A confession – I have not voted in every election since I came of voting age. In my early 20s, I thought – like most of my friends and family – that voting was for establishment types, people who were oblivious to the truth that the system is rigged. (Sound familiar?)
I was politically aware — I was outraged about Malcolm, Martin and My Lai — but I thought my vote didn’t make a difference and I wanted out of “the system,” whatever I thought that was at the time.
Ironically, I read newspapers voraciously and usually knew more about the candidates and issues than my friends, but I still opted-out. As the 1970s wore on, I started voting here and there, often following the lead of whatever liberal young people I was hanging with.
In 1978, I joined the media. My experience at KMLS radio in Santa Rosa might be the subject of future columns (or an absurdist graphic novel), but suffice it to say that we were hippies, rockers, punks and weirdos who loved music and loved hearing ourselves talk on the radio while we spun our scratchy records.
A retired radio newsman moved to town and asked if we needed help. His name was Hill Edell – he had a bad toupee, a deep and resonant radio voice and a lot of knowledge and patience, and he introduced me to being a newsman. I got my first press card and started covering stories with limited guidance, lots of naivete and more than a little luck.
In 1979, I scored an interview with Allen Vincent, a Nazi leader who was planning a rally in Santa Rosa, who met me in his hotel room at the (now demolished) El Rancho Tropicana, looked at my big nose and dark hair, and asked me if I was a Jew. I think he only talked to me because I was accompanied by a local alternative newspaper publisher who was tall, blonde and named Stephan.
I interviewed an incredible firefighter who had lost part of a leg and wanted to be rehired by the Santa Rosa Fire Department. Regulations at the time kept him out of service and I interviewed him in front of Santa Rosa City Hall. He had another full grown man — a firefighter — on his back and was demonstrating that he could carry him, climb a ladder and more.
I reported a wild story about a city official being caught in a Railroad Square hot tub joint with prostitutes. That story earned me a telephone call from the irate official, who never denied it but was steamed that I ran it.
By then, I was thoroughly hooked on politics. I voted in the 1980 election (for Carter), and I’ve never missed an election since.
If you’re reading this, the statistics suggest that you’re a liberal Democrat, but I’m glad that Sonoma County is not monolithically partisan. Being a Republican around here used to be common, but our politics have shifted and we liberal Democrats outnumber our GOP neighbors. Most of the time, we come together to help our schools, support our seniors, and check on our neighbors.
The national partisan divide can’t come here. We can’t abandon our responsibilities to be civil, caring and compassionate to each other, especially at the local level, where our school board, city council, special district and measure elections are deliberately non-partisan.
I’m happy to be openly partisan at the national level and vote to remove The Current Occupant, and I understand why our national political divide (unfortunately) trickles down to the states, but I plan to vote locally based on character, humility and inspiration, not on politics.
If you haven’t voted, please do. It’s easy in Sonoma County. If your family and friends in other states are wondering if it’s worth it, encourage them to take part. It matters.
Ray Holley voted by mail, easily and safely. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.