Watching the first snowflakes fall, I sit down to write this piece with the warmth of appreciative social-media comments, like “I’ve lost all respect for John Tayer on this,” playing in my head.
Yes, aside from the snow, the vitriol associated with this 2022 election season is flying across social media as we head to the Nov. 8 vote. A couple of issues are on the local ballot this year that are dividing our community and, according to the posts I’ve been reading, are turning opponents into sworn enemies.
While I don’t like the tone, which too often moves beyond legitimate disputes over policy direction into personal assaults on individual character, I love the intensity of the debate. Divisions like these aren’t new in Boulder. Indeed, they are evidence of civic vitality. I also take solace in knowing that this, too, will pass.
Two of the most contentious initiatives on this year’s election ballot, the effort to repeal the annexation of CU South (2F) and to fund a new library district (6C), are generating the most heat. The Boulder Chamber opposes both of these initiatives, which has placed me in the fascinating position of working to support campaign efforts that align me with coalitions that include representatives who I’m engaged in political battle with on the other issue. So, when I’m at a meeting of the campaign committee that opposes the library district initiative, I know never to discuss my opposition to repealing the CU South annexation, and visa-versa.
The lesson from this experience is age-old, but worth recognizing: Politics makes strange bedfellows. In other words, knowing it takes diverse coalitions to achieve community policy goals, it’s important to reach across political lines to find common cause in achieving shared results, even when there are different motivations to secure that end.
This maxim is even more resonant in a small community like Boulder. The political coalitions we forge in support of local policy initiatives are our friends, business colleagues and neighbors. A failure to recognize that those who sit across the political divide on any particular issues may soon be joining forces with you on another issue of shared importance, is extremely short sighted. That same “sworn enemy” likely also will be the person you are joining forces with in a volunteer nonprofit activity, standing with at a neighborhood social gathering or possibly soliciting for a business deal.
It’s in recognition of what my wife, Molly, characterizes as “rolling coalitions,” that I urge us all to go hard on the issues and easy on each other.
Just the other day, Boulder Library Foundation executive director Chris Barge reached out to me with concern about my characterization of the budget figures at stake in the library district tax initiative. While we didn’t come to full agreement on the discrepancy, he did offer insight that led me to adjust my future calculations. Even more importantly, we ended our exchange with a note of agreement that we will work together in support of our library system, regardless of the outcome this November.
Similarly, I have enjoyed reconnecting with various community leaders throughout this election season who sat on very different sides from me and the Boulder Chamber in other policy debates. Inevitably, someone would remark how “odd” a coalition we had formed. It’s not really that odd, at all. When difficult policy issues are at stake, you can never know where your support will come from. What we all share is a common interest in doing the right thing for our community … We just might disagree on what is “right.”
I won’t sugar coat the very strong division that arise from time-to-time across our community. They sometimes evidence very different principles and values. I also know that there are certain lines we all hold dear and the differences between us might be a barrier to future ties. But that’s okay. I don’t expect everyone to be my friend in Boulder, nor do I want to live in a community that shares a monolithic perspective on ever policy issue.
What I do look forward to, though, is getting past this election season and turning down the heat. We are blessed to live in a community that we cherish and where there is great passion to keep it the place we love. Whatever that looks like to you, I hope you will vote accordingly on or before November 8. And as to the vitriol that surrounds this election, just know that this, too, will pass.
John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber. He can be reached at 303-442-1044, ext 110 or email@example.com.