Category Archives: Civil Discourse

Seth Brigham, Redux

Seth Brigham, Redux
September 25, 2010

‘Tis a challenge to find 250 more words to write on this arguably unworthy subject. Isn’t all the attention going to encourage or enable similar behavior? Not to mention the cold, hard cash. Do we really want Council’s public comment period to become the City of Boulder’s “Gong Show” (apologies to Chuck Barris)?

The premature “hook” of Mr. Brigham is apparently going to cost “us” $10,000. What would have been “price-less” is waiting a few additional seconds to see whether Seth might remove his skivvies, thus committing an actual code violation; or, his three minutes having been exhausted, whether Seth would be content to simply leave the stage wearing fewer clothes than when he started.

Let’s be honest. Boulder’s citizenry are a creative lot. Anticipating every behavior that might be conjured up by one of our own is well nigh impossible at a public hearing, where passions have occasionally been known to run hot. Thus, patience is proved yet again to be a virtue. Instead of, “Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200” (apologies to Parker Brothers), we pay $10Gs. We ought to be able endure for three minutes or less almost any combination of words and actions. We do it on the Downtown Mall all the time, don’t we?

There are victims of city mistakes who are far more deserving, but the City has told them, “times are tough; we’re sorry, but we just don’t have the money.” This case settlement would suggest otherwise.

Negative Campaign Ads Are Destroying America

August 14, 2010

Will there ever again be a political campaign that stays on the high road instead of wallowing in the gutter? Are ads featuring character attacks, mudslinging and sneering innuendo the only ones that work? Do the ends justify the means (and the absurd amount of money spent polluting our airwaves)? I don’t think our republic can survive these scorched-earth tactics.

I think Bennett could have defeated Romanoff by an even greater margin had he not spent so much money painfully trying to pillory Romanoff for taking PAC money in the past, but we’ll never know. If PAC money is a bad thing, and Senator Bennett is accepting it, how does it help his cause to accuse his opponent of taking it, too? He’d have been better off sticking with the high road and the ad featuring his cute daughters (“that’s hard to say”).

The McInnis-Maes race was an even more astounding spectacle. Personal integrity matters and unbridled ambition stinks, which provides some relief, but what’s a voter to do? I’ll tell you what they did. They didn’t vote. 19,341 Republicans who voted in the Senate race did not vote in the governor’s race on the same ballot. 47.6% of registered Republicans voted in the Senate primary, while only 41.4% of Democrats did.

Driving voters out of the process with money-squandering negative campaign ads may be a “winning” strategy, but it’s destroying America. Absent civil discourse, the ability to govern is lost. If we’re not there yet, we’re perilously close.

The Audacity of “Nope”

March 27, 2010

Can the Republican Party’s Audacity of “Nope” strategy succeed? At what point will the American people, a vast majority of whom – including myself – would prefer bipartisan cooperation, hold the Republican Party accountable for adopting their just say “no” tactical approach? As the Republican Party drifts further to the right, inexorably drawn in that direction by the most vocal elements in their base, will Republican moderates survive the Party’s primary culling process? If they don’t, can the hard-right winners prevail over Democrats in November?

The Democrats have primary litmus tests of their own, wielded by their most vocal activists, progressives sorely disappointed by the lack of a public option in the health care bill. If hard left candidates run against hard right candidates in the fall, what will moderate and independent voters do? Stay tuned . . .the answer to this question may determine the future of our republic. However, patience, length of memory and depth of understanding are all characteristics for the possession of which voters as a group are not generally renowned.

From a hope-diminishing morass of opposition party obstructionism and majority party lack of discipline, plus procedural maneuvering aimed at exploiting both, President Obama and Democratic House and Senate leaders rescued the Senate health care bill, and eliminated the worst amendments added to secure 60 votes. As the many benefits of health care reform roll out over the next two election cycles, they must help strengthen the economy first and foremost. Here’s hoping . . .
Ed Byrne,

bipartisan support
As a member of the “obstructionist, hope diminishing morass of opposition party” I would like to respond to Ed Byrne (Editorial Advisory Board, March 27). Reasonable people of opposing points of view can, and should, agree that the manner in which Obama Care became law was appalling. It is true that the legislation does not have bipartisan support — despite the fact that the president`s platform of hope and change promised us “an end to partisan politics as usual in Washington.”
People could use some help in understanding how the president might get bipartisan agreement on a piece of legislation that bitterly divides the country. Let me start with examples of how not to gain bipartisan support:
1. Exclude members of the minority party from committees drafting the legislation. 2) Write legislation that guarantees no minority party support. 3) Have a nationally televised summit to hammer out differences between the two parties, including the president, speaker of the house, senate majority leader and vice president and make sure that their facial expressions convey their disdain, contempt and boredom for the minority party`s ideas. 4) Remind the minority party that their vote is not necessary to passing the legislation. 5) When the filibuster-proof majority is lost in the Senate, threaten to use the reconciliation process to pass the legislation anyway. 6) Vote down each and every amendment offered by the minority party to eliminate the need to send the bill back to the House. 7) Have the speaker of the house say on national television that the bill will have to be signed so that people can read it. 8) Have the president fill a budgetary shortfall of $38 billion in the legislation by seizing control of the student loan program. 9) Have the legislation be extremely unpopular with half the country and vilify the opposing half with derision. 10) Have the legislation be unconstitutional.
One final point, economic literacy is very useful when reordering one-sixth of the economy. Passing this legislation the same week that, shocking, the Social Security program announced that it is now distributing more money in benefits than it receives in contributions, should give everyone who supports this legislation pause when trusting the government to compute anything accurately. According to Ed Byrne, my lack of understanding and bad memory will guide my vote in the fall. Well — we shall see what we shall see.
trappist99 65p · 7 hours ago
“an end to partisan politics as usual in Washington.”

The development of the health care bill was left to the Congress& Senate of a full year.
Republicans were so intent on winning their self declared war (they claimed it would be Obama’s
Waterloo) and the Democrats were so weak, compromising and selfserving the entire year was
nearly wasted.

It was only when Obama gave in and personally steered the compromised legislation thru, using rules
which previous Republican regimes had also used, that any progress was made at all.

Republicans have no intention of breaking their own model of partisan politics, they have stated they will not participate in governing the country till the election. Democrats must understand they cant reach agreement with a party that has explicitly stated it wont cooperate. Olive branches, such as the recent relaxation of drilling regulations, will be ignored.

To Katie Lehr and the Teabag Republicans…… stop whining and grow up, you are gaining nothing but the contempt of the overwhelming majority of moderates.

Lincoln Republicans! are you happy being associated with these nuts? Say something!

Holier Than Thou?

Holier Than Thou?
March 13, 2010

What Would Jesus Do? I think He would be delighted to teach these children. I doubt it would even be a close call. “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them.” Luke 18:15-17. “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Matthew 7:1. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” John 8:7. “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:5. “Right now three things remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13.
Continue reading Holier Than Thou?

No Harm, No Howl

February 27, 2010

“No shirt, no shoes, no ‘sermon?'” At this point, I’ll bet everyone who was in Council’s chambers Tuesday night wishes Seth Brigham had been given his 3 minutes, because the resulting exposure (pun intended) just might have everyone disrobing for the next City Council meeting. I suppose it is a good thing that Council will now have carefully crafted procedures to handle the next person who seeks to speak in their skivvies, but we really do have more important matters to address this year.

I hope we don’t spend too much time carving out First Amendment exceptions to avoid comments that might hurt a councilor’s feelings or breach civic decorum in some other “personal” way. Give a clear warning, threaten removal if need be, and then follow through. But remember the “sticks and stones” rule: “names will never hurt me.” Council members ought to be able to survive 3 minutes of ill-conceived diatribe, even if it’s rude, insensitive and demeaning, without permanent harm.

Don’t get me wrong, they clearly don’t deserve it – Lord knows theirs is a thankless, poorly compensated “job” for which they deserve our thanks, not our brickbats. However, uncivil discourse almost always says more about the speaker than the accused. The audience can keep score pretty easily. Let’s not sternly manage Council meetings to prevent 1% from getting away with behavior that 99% of our citizens would never even consider doing. After all, such moments can be quite “revealing.”

The Demise of Democracy

December 19, 2009

Can democracy function in a scorched podium, shout radio, flaming cable, bumper-snicker world? The evidence from 2009 has me wondering. Despite losing in 2008, the Republican Party has elected to sit this year out. No new policies (the old ones worked, dammit!). No consensus-building. No offers of compromise. The theory seems to be, “if we can make the president fail, we’ll win in 2010.” All hands on deck? That’s for the other guys . . .

Of course, Democrats can’t holster their weapons either, but they save most of their bullets for each other.

On both sides of the aisle, the real conflagration occurs during primaries, where a diminishing number of the unyielding party faithful litmus test their own sacrificial lambs. In 2008, President Obama energized independents with his fight for hope, but the Republican rope-a-dope strategy seems to be working. Here’s an example:

On Wednesday, to secure one more vote for the (eviscerated) health care reform bill, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) was allowed to introduce his single payer alternative plan. A Republican senator exercised his prerogative and insisted the 767-page proposal – with no hope of passage – be read aloud to the empty chamber. After three hours, Sanders withdrew the bill. Whereupon, Republicans accused Democrats of trampling on Senate procedure, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared this incident proves Democrats will do anything to “jam through a 2,000 page bill before (anyone) has a chance to read it.”

Is anybody watching? Does anybody care? I hope so.

We Should Elect Boulder’s Mayor

November 7, 2009

When I moved to Boulder in 1981, city council elections were a revelation: pick 5-6 winners from among 12-15 candidates? Cool. I’d look at the members who had 2 more years, then cast all my votes on a group of candidates I thought would fill in the missing community DNA. I’d vote for Spence Havlick and Bob Greenlee because both viewpoints deserved a place at the table. “Bullet-voting” was unheard of – you balanced your own ticket and figured everyone else would, too, so a representative sample would be chosen.

This year, 18,535 ballots were cast by Boulder residents (a 29% turnout), generating 75,114 “votes,” which equates to about 4.05 votes per ballot. This means very few voters wandered off their respective reservations to cast 5th votes. Macon Cowles received 7,749 votes and KC Becker received 7,719 votes. Barry Siff’s 177 and 245 vote edge over Tim Plass and Jyotsna Raj, respectively, are another indication that our two “core” constituencies are roughly equal at a secondary (down-ballot) level of 7,000 votes.

8 of our 9 current City Council members received fewer than 10,000 votes apiece – 10% of our population; 15% of our registered voters. Who represents a majority of Boulder’s citizens? Who knows? But there’s no shortage of folks claiming the mantle. We should elect our Mayor. Then there would be at least one person in town who really could say they represent Boulder, and the runners-up would reveal the relative size of our other points of view.

Campaign Funding Reform in Boulder

October 24, 2009

It must be election season. The notion that candidates for Boulder’s City Council would sell their souls in $100 increments requires a willful suspension of disbelief. Where is the upside in a city council seat? It pays almost nothing. The hours of service required are taken directly from one’s family and friends. Personal aggrandizement is not an option.

No one runs for Council to make a quick buck. In fact, the more you spend on a City Council campaign, the more voters learn about your agenda. In living memory, I don’t think any city council candidate has “won” (I use the term advisedly) by spending more than one of the other candidates. Boulder voters are smart and they are willing to do some homework. Piffle doesn’t sell here. Substance does. People who think otherwise don’t give us enough credit.

Boulder’s Campaign Reform ordinance limits the expenditures by a candidate using matching funds to no more than $15,771. The personal/corporate donation limit is $100. Candidates may choose to self-fund, which eliminates the spending cap, but the $100 contribution limit applies to all. Anonymous contributions are prohibited. Many folks in our fair city scrutinize required campaign reports for nefarious activity. The truth will out.

Recently, some out-of-town visitors were watching TV, thinking reality shows were exceeding all reasonable expectations – who could make this stuff up? It turns out they were watching Channel 8, which was broadcasting a City Council session. We can do better. Please vote. It matters.

Civil Discourse, Scorched Podiums


For eight years, the Bush administration pursued policies, both foreign and domestic, that left our nation despised and distrusted abroad and fiscally bankrupt here at home. Critics of the administration were dismissed derisively by pompous, profiteering, hard-right firebrands as non-patriots and limp-wristed liberals. Today, opponents of health care reform – whipped into a frenzy by these same cranks, who are now spewing over-the-top, focus group-tested bullet points – are disrupting public forums. Even conservative Republican leaders are being accosted with half-truths and remarkable conspiracy theories.

President Obama, promoting civil discourse, respecting opposing points of view and striving for consensus, is no threat to democracy. I can’t say the same about those whose tactics scorch podiums and drive reasonable voices from the room. Democracy can not survive in an environment suffused with tirade-driven, bumper-sticker logic. Who wants to “participate” in a process where moderates get attacked by both sides, but the harshest blows come from friends with slightly more extreme (pure?) points of view (i.e., Democrats get hammered by Greens, and Republicans are excoriated by Libertarians)?

I see no end in sight, but I hope our species can evolve beyond this dysfunctional phase. Only Obama’s level-headed, gracious and obviously intelligent presence keeps that hope alive. Those who would not give him a chance – who, in fact, hope he will fail – don’t understand the gravity of this moment in human history. Bluster and hyperbole are not what we need; we need all hands on deck.

In Defense of Positive Change

October 7, 2007
By Ed Byrne

The rhetoric and opinions we hear during this City Council election season always touch on the vision people have for Boulder and how best to support and enhance the city’s countless positive characteristics. What we hear reveals a variety of implied and explicit visions for what Boulder should become. To varying degrees, the topic of “growth” and its impacts frequently comes up, and very often it is not in a positive context. I believe that certain types of growth in Boulder are necessary, beneficial and deserving of our wholehearted support.

First, a definition of terms is in order. Boulder cannot substantially grow outward; future growth will mostly be confined to various types of internal redevelopment. When viewed from this perspective, Boulder’s future growth will include creation of new structures; changes to what occurs within different areas of the city, changes to the city’s demographic mix, and adjustments resulting therefrom. In fact, the use-related issues will happen with or without new buildings. Boulder’s “growth” is, therefore, guaranteed, and constant change should be expected. Hopefully, in the long run, this change will be for better, not worse. The devil is in the details.

Perhaps unfairly, growth and change are often broad-brushed as somehow inappropriate and forceful actions driven by developers and the business community. Such loose and fearful assessments of the role business plays in Boulder reveals a failure to recognize the incredibly positive role “growth” has played in the creation and maintenance of Boulder’s overall quality of life.

The city of Boulder’s 2008 budget projects that 47% of our general fund revenues will come from sales and use taxes. This equates to nearly $44 million dollars and represents the single largest source of funding for a wide range of city departments, programs and services. This includes police and fire protection, parks, the arts, housing and human services and various other governmental responsibilities Boulder’s citizens have come to take for granted.

Outside of the provision of governmental services, contributions by businesses to local non-profits, the role of tourism, and the benefits flowing to the City from the presence of the University of Colorado and the federal labs are examples of how growth has made Boulder a more desirable place to live over time.

The crucial role Boulder’s economy plays in supporting our quality of life is sometimes overlooked as the concerns about “change” cause people to forget how consistently dynamic Boulder really is. Growth has always been occurring in one way or another in Boulder, and on balance, our lives are much better for it.

Consider your daily activities compared to 5, 10 or even 25 years ago. Are you still doing the exact same things? Have you learned new skills in the interim? Developed new hobbies? Made new friends? A community can also choose to develop new strengths, confront new challenges and tap into the evolving passions of its residents. This is possible when “growth” is seen as an intentional and positive force.

On the other hand, considering the city to be “complete” or “mature enough” creates resistance to change, which is both unrealistic and unhealthy. However we choose when, if ever, Boulder was “perfect”, there were decades of land use decisions, economic trends and demographic changes that evolved together to create Boulder at that point in time. Such a snapshot is not the end game; it is, instead, a subjective benchmark for what was possible then and what was likely to occur next.

How many people who say Boulder is growing “too much” nevertheless enjoy shopping at a store that didn’t exist in the city five or even ten years ago? Or enjoy walking a trail built since the extension of the open space sales tax in 1997? Or have friends they met in the last couple of years who came here to accept a great job? Upon reflection, if you’ve been in Boulder more than just a year or two, you are likely to have happily spent time and money enjoying the benefits of Boulder’s “growth”.

Boulder could not have become the compelling magnet it is for entrepreneurial, progressive and interesting people, if there was a pervasive resistance to growth. Boulder has been remarkably visionary in managing that growth and creating a community that is renowned for its quality of life. It is the “steering” of growth in positive directions to better meet community needs – not the stopping of growth – that will keep Boulder the remarkable place we all love today.

The Boulder Chamber of Commerce, the Boulder Economic Council, and other business advocacy organizations are not thwarting this evolution. These organizations are promoting effective policies for sustainable economic growth, without which the City of Boulder’s much appreciated programs could ultimately cease to exist.

To quote a city council candidate with a refreshing grasp of common sense: “Boulder doesn’t have a trust fund, it has a tax base.” Whatever you love most about Boulder, our economic vitality almost certainly helps fund it, either directly or through support of the vibrant atmosphere within which such amenities thrive. Acknowledgement that the city’s economic vitality supports our high quality of life is not a concession; it simply recognizes that our city’s budget, and our lives, are enriched by those who conduct business here.

This isn’t a call for sweeping or massive redevelopment. Boulder’s awareness of long-term impacts and the very public processes proponents of development must endure ensure that change will not occur too quickly or easily. But change should and will occur. Recognizing that change will enable us to realize our dreams is the healthiest, most positive and empowering way for the city’s leadership to guide Boulder’s journey to becoming one of the greatest cities in the world. Don’t put a fork in Boulder; we’re not done yet!