Donavan's Election Breakdown
By Bill Donavan, Salida Citizen co-founder.
So, what happened with our local elections? Could the results have been predicted weeks ago?
Let’s just jump right into one easy deconstruction: The Mountain Mail is out of touch with our community. This is nothing new, but it’s gotten worse. So, what’s up over at The Mail? Has the community finally moved too far left of Merle’s rightward leanings? Perhaps, but hasn’t much of the country shifted left, at least socially? Regardless, you don’t need to be a social scientist to get the pulse of Salida these days. So, is political ideology really the reason our newspaper is adrift of local sentiment?
Frustrated by Merle’s control over the tone and direction of local issues, Trey and I started the Citizen almost ten years ago to give the people a voice, and sometimes this role allows us to peek under the hood of the community. Especially offline, where people on the left, and right, explore essays and ideas. The debates and discussions are enlightening. The Citizen represents our town square and allows for everyone to have a voice, so I was saddened that incumbents didn’t use it as a vehicle to communicate with the peoples, and to share their motivations, visions and aspirations. The Citizen Facebook page alone has 2400 followers and growing, many of whom Mr LeVecchi and his people needed to activate.
Would those fine folks who were handed their walking papers in this election have been beat up in The Salida Citizen comments section? Maybe. People are tired of divisive politics and a lack of humility in our elected officials, and they didn’t see a vision under Mayor LeVicchi. However, our outgoing Mayor could have used the Citizen for a dialogue with the community, to explain the deficit, and to ask for input. He might have used The Citizen to ask people for one piece of advice to be a better Mayor. He could’ve driven the conversation, demonstrating leadership, flexibility and humility. Maybe even humor? Or, how about a video? How far would a smile and an apology to Eileen have gone? It would’ve cost nothing and the vehicle was there for him. It still is. These are not just tactical campaign ideas. Humility, transparency and decency are the most basic behaviors that we want people in public office to demonstrate, regardless of the medium.
The people who are wondering why they, or their candidate, lost so badly may or may not identify with Trump. But, Trump is a highly-effective disrupter, and his presidency has taken its toll on the American psyche. Salida’s citizens have been similarly impacted in the last couple years by our council's transgressions, and [we] were desperate for calm, effective local leadership. The community is changing fast, and the tension in council chambers has been palpable. Sure, our election was about experience and better ideas, but there was more going on. Respect for the whole community was a pre-requisite to run in this election. But, in the current political climate, humility was a baseline.
Consider, Justin Critelli, at the League of Women Voters “Candidating” event. Justin’s stated position was that he simply wanted to give back to Salida. He was clear that he had a lot to learn, but he was willing to dedicate himself to serving the community, and if elected, would get up to speed. He was articulate, and his platform was basically one of humility and integrity—civic service in its purest form. Yet, there in the crowd is old man winter, clapping for the candidates who ended up losing, and attacking Justin for his lack of preparedness and knowledge (Justin’s opponent was not even there). We hope for expertise in these thankless public positions, but most of us are cool with basic proficiency and curiosity. Lacking either quality, people will demand humility. Justin had all three.
In addition to the macro-cultural insecurities and a need for some self-abnegation, this election was clearly based on fears of our community’s rapid change. Many people said they appreciated the experience of PT and Harold specifically, with nearly twenty years of Planning and Zoning between them. With their small business backgrounds, one has to wonder why Merle was unable to acknowledge the inherent economic conservatism found in these candidates?
Refreshingly, this election was not about political ideology. However, because of Trump, people are more attuned to recognize behaviors by elected officials who seem to eschew decorum or do damage to our institutional processes—intentionally or otherwise. So, watching Eileen Rogers get shutdown was likely a watershed moment in the election.
With talk of a growing deficit during these economic boom years, people wanted to know what’s going on, and they were not finding answers in The Mountain Mail. Watching City Hall be gutted in the last few years has been, at best, a slow abhorrent pain in the ass during a time when citizens needed functioning government. Our Mayor tried to explain that it was under control. But, with the elections looming, hard questions were being asked.
Instead, they got a dirty-political (radio) ad that smeared PT, a 30-year local with a solid reputation in the community—and, boom, the election was over. The ad was simply not Salida, and represented the antithesis of what people were asking for in today’s political environment.
In the end, none of the elections were even close, in large part because Salida is not as divided as some people would have us believe—just as Trump’s rally’s are not indicative of a wider American divide. For those who did not win, they will remain our neighbors. The disagreements will fade.
This is a time of rapid societal change, and it’s hard to get our footing. But, I’m hopeful for America because of Tuesday’s results. The winners won because they had experience and good ideas. But, they won big because the people want civility and leadership.
E Pluribus Unum. -bd