Let’s work harder to have ci­vil­ity win, even when our can­di­dates don’t

The Olympian - - Opinion - BY THE OLYMPIAN

Ear­lier this fall, Thurston County seemed to of­fer a ster­ling ex­am­ple of how elec­tion cam­paigns ought to be: civil, agenda-driven, and fo­cused on so­lu­tions to press­ing prob­lems.

Even in the con­test be­tween in­cum­bent Pros­e­cut­ing At­tor­ney Jon Tun­heim and chal­lenger Vic­tor Min­jares, where the dif­fer­ences were acute, pub­lic de­bate was sharp but re­li­ably civil. But as the cam­paigns wore on, cracks in the façade of ci­vil­ity be­gan to ap­pear.

First there was the pants-on-fire lie spread in mail­ers mas­ter­minded by right-wing bad boy Glen Mor­gan. They urged peo­ple to cast write-in votes for “a real pro­gres­sive,” E. J. Zita, rather than Tye Menser, the un­de­ni­ably “real pro­gres­sive” ac­tual Demo­cratic can­di­date. That was just down­right creepy. Zita, a port com­mis­sioner, was em­phat­i­cally not run­ning for the county com­mis­sion seat.

Then mul­ti­ple Face­book posts started to ap­pear re­count­ing hos­tile, bul­ly­ing be­hav­ior by An­drew Saturn, a can­di­date who sought to de­feat in­cum­bent Pub­lic Util­ity Dis­trict com­mis­sioner Linda Ooster­man. In mi­dOc­to­ber, Saturn claimed, with­out of­fer­ing any de­tails, that he was as­saulted by an Ooster­man cam­paign staffer back in mid-July. There also was snarling over Saturn spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion about the PUD, and PUD ad­min­is­tra­tor wrote a memo to cor­rect the record.

All this oc­curred in spite of Saturn’s sign­ing a “pro truth pledge” com­mit­ting him­self to “pro­tect facts and ci­vil­ity.” In the end – on Nov. 5, when most peo­ple had al­ready voted – the Thurston County Democrats’ ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee con­demned Saturn’s be­hav­ior and dis­as­so­ci­ated it­self from his cam­paign.

In most cases, can­di­dates main­tained their ci­vil­ity, but some of their sup­port­ers didn’t. Many let­ters to the ed­i­tor were re­jected for per­sonal at­tacks, in­sults and hate­ful­ness that added noth­ing to the de­bate. (Other, bet­ter let­ters didn’t make it into print sim­ply be­cause of lack of space.) Some of Min­jares’ sup­port­ers seemed par­tic­u­larly spite­ful; sev­eral wrote let­ters in­sist­ing that any­one who didn’t sup­port him was a racist.

And while it’s not sur­pris­ing that even the best can­di­dates get tired and testy in the fi­nal days of a long and de­mand­ing cam­paign, Tun­heim should have taken a nap rather than write on Face­book that “I don’t know if he (op­po­nent Min­jares) ac­tu­ally be­lieves what he’s say­ing, but one thing I’m sure of, he doesn’t know enough about our sys­tem to be talk­ing about it.”

Snarky com­ments like that surely don’t help im­prove our county’s “data-driven hope score” – Tun­heim’s sig­na­ture ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar cause.

Why is all this im­por­tant? It’s im­por­tant be­cause the deep reser­voir of civil Amer­i­can demo­cratic prac­tice has run low in these po­lar­ized times, and it’s up to us to re­fill it.

At the na­tional level, hav­ing a Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives puts a wel­come brake on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, but (bar­ring a mir­a­cle) it also in­ten­si­fies po­lar­iza­tion and con­tin­u­ing grid­lock at the na­tional level. So for now, any hope for re­fill­ing the reser­voir of ci­vil­ity and re­viv­ing a fully func­tional democ­racy prob­a­bly lies closer to home, in state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

Even if we can’t over­come the multi­na­tional oil com­pa­nies to pass a car­bon tax, it is fully within our power to re­duce the toxic pol­lu­tion of mean­ness that pours into our po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment.

The race be­tween 22nd Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Beth Doglio and her Lib­er­tar­ian chal­lenger Allen Acosta is proof that this is pos­si­ble. Here is Doglio’s morn­ing after the elec­tion Face­book post:

“Thank you Allen Acosta for be­ing a friendly op­po­nent. You al­ways greeted me with a warm smile. Thank you for your work in our com­mu­nity on be­half of vet­er­ans and the home­less. I look for­ward to play­ing black­jack with you and your won­der­ful wife again in the fu­ture!”

This is the ideal that all can­di­dates should up­hold, even if they don’t play black­jack.

THE DEEP RESER­VOIR OF CIVIL AMER­I­CAN DEMO­CRATIC PRAC­TICE HAS RUN LOW IN THESE PO­LAR­IZED TIMES, AND IT’S UP TO US TO RE­FILL IT.

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