Considering the atmosphere of gloom hanging over just about every gathering of public officials these days, Wednesday’s evening with elected officials sponsored by the Chandler Chamber of Commerce had a fairly upbeat feel.
I actually lost count of the number of local office holders who took turns addressing the crowd during the evening’s reception, but suffice to say, there were a lot of them, most from the state Legislature and Chandler City Council.
And darn if most of them did what they could to help keep hope alive, even amid this raging recession, while speaking to the gathering of local business owners at the Ocotillo Golf Club.
Most of the messages could be summarized something like this: “Hey, we have a lot of work ahead of us, but if we all just hunker down, tighten our belts for a while, work together in harmony and don’t lose sight of our long-term vision, we’ll come out the other end even better.”
I can report with confidence that most of these folks think the future is bright.
Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn, opening the evening, acknowledged that his city, like every other municipality, is facing some tough budget decisions in the coming year. But Dunn insisted Chandler will not throw in the towel and put the future on hold. It still must invest in those things that will help establish a thriving city for decades down the road.
“This will turn around and when it does, we have to be open for business,” he said.
Incoming state House Speaker Kirk Adams, a Mesa Republican, didn’t hide from the fact that our state Legislature will convene on Monday facing a $1.5 billion budget deficit.
But even he did not seem discouraged, confidently agreeing with Dunn’s “long-term vision” pitch, saying Arizona still has to look to the future.
“What will it take to diversify Arizona’s economy?” he said, so that the next downturn isn’t quite as bad.
And so it went. It was going along so well until state Rep. Steve Yarbrough, another Chandler Republican, took the podium.
Yarbrough didn’t waste time. He let everyone know there were fingers to be pointed, and he was going to point them.
He made clear Gov. Janet Napolitano and her cronies in the Legislature created this mess. He said soon-to-be Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican like Yarbrough, will work with true conservatives — including a spate of newly elected lawmakers — to get our state finances in order.
Nowhere did he offer the “let’s-hold-hands-and-be-friends” note that often sounds good at community confabs. He chided rogue Republicans that they better get on board — no more cozying up with Democrats.
Yep, it’s safe to say Yarbrough sucked more than a few gallons of air out of the room. I swear the fruit-kabobs on one table started wilting halfway through his rant.
Chandler Councilman Matt Orlando and former Attorney General Grant Woods later did a little finger wagging of their own Yarbrough’s way, suggesting now was not the time for such vitriol given the magnitude of our economic crisis.
I’d like to believe that too. But as taken aback as I was by Yarbrough, something keeps nagging at me: Maybe this guy was the only frank politician speaking that night.
This is not to say that the way he assessed blame was right on. What I’m suggesting is the fact that Yarbrough wasn’t afraid to stand in front of this otherwise polite crowd and behave the way we all know so many politicians behave behind closed doors was actually commendable — even forthright. Dare I say, honest?
Look, we can hope, wish, beg, plead — insert your favorite verb here — all we want in times of crisis is to see partisanship dissolve as normally fractured ideologues and party faithful come together for the common good. And sometimes — when truly forced by an imminent catastrophe or a shortage of votes — they do.
But by its very nature, the noble battle of ideas that takes place in these hallowed chambers has an end game for the combatants with two results in mind: The laws that will impact the citizens (which we assume); and the credit or blame that everyone will get the next time voters go to the polls (which we prefer to ignore — until we go to the polls).
We instinctively know this, even if we shun both major parties when we register to vote. It’s not a stretch to presume that, after throwing one set of bums out, most voters expect the new set of bums to flex their partisan muscle to make changes, whether they hold hands or not. Our party system offers us two sets of bums for a reason, don’t forget.
So as our elected leaders venture to their desks this month to help solve our current crisis, whether in Congress, at the state Capitol or even at the “non-partisan” city hall, don’t be lulled into thinking that politics somehow will be overcome, placed aside and not be central to the process. Politics is the process. Yarbrough may have done a service to his audience with his remarks, if for no other reason than reminding us of that.