The political playoffs have officially reached the homestretch and a couple of intriguing statements have jumped out at me like dancing moo cow popups on my computer screen. (I live in Enumclaw where we once had lots of cows).
The line that keeps running through my airspace is, “It isn’t personal.” It has come up in a number of races and has been a part of every political season I can recall.
This season I see the issue in letters about the change of government race, Proposition No. 1, in Black Diamond.
Proposition No. 1 asks whether Black Diamond should switch from a strong-mayor to a council-manager form of government. In the council-manager system, the mayor is not elected by a vote of the people. The council chooses a mayor from its own ranks. The council also hires a city manager to run the executive branch. The equivalent in the strong-mayor form is the mayor and city administrator.
It is important to remember that a separation of power between the executive and legislative branch exists in both systems. Clearly the lines blur in everyday governing. Many of the arguments I am reading surrounds a separation of powers doctrine.
A very brainy lawyer pointed out to me that separation of powers is not clearly elucidated in the U.S. Constitution. This is an interesting column for another day.
The personal part is whether the change of government proposition is what Councilman Craig Goodwin called a “backdoor recall” of Mayor Rebecca Olness by folks who do not want to wait for the mayor’s election next year.
The supporters of the proposition have maintained it is not a personal. Check out the “for and against” letters on the Covington-Maple Valley-Black Diamond Reporter website and in the print editions. The issues surrounding the proposition are discussed effectively, better than I could.
Political races are always personal.
After a few decades of covering political races of every flavor, I believe the black bird of revenge is constantly battling with the angel of ideals and ideas. Revenge hides in the shadows, but it is effective. Just follow the trail of blood and money… on both sides.
I know one thing. If it matters, it will become personal.
I started thinking a little more about my twisted political theory a few days ago while listening to a lecture on Roman emperors by Professor Garrett G. Fagan. The lecture series is available through the King County Library System and is very good.
Here’s how I connected the dots. This isn’t completely whacky, only partially, so hold the lock-me-up keys in Black Diamond until I’m done.
During the past 10 years or so I have written about a couple of the more controversial land battles in the state. First was Cascadia in Pierce County south of Bonney Lake, now called Tehaleh, and the second, the two YarrowBay master planned developments in Black Diamond.
Fagan said something that made the lights flicker in my dusty brain. He began talking about the seeds of destruction that took down the Roman republic.
He described one theory from Ronald Syme’s 1939 book, “The Roman Revolution.” Fagan said Syme believed the Roman republic was “ripped to pieces by self-serving Roman aristocrats who paid lip service to highfalutin ideals, but were seeking nothing but their own dominance.”
Fagen argued that while Syme’s point is valid, he believes the seeds of the Roman republic’s destruction were in its “normal functioning.”
“The Roman republic didn’t collapse or fall apart,” Fagen said. “It committed suicide.”
Fagen said the inciting incident was a battle over a proposed land use law by a tribune of the plebs (or regular guy Romans).
His name was Tiberius Gracchus. (Don’t you just love that name? We need names like that in our communities.)
Tiberius proposed a land use law that made a bunch of senators and landholders start sweating up their togas.
Without getting too technical, he wanted to reallocate public land to the homeless and soldiers who had fought for Rome. The soldiers had lost their land holdings because they were out marching around eating bad food and singing dumb Latin songs. When they returned from soldier singing, many of them were homeless.
The senators said the problem was the way he went about proposing the land law as a plebeian.
“He bypassed the senate entirely and proposed his bill directly to the assembly of the plebs, as tribunes had the technical right,” Fagan said.
Technically, Tiberius could do this, but it violated the unwritten Roman tradition that allowed aristocrats and senators to keep grabbing land. Not a healthy thing to do.
The senators decided the remedy was to grab some table legs and clubs, beat Tiberius to death and throw him in the Tiber River. His brother and many friends met a similar fate.
The Romans had a way of settling a constitutional question.
I imagine some senator whispered to him right before whacking him, “Nothing personal, Tiby, nothing personal.” The story goes he was hit first by his closest friend – very Roman.
What intrigued me was the inciting incident on the day Tiberius died began with a battle over land. We have been fighting over land use for thousands of years and we continue to this day.
Fortunately, we seldom see table legs used today, but the battles in communities and countries are always intensely personal, and it should be if it matters.
In Black Diamond the change of government proposition is a land use battle by other means. The day the pilgrims set foot on the future American soil was the first day of a land war that continues in communities today in many forms.
Black Diamond has an important decision to make on Election Day. That is evident from the passion shown on both sides of the issue.
When comes down to checking the box, each voter must decide if this is a true call for a better government, or an attempt to overturn a previous election.
Is it a black bird or an angel... or some of both?