Government for All Citizens: Reflections on Partisanship

By Scott Bryan

Leadership that represents all the citizens of Washington County.  When I ran for County Commissioner this year, that leadership was something I believed was needed; something that was missing among our current elected officials. It seemed to me, as a novice on the political scene, that we had a Commission that was made up not only of a single demographic, but, just as importantly, of a single mindset.

As I sat down next to Donna Brightman and Bernie Semler on December 2 to talk with Ryan Miner about the election, I wondered how representative leadership for the county would be a part of the discussion.  I had become good friends with both Donna and Bernie during our campaigns. Donna had run in the Commissioner race and Bernie for State’s Attorney. I know both of them to be honest, decent, dedicated individuals who care more about the future of Washington County than about their own personal interests and agendas. Indeed, both had made tremendous sacrifices to offer their services to the citizens of the county.

I knew that I could trust both Donna and Bernie, but I was concerned that their recent defeats – after both running outstanding and inspired campaigns – would still be fresh wounds. These were wounds that I had also felt, but mine have had considerably more time to heal since I lost in the primary four months ago. I knew the purpose of the panel was to discuss what had happened in the election, our issues and concerns, and the path forward for the county in the near future – essentially, how to get that representative leadership that I believed was missing. But would the pain and disappointment of losing that we all felt, and that I thought I had moved past, return during the panel?

I was also thinking about the fact that Ryan, as moderator, had told us that he was going to ask “edgy” questions. I know Ryan to be an honest journalist who seeks the truth and does a great job of bringing issues into the light of day. But as the only Republican on the panel, and likely with a liberal-leaning audience, would I be able to get my points across effectively and professionally? And, by the way, would anyone care what I had to say?

As it turned out, my concerns were unfounded. Donna and Bernie and I talked openly and candidly about what we perceive to be the challenges facing our community. We discussed the effect of national politics on local politics, particularly how polarization at the national level has impacted local elections. And we agreed that although it’s difficult to have an impact nationally, we can absolutely make a difference locally. The three of us showed people that night what non-partisanship looks like and that regardless of party affiliation, personal beliefs, or positions on issues people can have meaningful discussions about important issues facing us as a community. That we can disagree, yet listen to each other and consider other points of view. Maybe we can even learn something from each other.

If there was a significant takeaway from the discussion, it was that more unites us than divides us. Anyone can indeed have an honest discussion with people who have differing points of view. Community members can ask questions of former candidates at opposite ends of the political spectrum, and the resulting dialogue may result in a widening of knowledge for everyone involved. Local politics need not be devoid of respect, dignity, and class.  Perhaps most importantly, there are people who want leadership representative of all the citizens of Washington County, and there are people willing to provide that leadership. Engagement, not disengagement, is what will move us forward.