Editor’s note: Coffee and candidates

If local candidates want more civility, it’s up to them to bring it

This column is part of the CN&R’s Oct. 6 Election Issue. For more stories on the 2022 general election click here.

In preparation for this Election Issue, CN&R Contributing Editor Evan Tuchinsky and I sat down and talked face-to-face with 12 of the people running for local office in the upcoming election. Over the course of one week in September, we met on neutral turf—in public places, either Daycamp Coffee or the Upper Crust Bakery & Cafe—and had very pleasant, but frank, discussions with all of the Chico Unified School District board candidates and most of the folks vying for seats on the Chico City Council.

The purpose, of course, was to get to know the candidates in advance of making decisions on our endorsements (see “The CN&R recommends”). Campaign slogans and social-media hot takes might be entertaining, but we learn a lot more about how someone might operate in public office by having an in-person discussion.

We also are able to clarify candidates’ similarities and differences on local issues, and there was one in particular on each person’s mind. Without exception, every candidate at one point during these sit-downs expressed frustration with how communication in politics has deteriorated in recent years—and, in the case of the school board, the fact that things had become political at all.

“Polarized” and “nasty” were a couple of the words that came up.

This issue has stuck with me the most because, for one thing, everyone is apparently in agreement that things have worsened in this regard during the Trump/post-Trump years. Secondly, if the candidates—and the rest of our elected officials—decided to act on this issue by committing to empathetic communication (with each other and with their constituents), they very likely would increase their effectiveness in addressing all the other issues. Imagine how much they could get done!

So, I put it to you local public servants: Do it already!

Would your base desert you for listening graciously, debating respectfully and resisting demonizing those with differing beliefs? This is the easiest decision in world, right?

Opinions on solutions to problems and how to better our community will, of course, vary from person to person, often due to fundamental differences. Very few people will change their political ideology by being challenged by someone with an opposing view (in fact disagreement on issues is often healthy for democracy), and few will ever back down from their core beliefs.

I’m not saying folks shouldn’t fight for what they believe is right. Just know that the groups, sides, teams, whatever you want to call them, are likely set and not going away anytime soon. No matter how strongly we disagree with folks from the other side, if we want to solve problems and improve together, we have no choice but to work together. There’s a difference between saying, “Your ideas are terrible,” and saying “You are terrible,” and maybe making that distinction and committing to hearing out others (even if your side is in power) is enough to move us forward.

It’s worth a try.

Jason Cassidy is editor of the Chico News & Review

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