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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Look Homeward, Politicians

March 09, 2003

It's easy for politicians to be for or against a declaration that does little more than make free political hay. So the Irvine City Council and, to a lesser degree, the Orange County Board of Supervisors, deserve credit for refusing to march in the self-serving parade of city and county boards passing motions that proclaim varying levels of support or opposition to a war in Iraq.

City and county governments have no reason to be crafting official positions on the very real and very important matter of sending sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, into war. They don't set foreign policy.

Short of polling constituents, council members and supervisors don't really know if residents are in agreement. There's also the practical matter of these resolutions and proclamations sparking understandable protests by those who have every right to disagree with an official proclamation made in their name.

The welcome decisions not to act in Santa Ana and Irvine came just days after the Los Angeles City Council passed a proclamation opposing war in Iraq without United Nations backing. Council members who voted no were treated to boos and jeering. Los Angeles Councilwoman Jan Perry, who voted against the resolution, urged her colleagues to show the "same passion when I want to save the lives of veterans who make their homes on the sidewalks" of Los Angeles' skid row.

Orange County supervisors were responding to a resolution from newly elected Supervisor Bill Campbell that pledged support for President Bush and soldiers gathering overseas. Chris Norby, another board newcomer, correctly suggested that the board stick with its tradition of not getting involved in national politics. But the board's political nature won out. A week later, board members quietly signed a letter of support to Bush that was drafted by Campbell and written on county stationery -- but that did not require official board action.

In Irvine, Mayor Larry Agran simply told antiwar forces that an ordinance prohibits the City Council from taking such stands. The ordinance, on Irvine's books since the mid-1970s, tells elected officials to stick to their knitting and avoid serving as advocates on non-municipal activities ranging from political endorsements to recommendations on bond issues.

That common-sense approach would have served Los Angeles residents well because council members spent valuable hours debating the proclamation. Yes, it's an important issue. But council members should have used their limited time and energy to end a deadly "war" closer to home that recently sent a stray bullet into the head of a 17-year-old girl who was shooting baskets at a park in South Los Angeles.

Elected officials have enough to do when it comes to conducting the business of local government at a time when a massive budget deficit in Sacramento threatens to strip funding for education, social services and health care delivery.

Proclamations that carry no real weight waste time and keep elected officials from the task at hand.

Irvine's rule makes sense. More cities and counties should adopt similar ordinances that keep elected officials from focusing on issues beyond their control.

The right thing to do is to advise those who want to influence U.S. foreign policy to write, phone or send e-mail to someone who can make a difference: the president and congressional representatives.

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