End of the Year Politics

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I savor the week between Christmas and the end of the year. We regularly attend a New Year’s retreat, where we discuss the issues of the day between strolls among the sand dunes of Monterey Bay, so I spend the days before we leave storing Christmas ornaments and sorting out the year’s memories, vowing to hang on to the good ones and to let go of the not-so-good.

This interlude gives the illusion that when we return home early in January, I’ll have the jump on the New Year. Sometimes it even works. So I thought the last column of the year might follow that format – a recap of 2012, with the positive accentuated.

That was before the news of December 14 from Sandy Hook Elementary School. If words could be found to bring sense of the slaughter, I could not initially find them. As the days passed, though, words did come to mind. The phrase, popular among aficionados of the Second Amendment, “Guns don’t kill, people do.”

No, guns do kill – in this most recent tragedy an assault rifle was used to quickly mow down 26 people. We remain in thrall of our wilderness heritage, when we used rifles and guns to defend our families and tame the frontier. But we live in a vastly different environment these days – most of us in urban settings, where firearms are too often misused.

There’s a reason mass murderers prefer assault weapons: they are chillingly efficient. And why are the certified mentally ill permitted to walk into a gun show and buy firearms? This in itself is insane. In the same way that the Constitution grew outdated (or, more accurately perhaps, always was in error) on the issues of slavery and women’s suffrage, it’s clearly time to revisit the Second Amendment. Should the right to bear arms include semi-automatic weapons? What about other “armaments?” Maybe small nuclear bombs? Just wondering where we draw the line.

To begin, I’d like to see nation-wide vigils, where firearms could be voluntarily turned in. We’ve just passed the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year. Light a white candle in memory of all those who have died by gun violence and let it be a portent that the citizenry will be relentless in confronting those craven politicians who for too long have refused to stand up to the gun lobby.

Gun control is only a part of the puzzle of errant violent human behavior, but it’s a beginning.

And now, the column I had originally thought to write. My colleague, Lynn Selich, wrote in a similar vein in last week’s Indy. (Lynn’s husband is Newport Beach Council Member Ed Selich, a survivor of the recent Great Dock Tax War.) Lynn’s words bear repeating: “[W]hile I typically avoid writing about local politics for obvious reasons, sometimes I find myself biting my tongue when I hear people criticize those who devote so much of their personal and professional lives to public service. It takes guts to be a public servant, to listen, day in and day out, for years on end, to complaints, concerns, criticism, rational and otherwise, and then, sometimes after sleepless nights and council meetings that go on for eight hours or more, make decisions for the community as a whole to the best of your ability. To juggle the obligations to city staff, constituents, conscience and dedicate your life to leadership when you’d much rather be spending time with friends and family or a favorite hobby, is not for the faint of heart.”

Besides, sometimes politicians get it right. So in the spirit of the New Year, a few ‘atta girls and ‘atta boys.

Thanks to Newport Beach Council Member Nancy Gardner, who each month sends out an intelligently written newsletter, filled with the kind of stuff you’d actually want to read and need to know. Thanks, too, Nancy, for inviting your constituents on your harbor paddles and Back Bay walks.

Thanks to Assemblyman (74th District) Allan Mansoor, who, though we differ mightily on many issues, returns my phone calls promptly and makes time to talk for as long as it takes.

Thanks to the 2012 Charter Update Committee, which had the wisdom to keep the Newport Beach Public Library – one of the gems of our city – out of the grasp of our politicians.

Thanks to Newport Beach Council Member Keith Curry, who as director of the Concordia University Center for Public Policy, hosts regular forums on county and state public policy issues. Keith has been reaching out to liberals and moderates and women – a commendable move in a county where politics has too long been run like a private men’s club. At November’s 2012 OC Annual Report luncheon, Keith mentioned that we disagree politically but offered some kind words for the column. I assured him that I get along well with Republicans – I’m married to one.

Finally, thanks to all the local politicians who had the foresight and the will to build the Oasis Senior Center and the new Civic Center and Park. I know these projects cost money. I’m a taxpayer, but I say, bravo. And how about we wait to pass judgment on the new Civic Center and Park until the landscaping takes hold and the facilities are in full use? These buildings are emblematic of our community. They should serve the people of this city well for decades to come.

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