Thursday, February 29, 2024

#60 / Shapers

I was delighted to have been recently profiled by Wallace Baine, in a column that appeared on the online news platform, Lookout. Click the following link if you'd like to read the column, which reviews the local, Santa Cruz County history in which I was involved during the twenty-year period I served as an elected member of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. 

Baine's column provides an "evaluative" retrospective of what happened and what I had to do with it. The fact that the column describes my "legacy" as a "long shadow" gives the reader an indication that both the "pluses" and the "minuses" of my tenure on the Board are discussed. I do like to think that my involvement was more "plus" than "minus," more "sunshine" than "shadow," but that isn't everyone's evaluation!

Lookout photographer Kevin Painchaud contributed a very nice picture to accompany the column, the picture having been taken in late February 2024, showing me out at Lighthouse Field, where my involvement with local politics began, back in the early 1970's:

I was not the first person that Lookout decided to profile as one of the "Shapers" who have affected Santa Cruz County history, and I surely won't be the last. Here is how Lookout has defined its "Shapers" series:

In many fundamental respects, Santa Cruz County is what it is today, for better or worse, because of the efforts and decisions of a few highly influential and consequential people. We here at Lookout are attempting to do something audacious and take the measure of those foundational people in our new series of profiles called “The Shapers.”

Who are the Shapers? They are people who have left a lasting mark on how many of the rest of us live and work today in Santa Cruz County. Obviously, some are elected officials, but others are government employees, businesspeople, nonprofit/arts leaders, entrepreneurs, academics/teachers, community activists, artists/writers and philanthropists. Many of those significant people are now retired from public life and are perhaps due for a reappraisal from the current generation. Others are still active and exerting influence in the realms of culture, business, the arts, development and public policy.

Other "Shapers" whom Lookout has identified include, Ciel Cirillo, Bruce and Marcia McDougal, Tim Jackson, and Rowland Rebele. I think my profile comes fifth in the series. More to come!

As I read the column - and reviewed its evaluation of the role I have played in Santa Cruz County history - it struck me that I should probably comment about the whole idea of seeing history as having been "shaped" by "highly influential and consequential" individuals. There is no doubt that individuals, and what they do, have an important impact on what happens - and thus on the history of the times in which they lived. However, and maybe this can be seen particularly in the case of elected officials, our history is a "group project." We shouldn't ever forget that. 

If we begin to think that what counts most is what "consequential" individuals do, we can underestimate, and actually "undermine," our own role in "making history." I want to say that when I look back on the history in which I have been involved (and I'm still "kicking"), I want to be remembered most for my role as an elected "representative," and I want to be remembered as a "good" representative, of course. I think the "Shapers" review of my tenure on the Board of Supervisors should be counted as giving me a pretty good "grade."

Our elected officials are not selected because they, individually, are supposed to figure out what to do, and then do it. Our system of "self-government" is a system of "representative" government, in which we (the people) decide what to do, and then elect people who "represent" the voters who put them into office, and who will work (we hope successfully) to achieve what the majority of the community wants to accomplish. 

The way I look back on the history in which I have been involved (and it's highlighted very well, I think, in Wallace Baine's Lookout column), my job was to try to achieve what the people who elected me wanted to accomplish. How well I did at that, how well I was able to help the community achieve what the majority wanted to happen, is how my personal contributions should be evaluated. "Saving Lighthouse Field," establishing a comprehensive system of "growth management," saving farmland, setting up a system that required developers to set aside at least a small share of new residential development as "price-restricted," so that it would always be "affordable" to a person with an average or below average income, providing resourcess for community based social programs, stopping offshore oil drilling and protecting our marine environment were not my projects. Those were community projects. 

Bottom line? Who shapes our history? WE do. We do it together - at least that's what happens if our politics is working right. It doesn't always work right, of course, and it certainly won't work right if we elect people who make statements like this one: "I am your justice. I am your retribution." The person who said that doesn't understand the first thing about democratic and representative self-government, and never should have been elected to "represent" the people, because that person doesn't "get" the whole idea. He thinks it's all about him! 

I am very proud to have been recognized as an effective and "consequential" representative of the people of Santa Cruz County, but just remember this: When we want to think about who "shapes" our history, the answer is that WE do! We're in this together!

So, let me end with my much-repeated admonition: If we want to accomplish anything - if we want "self-government" - we need to get involved ourselves.

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