Monday, February 23, 2015

"The Reasons Why They Disagree"

On September 11, 2011, I met Ken Ulman in his office.  I can recall this day easily (through the powers of Google) because my meeting with Ken was periodically interrupted by war room reports regarding the "disgustingly epic" manure spill on Main Street Ellicott City.  It was like walking onto the set of Parks & Recreation, which, by the by, has surprisingly never done a "manure-spill-on-Main-Street-Pawnee" episode.

This was still over a year off from my Democratic conversion and in the context of numerous posts in which I was strongly critical of Ken (for reasons of varying legitimacy).  We were meeting because Ian Kennedy had indicated that Ken would be interested in doing so and I wanted to talk to him about new opportunities for partnership now that I was on the CA Board.

Because of said manure spill, the meeting was delayed, and I had a chance to look around the meeting room where there were numerous "big idea"/leadership/self-help books filling the book shelf.  It felt like a creative space with a lot of young energy (and people who were truly losing their minds over horse and/or chicken poop).

But I was obviously scared stupid.  There were not many reasons for Ken to like me and plenty of reasons for him not to like me.  As of 2011, I was not too far off from the bomb-toss writing that I had begun this blog with, which often didn't amount to much more than trolling from a higher plane.  (My one beer bounty for whomever called me a "snarkapatamous" is still unclaimed).

So when Ken walked in, I was...clenched.  He sat down, somewhat oblivious as to the purpose of our meeting, and half-laughing half-shaking-his-head about the civic challenges laid at his feet that morning.  Ken being Ken, he walked me through what had happened and how they needed to respond, doing about 85% of the talking.  Then he switched to saying this, which I will never forget (paraphrasing):

"You know, I have a lot of people who disagree with me and the things I do.  A lot.  And that comes with the office.  To be honest with you, I try to ignore the blogosphere and the random criticism that comes our way, because it would be paralyzing not to.  But I do listen when someone gives me the reasons why they disagree.  You've taken some pot shots at me, but you've also provided some fairly complete arguments about why what we're doing may not be the best thing.  I appreciate that.  Now what are we here to talk about?"

That conversation has informed my writing more than any other experience I've had in local politics.  I continued to write pieces that were critical of Ken's policies, but I did so with diligent focus on "why" I disagreed.  Because otherwise, I was just making noise.  Noise that may be read.  Noise that may be adopted by partisans.  But noise that did nothing to move the public conversation.

I hold myself to that standard for all elected officials.  I admittedly will not write about certain people who I consider close friends, but that is more out of fairness to myself than to any of you.  You can't split the baby on those things.  But when I write, and when I disagree, you should expect to see my reasons for doing so.  And if you don't, dismiss it as noise.

That's all for today.  Have a great Monday doing what you love!