As a recovering politician, I know a good politician when I see one. And contrary to what seems a common belief today, being a good politician isn’t a bad thing. In fact, in my carefully considered opinion, politics is a noble calling.
Politics is how our nation has governed itself for almost 250 years. And so, in a diverse place like Santa Barbara County — a county that has been divided ideologically for decades, or a division stemming from what I refer to as a North County mindset and a South County mindset — we really need a better politics.
So the idea of someone entering into this rocky political terrain with the ability to unite people based on a cache of personality traits, natural charisma, and the ability to communicate ideas with the tone and tenor of inclusiveness and tolerance, well, that’s no small thing. And in my view, few do this better than my friend, 5th District County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino.
Steve is a rare political breed. He’s a conservative at heart, yet he has a moderate outlook, a soothing tone and a mollifying presence. Steve knows what he believes, and yet he shares those beliefs while avoiding the rigidity and intensity that can often alienate, offend or divide. In politics, this is a skill that very few have. Maybe you can develop it over time, but if it comes naturally, you’re in an enviable place if making a positive difference is what drives you. I believe it drives Steve.
Now, before the Fair Political Practices Commission treats this commentary as an in-kind contribution to Steve’s next race, whatever that race might be for, let me make a few other points.
I think Steve has been on the wrong side of raising taxes in Santa Barbara County too many times. That opinion shouldn’t surprise anyone coming from me. Because, as I’ve said often, I believe God created Republicans to cut taxes, not raise them. But in Steve’s defense, he’s no longer a registered Republican, so I suppose he gets a cosmic pass on his heretical views on taxation.
But, I also think it’s important to add some needed context and perspective to my assessment of Steve’s record on taxes.
Steve Lavagnino is a sincere proponent of and firm believer in the efficacy of good government and responsible budgeting principles. He takes the view that if the government is going to enter into an area where it is called upon to manage programs or deliver services, the costs of doing so and the revenues needed should achieve equilibrium.
In other words, unlike the federal government, which can just print the money, local governments aren’t afforded that luxury — or travesty, depending on your point of view. I’m in the travesty camp, for what it’s worth.
In Steve’s mind, if the people want a particular public service or a local program administered by the county, they should probably be willing to pay for it. Not an entirely radical proposition.
Where I would typically be intolerant of such a relaxed acceptance of higher taxes is ameliorated by another truth when it comes to Steve’s governing philosophy. And that is his almost wholesale support of all business, and all industry. Which, I believe, is likely borne out of his respect for and defense of private property rights.
Steve Lavagnino supports economic activity whether it is in the energy, agricultural, high-tech, housing,or the hospitality sector, because that is what happens when people are free to pursue happiness. Turns out Steve Lavagnino is a Jeffersonian Democrat.
After all, when the government lessens its reach and limits its role in our lives, which includes our property, and our businesses, opportunity knocks, and economic activity will inevitably occur. And when that happens, revenues flow into the public coffers, making the delivery of services possible.
Unfortunately, Steve Lavagnino has spent his entire tenure on the Board of Supervisors serving in the minority. He’s had to serve his constituents as part of a board with a governing philosophy of government expansion and economic austerity.
Lavagnino’s South County colleagues habitually say yes to more government expansion, but consistently say no to more economic development. His colleagues always say yes to more public-sector programs, but routinely say no to private-sector projects.
And so being the pragmatic problem-solver he believes he was elected to be, Steve’s willingness to agree to placing new taxes before county voters, thereby allowing them to decide for themselves as to the level of taxation they are willing to live with, is actually consistent with his overall governing philosophy. And that philosophy, at its core, is to simply let the people decide. Because in Steve’s mind, government exists to support people, not to control them.
And it’s kind of hard to disagree with that.
Joe Armendariz, a former Carpinteria City Council member, is director of public affairs for the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association.