Political trash talk isn’t the same as governing | Guest Shot

There has been a lot of talk, newspaper ads and finger-pointing lately about what’s wrong with our community and how to fix it.

As long as I have lived in Jackson Hole, I have admired and embraced the lively political debate that characterizes our involved and highly educated citizenry. Everyone is entitled, if not obligated, to put forth opinions for the public to consider and debate. Public debate improves the political process, making government one that is of the people, by the people, for the people.

Stating your opinion, however, is not governing. To be effective, elected officials must work as part of a team to establish a shared vision for the future. Together with their colleagues and constituents they enact the local policies and laws that make that future possible.

Holding a public office is an act of service to the public — that is, service to all the residents of our community, not just those who share your views or those who voted for you. It is a challenge that requires every office holder to rise above the fray, to reach beyond comfort zones and to work with others with whom they may have significant differences.

Rising to that challenge is what makes democracy work. It’s what makes shaping our shared future possible. It’s what others have done before us. And it’s what has made Jackson Hole a place we can be proud of.

Knowing how many meetings our elected officials sit through each week, the number of conversations they have outside those meetings, the toll it takes on family life and the gut-wrenching decisions that are made, I find some public opinion counterproductive. The ad placed in the Aug. 2 edition of this newspaper by Save Historic Jackson Hole provided an example.

The goal of the ad headlined “Consultant Love Affair” clearly was to erode public trust in local government. It offered no real constructive information, and it was written in a tone of snide mockery. Instead of doing the hard work of running for office and getting elected to fix the engine, they choose to throw a wrench in it by denigrating the entire political process.

We have all seen how this tactic has played out at the federal level. We have seen how polarization of political trust along partisan lines means that fewer people are willing to give the other party’s ideas a chance. When people strongly dislike and distrust their opponents, there is even less incentive for them to try to reach a compromise. As we have seen in Washington, an inability to compromise leads to stalemate.

The political process seems to move at a ridiculously slow pace, but take a look around, folks. Thanks to the hard work of our current and past public officials we live in a world-class community. Wildlife walks through our yards as we eat our breakfasts. We can choose if we want to walk, bike, take public transportation or drive to work. We breathe clean air and enjoy clear vistas. In our small community, regardless of our socioeconomic status, we recreate, enjoy the arts and can pursue educational opportunities of all kinds. There is a lot right with our world.

I think it is important that we do not expect miracles or understate the difficulties of governing. We want a collective effort, a sense that people in government, regardless of party, are rolling up their sleeves and working together to resolve their differences. We have some tolerance for disagreement, but not to the point of gridlock. We prefer cooperation, not confrontation.

We have serious long-term problems with housing and transportation in Jackson Hole, and we want to see our elected officials working on it. We want remedies, not filibusters and scorched-earth politicking. We cannot paper over the difficulties of the problems or toss off inadequate solutions to really tough problems.

We should demand that our elected officials embrace fairness, openness, accountability, cooperation, competence and honesty. When they do, they deserve our trust. The future well-being of our community depends on it.

Wyoming native Marylee White has directed nonprofits, run for public office and currently chairs the Teton County Democrats. She lives in Wilson. Guest Shots are solely the opinion of their authors.