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A change is coming 

I believe the local-government scene could be returning to civility, discourse, and thoughtfulness

A funny thing happened to the Tea Party juggernaut on its way to finalizing its churlish, mean-spirited coup d’etat against local government in San Luis Obispo County.

It ran into resistance.

Some residents of l’etat hereabouts apparently don’t cotton to the idea of being couped. Especially by this hateful crowd.

To me, the most startling of several recent “ya basta” moments came from the usually buttoned-up county Supervisor Bruce Gibson.

In a strong op edit in The Tribune 
Feb. 6, the generally unflappable Gibson called out the folks who have been using their newfound clout to bully those out of power or who never had power.

Gibson’s complaint was less about what they did than about how they did it.

The particular impetus was—ho-hum, yawn—yet another right-wing shaming of Gibson and his fellow supervisor Adam Hill. Their opponents decided to block Hill’s regular turn as chairman.

When grown-ups are operating the Board of Supervisors, as they have in the past (think Shirley Bianchi and Katcho Achadjian), chairmanships routinely rotate among the five supervisors in an effort to respect the wishes of the constituents in each district who elected them.

But the sandbox dirt-slingers running the show these days don’t care about respect for citizens. They want to humiliate their opponents.

They’ve been acting like this for a while. One of my final, telling memories of covering the board two years ago was watching Mike Brown, the government affairs director for the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business, exit the chambers after his minions on the board denied Hill a chairmanship on some agency or another.

“Well, that was just dandy,” Brown chortled.

Brown, at first glance, seems an unlikely sourpuss. A cherubic, gray-haired gentleman, he comes across initially as a sort of avuncular lawn ornament, eager to share his small government views.

Then he speaks, and all illusion disappears. When he sticks to his conservative views on governance, that’s fine. But he often gets insulting, as with his “dandy” remark.

There’s nothing new about that behavior, except locally. Brown had a long career in government before he came here, including time as Santa Barbara County’s chief executive officer. I invite readers to gambol through Google to check all that out.

I’m not trying to pick on Brown. There are plenty of others in this loose assortment of nay-sayers. But he and COLAB are key players in the rancor that has taken over local government.

The general public needs to know who these folks are, what they stand for, what influence they have over local policies, how much money they are paying to buy the government, and what tone they are setting.

The latter point is particularly important. Bile has so inundated local government, especially the supervisors’ chambers, that ordinary citizens are staying away rather than get any of the vitriol on them. This is anti-democratic. But it works great for demagogues who want to choke off the other side of an argument.

Some of these malcontents take their fight beyond the meeting rooms. They accost political opponents at their homes. They badmouth them to their bosses. In some cases they launch robocalls or send out derogatory mailers or other documents, or drop faux but realistic-looking “lawsuits” at the homes of those with whom they disagree.

Is it any wonder normal citizens don’t want to get involved?

COLAB, Brown, and their fellow travelers also have an economic-political agenda, of course, which will be carried out in the months and years to come by county supervisors who are beholden to them because of the hundreds of thousands of dollars they have poured into these supervisors’ campaigns.

North County Supervisor Debbie Arnold is a wholly owned subsidiary. New South County Supervisor Lynn Compton was deeply in their debt before she took the oath of office; check the financials at the county clerk’s office.

Supposedly moderate Frank Mecham is simply afraid of their clout, a point Gibson made in his op edit, when he called out Mecham for first lying to him, and then knuckling under to the troglodytes. It’s a sad turn of events for Mecham, who, as Paso Mayor a decade ago, showed great leadership when an earthquake hit. Mecham has just announced his retirement, and it may very well be because he has had a bellyful.

What policies can we expect to see? Gravel trucks rattling through Santa Margarita, for one. Oil tankers rumbling across the Nipomo Mesa with Compton in the engine stoking the fire. Wineries continuing to slurp North County’s water with their huge straws until there is no more liquid gold.

Yes, the Big Money folks have been on an ill-mannered roll, controlling the Board of Supervisors and frightening away ordinary citizens. They are making inroads in some city governments as well, like Arroyo Grande.

Why do I think this will change? Because I see and hear rumblings all over. Gibson’s op edit is one example. The League of Women Voters also had a recent op edit in The Tribune saying, in its polite way, that it is time for civility to return.

The appearance of Tom Fulks on The Trib’s op edit page every other week also is significant. Fulks is a passionate, bare-knuckle former reporter and political brawler. I’m told that in his younger days, he was known as “Fulminatin’ Fulks.” (I consider that a compliment.)

Here is why Fulks appearing regularly in The Tribune is important: During the time I worked there, the trembling, don’t-rock-the boat editor had turned the newsroom into a dreary, fallow pasture hoof-to-hoof in sacred cows: bovines with names like Blakeslee, Tourism, Wineries, Business in General (there may not be much school news, but there will always be a “Biz Buzz”), the Medical Profession, the Media, and the big milk cow, Status Quo.

I’m hoping that will change, at least on the editorial pages (there is no hope for anything hard-hitting on The Tribune’s news pages under current management; buy me a drink and I’ll elaborate).

Fulks is still on a leash, unlike yours truly. Even so, Fulks has already called out COLAB and has chastised those who are offended by the local reactionaries’ behavior for not fighting back. He didn’t call them sissies, but he came close.

I think that, at long last, a growing collection of ordinary, decent, citizens with manners is beginning to feel that the bullying must stop and it’s up to them to stop it.

The LWV, Gibson, Fulks, others I have spoken with—call me a cockeyed optimist, but the tide may finally be turning, and civility and reasoned debate could be chugging into view. Wouldn’t that be lovely?


Bob Cuddy lives in Arroyo Grande. Send comments to the executive editor at

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