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Ventura County Perspective

Seen but Not Heard at Political Adulthood

In T.O., freedom to vent is held hostage to the politics of personality.

September 27, 1998|BEVERLY KELLEY

Thousand Oaks politics has certainly come of age; you can now find personal vendettas played out in half-million-dollar arenas right here in Ventura County. The big boys inside the Beltway have nothing on the organized bloodletting practiced in these parts.

The coarsening of political discourse won't be legislated away. Personal rancor currently evidenced in organized letter to the editor campaigns and the tattling of every slight, real or imagined, to the district attorney hasn't been bridled by ordinances born out of the Blue Ribbon Campaign Finance Reform Committee, constituted not just to cap contributions but also to sow serenity in a community exhausted by the rhetoric of entrenched political factions.

Washington, D.C., however evil, does pay lip service to the 1st Amendment. Thousand Oaks Mayor Mike Markey, who failed to black out various vituperative voices on TOTV cable Channel 10 just 14 months ago, briefly tried holding freedom of expression hostage once again.

While the camera does accelerate the contrapuntal cacophony interrupting the public comment hour, Markey's ham-handed approach would only have backfired on council mates who are up for reelection. Those who felt the wind of Markey's mayoral nightstick this time were not merely monopolizing the mike. He targeted those regulars-turned-candidates who had the audacity to commandeer a televised venue (not unlike Markey the candidate) to further their campaigns.

A raucous demonstration of past and current council candidates failed to move the mayor. Perhaps these protesters might consider an alternative forum by following the lead of Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat whose district includes Thousand Oaks. By enrolling in the Adopt-A-Highway program, he was able to custom design what amounts to a billboard on the Ventura Freeway, all the while living up to his commitment to the environment.

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Lee Laxdal, a city councilman during the 1980s, hearkens back to the "good old days" when the public was free to vent for hours. Former Mayor Larry Horner, who sat with some fairly contentious colleagues at the old City Hall, recalls that all disagreements were left at the dais when the council adjourned to convivialize at a nearby coffee shop. Unfortunately, blackmail proved the price tag for the peace-at-all-costs enjoyed during that decade.

Madge Schaefer remembers stumbling across a fellow council member cozied up with a woman (not his wife) in a corner booth at a Malibu restaurant. She emptied a bowl of matchbooks emblazoned with the restaurant's logo into her pocketbook after waving him a larger than life "hello."

Whenever a particularly polemical issue was being debated, she would slide a book of matches down the table, without a word.

E.J. Dionne's national bestseller, "Why Americans Hate Politics," argues that present-day voters doubt that elections give them any real control over what the government does. The various SOAR (Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources) initiatives resonate with that sentiment in quadraphonic sound.

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Thousand Oaks doesn't need SOAR: There is no ag land, the city is 90% built out and the general plan (preserving 14,000 acres of open space) cannot be changed. What SOAR would do is legitimize a "pulling up the drawbridge" mentality, even if that meant that future offspring and the less than prosperous were shut out of the affordable housing market.

Slate campaigning, exemplified by the so-called "Clean Sweepers," businessman Wayne A. Possehl, schoolteacher Laura Lee Custodio and marketing manager Dan Del Campo, is but another example of Thousand Oaks trying to clomp around in grown-up political footgear. These heirs apparent to Elois Zeanah hope to provide a new broom to whisk away a pro-business majority. When the dust settles, despising development is not the answer.

Marshall Dixon, the self-designated elder statesman of the eight other council contenders, predicted rather self-servingly, "Unless there is a substantial change in the makeup of the City Council, the infighting problem will only escalate." Throwing the bums out isn't the answer, either.

Take a good look at Washington politics. Some very tall children are large and in charge. If we are to regard ourselves as political adults, then we must, as the Biblical maxim goes, put away childish things.

That doesn't include television, does it?

Beverly Kelley hosts KCLU's "Local Talk" on Monday nights. She teaches in the communication arts department at Cal Lutheran University. Address e-mail to kelley@clunet.edu.

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