro-analyzed." Again, to his credit, he was open and honest, although it's hard to understand why anyone would go into politics if they have problems with being questioned. It's equally hard to understand why he didn't want you to read his opinion.
According to Barton, County Councilman Aaron Morgan and a few others, a good bit of all this revolves around a belief that I and this newspaper are supporters of John Pickerell and the Tea Party.
I believe that we have proven many times that we will provide an open forum for both sides to provide you, our readers, with their opinions. I do have great respect for Mr. Pickerill, as well as all politicians. They dedicate their time, energy and, in many cases, their heart and soul to serving the public. They are constantly under a microscope, being scrutinized by the media and the public and they often catch flak for the decisions they must make.
But let's be clear about where the line is. In terms of Pickerill's current role as GOP Party Chair, it's my opinion that he's missing the boat. I think he truly believes he's doing things the right way. Leadership, which military officers know a lot about, isn't the same in civilian life. In the military you must follow the orders given to you without question. I believe Mr. Pickerill needs to understand that there's a lot more compromise in civilian life, and certainly in politics. Only thing you can't / shouldn't compromise are your principles.
Thing is, this isn't about principles, it's about interpretation.
At root is the Republican Party platform and Pickerill has been the guy who has led that conversation. What does the platform say? That part's easy. Is it open to interpretation? Of course it is. That's where I think Pickerill goes astray. As the leader of the party, he has not allowed for honest disagreement on the interpretation. He has in effect said that the party platform means X, Y and Z and if you don't agree with that, then you're not really part of the party. For those whose interpretation is different from Pickerill's, that was a slap in the face. There was an authentic disagreement and instead of conversation and debate, there was a line drawn in the sand.
Sorry, but that's not leadership.
Neither is what the "old guard" Republicans are doing. By screaming to high heaven, throwing out sophomoric insults like Barton did in his diatribe and demanding resignations they aren't showing any leadership either.
Just look back when the shoe was on the other foot. Pickerill and the Tea Party have clearly had issues with some of the things going on inside the local GOP. They didn't sit back. They got organized. They put like-minded individuals on ballots for important precinct voting spots. They held meetings. In short, they did what people have been doing for more than 200 years in this country. They also wrote letters and urged voters to follow them. In every single instance, Pickerill's letters were professional. Not once did they become negative or include name-calling. Don't believe that? Go on our website and look at the archives. It's all there.
Which brings us back to today. Do I have a problem with Barton, Bane, Morgan and others disagreeing strongly - even vehemently - with Pickerill. Not at all. I just don't like the way they're going about it. It seems like there's a lot of not just finger-pointing, but whispering, back-stabbing and pettiness. It almost feels like the days when Richard Nixon's crew was in the White House.
I wrote this before and not one thing has made me change my mind, some of the old guard act like if you are not on their "team" then you are an enemy. My guess is that's the advice they're getting behind the scenes. That's not bad advice, it's terrible. Forget the fact that two heads are better than one and forget the fact that maybe, just maybe, there might be a better answer out there. Just think about facts. The "team" just lost the majority on the county council and came a lot closer to losing the commissioner seat than anyone wants to admit now (it was only 401 votes and 9 percentage points).
Let's use one of the current hot buttons, the courthouse, as an example. There are at least two very different points of view. Which answers are right? All have good points. Having an open and honest civil debate on this would probably produce a better outcome. Except that the debate itself isn't OK with some. They act like we the people can't question this.
How dare they think that way!
This is our county as much as it is theirs. We're all entitled to ask questions. We deserve answers when we do, not indignation, not punishment, not resentment and certainly not back stabbing. Funny thing is, when some of us were asking questions or even being critical of former mayors John Zumer or Charlie Coons, some of these folks didn't seem to have much problem with it then. No, then it was fine. It's only a problem now that everyone isn't in lock-step with them.
I've been doing this a long time. I've worked with U.S. Senators, Congressmen, governors, state officials, mayors, town councils and more. I've asked a lot of questions. Most of the time, everyone understood that it wasn't just me asking, I was representing you, the reader. Some of the questions were tough to ask, tough to answer. Then again, when you live in a free Republic, tough things come up. For the most part over those years, the politicians understood and answered professionally.
Here's hoping that things will change and change soon. Here's hoping that the folks elected to represent us come up with a new and better strategy and call off the current one. If they truly want the divisiveness to stop, both sides have some changing to do.
Two cents, which is about how much Timmons said his columns are worth, appears periodically on Tuesdays in The Paper. Timmons is the publisher of The Paper and can be contacted at email@example.com.