Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bainbridge Forum Exposes the Character of Leadership

by Johnny Walker

@KingstonJW on Twitter

There was a lot to be said on Bainbridge Island last Tuesday night, as candidates for the 23rd Legislative District in Washington State, and the Kitsap County Commissioner race pitched their ideas and pitted themselves against each other in the 10th annual candidate forum hosted by American Legion Post 172. While I wrote last week that candidate forums were grueling and predictable, I’m compelled to correct myself today. This one was a sparker.

For anyone listening, the political differences were obvious and sometimes heated. Democrat and Republican contenders lined themselves up along predictable philosophies on how to resolve our State and County’s pressing fiscal problems, but what stood out more than usual was how the tone plus content of individual candidates opened windows to their personal character and leadership styles. This is important when voters ask themselves, “how did we get here?” and “how are we moving forward?”

Representative Sherry Appleton, who emotionally over reacted to a small group that began applauding her report of increasing State budget cuts up to 10.5%, hurled the first glaring shot over the brow. “I can’t imagine that anyone would clap about that,” she said, “that human services would be decimated – and you clap?” The problem with Appleton’s challenge is fundamental. The audience had completely ceased its very brief applause before she uttered the potential impact. Not only did Appleton misread the audience response, she used the opportunity as a springboard to attack the audience, intimidate them, and declare her moral superiority over those who might dissent. This is problematic and consistent with Appleton’s leadership style.

Appleton went on to say that she did not understand the mindset that would decimate health care and, “My thinking is that there are people who need help and that’s what government’s job is, is to help them.” While vaguely true, Appleton’s statement conveniently dismisses that her primary role is not services, but to protect individual rights, and that her self proclaimed moral superiority is secondary to the will of the people.

Article I Section I: Political Power (Washington State Constitution): All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.”

There is nothing in the Article that gives government a blanket charter to simply deliver services according to some undefined moral code. To be clear, Representative Appleton is not merely misguided in her priorities, she is unapologetic. “It will haunt me if someone dies on my watch,” she says, because “we’re not funding it.” And later, “If we have to raise a tax so that somebody will be safe, I will vote to raise that tax.”

As we look into the window of how Sherry Appleton has performed in her Representative role, we can see that the intentions that make her a wonderful person are also the intentions that have put Washington State at grave financial risk. She is the problem and not the solution. She has demonstrated clearly that she will tax and spend according to her own moral code, regardless of constitutional principles, and will unapologetically hinder the speech of the people, even to the point of falsely mocking them. Is this the kind of leader that Washington needs today? I hope not.

A very fine orator, Representative Christine Rolfes is much more subtle in her defense to win a second term but still clear about her guiding principles. Referring to her accomplishments while in office, she told the audience, “we’ve led in this area a progressive agenda,” self-identifying and clearly aligning left of mainstream. She articulated an impressive list of services she has supported that were the result of a tax and spend, progressive, philosophy. While she did a great job of describing the difficulties in financial management during hard times, she avoided the simple truth that she helped put us in those hard times with unsustainable budgeting.

One of the most telling glimpses into Christine Rofles’ character; however, was her delight in baiting the competition at a personal level. I believe she completely jumped the shark when she sought to dismiss challenger James Olsen’s community service through his church. This level of arrogance should be a red flag to any Christian voter because it implies that community service through a religious organization is somehow not as valid or is secondary to a purely secular activity. For those who believe Godly concepts would be beneficial to government leadership, then Representative Rolfes spells trouble. It was also mean-spirited, obviously designed to bait Olsen’s more transparent temperament. Rolfes’ emphasis on the ability to broadly collaborate while dismissing religious community value is indefensible.

In theatrical terms, the window to Josh Brown, incumbent and candidate for the open Commissioner’s seat in Kitsap County, was more of a dark comedy than the potential tragedies I’ve inferred with the other incumbents. On one hand I have to admire this guy. He is younger and better looking than I am, smart and seems to have a good grasp of the facts. Why then did he have to take cheap shots at challenger Abby Burlingame?

I admit I chuckled when Burlingame answered Commissioner Brown’s first question of the night – it was about her experience. Had this question come from the audience, it would have been perfectly acceptable but the truth is that Josh Brown was less qualified to enter office on his campaign four years ago than Abby Burlingame is on her first try this year, and she told him so. It was arrogant and silly, perhaps belying his youth, but an unnecessary cheap shot regardless. Is this a window into his typical management style? Brown seemed to take a step backward about his relative experience in closing remarks when he said, “its not lost on me that four years ago, a lot of people thought that; does Josh have the experience?” This will be thought of as a good recovery by advisors but voters shouldn't forget the first shot. I also didn’t miss that in opening remarks he stumped experience, education, and background, while in closing remarks he changed it to education, experience and, “frankly, integrity.” What does this mean? Was it political savvy adapting to his failed attack on Burlingame’s experience, or was it another cheap shot introducing integrity as a potential campaign issue?

In this election cycle, perhaps more than others, polarization of positions seems relatively apparent. What is left is the middle. One way for the middle to decide is to ask, “how did the State and County get to where they are, and are the same people who brought us there willing or able to lead us out?” The messages and actions of Representative’s Appleton and Rolfes make it pretty clear that they are the problem and unlikely to change in ways that can successfully lead a new course forward. While they acknowledge the need to slow down, there is no hint of changing direction.

I’ve less experience with Commissioner Brown but I value Abby Burlingame’s passion to prioritize core services and take a less elitist posture, something the Commissioner appears to struggle with. Brown should note that it was Appleton and Rolfes’ education and experience that put our State at risk. How he manages transparency and integrity through the course of his campaign may well be a deciding factor for voters.

Know your candidates and vote. November is coming.

Photo Center Left: Chaplain Nels Johansen confers with Bainbridge Island resident during a break in the action. The forum was held at American Legion Post 172 on Bucklin Hill Rd., Bainbridge Island, WA

1 comment:

James M. Olsen said...

JW -- a good take on the evenings' happenings. I found many in the audience came for trouble -- your comments about Appleton captured part of it.

For me, the issue of lack of moral leadership and character lays at Rolfes' feet for her silence. Silence in the face of wrong is not style but weakness.

This is the same statement I read at this American Legion forum and in the earlier morning debate at Eggs and Issues (See Bremerton Chamber of Commerce Facebook page for the full tape). Ms. Rolfes was stunned both times by my words.

Excerpt Candidate Olsen opening statement Eggs and Issues:

There is a serious matter I must raise. I firmly believe personal character, moral clarity and courage are essential for military leadership and elected office. Over the past several months on Bainbridge exclusively -- the place both Ms. Rolfes and I call home -- there has been a venomous organized campaign of intimidation and slander against me, a candidate for state Legislative office, and my family.

This campaign has been waged in the Bainbridge Review and on the street of Our Bainbridge Island. To date I have filed 8 BIPD police reports with losses well in excess of 80 signs stolen and defaced here on Bainbridge including intimidation and vandalism at my residence in Fort Ward. I have repeatedly sought a public statement decrying this from BIPD Chief Felhman, COBI Manager Bauer and the COBI Council. They have been silent.

I believe my opponent, Ms. Rolfes, the Representative for 23rd LD, has been coyly silent on these infringement of my Constitutional Rights of Free Speech, security and safety in my home. The corrosive and slanderous attacks have come from individuals self-describing themselves as Rolfes admirers. I have seen no public statement from Ms. Rolfes decrying the sleazy slanders from her admirers. Ms. Rolfes has been notified by my campaign of the constant and unrelenting vandalism of my political signs while her signs sitting next to mine are unscathed. Ms. Rolfes has to see the OLSEN-sign vandalism that I leave up for all to ponder. Not a word from her to the community and her constituents decrying this attack of the body politic. The effect now and long-term is to chill discussion and engagement from Independents and Republicans.

Moral character means standing up for all constituents even if the issue is your opponent’s 1st Amendment rights. Moral fortitude is standing up to the mob rule of vandalism and intimidation and demanding a cease and desist. Ms. Rolfes has consciously elected to remain silent. That is certainly not leadership. These acts of aggression going unchallenged tarnishes the reputation of Bainbridge and dampens Democratic involvement. Silence in the face of wrong is not moral clarity.