Column: Laguna Beach candidates reflect on (un)social media and other lessons from the campaign trail
Business success and child rearing have at least one thing in common: lessons learned.
Businesses are constantly evaluating what worked and what didn’t. Children are taught to learn right and wrong.
Adults, however, never got the memo.
Specifically, this election season has exposed what apparently is the true nature of politics. Forget national posturing. The real fights have been taking place locally.
Even in quaint Laguna Beach, still perceived as a laissez-faire hippie bastion, the level of snarky attacks and disinformation has been unprecedented. The 12 candidates — plus a bombastic write-in — are exhausted, worn down by the constant, fiery online assaults.
If (un)social media is not enough, Laguna has held 11 candidate forums. Everyone from the chamber to the seniors club have demanded an audience.
In an effort to find out the candidates’ lessons learned, I asked them, since in business you tally up the lessons, evaluate what changes to make and improve future performance.
Can this same approach happen with politics?
The short answer is probably not.
Despite their best intentions, nearly all of the candidates came away surprised at the gulf between perception and reality. There were consistent stories of spending too much time defending views and not enough time listening, collaborating and progressing.
“People are tired of hate and are receptive to the message of working together no matter what your political persuasions may be,” said candidate Judie Mancuso. “Being kind and respectful is greatly appreciated.”
For candidate Lorene Laguna, her lesson involved money.
“Big money has arrived to buy their way into political power and control the political narrative,” she said. “The real winner will be the grassroots candidate who spends the least and acquires the most votes to win the election on heart, not money.”
Peter Blake, who aggressively monitored social media to protect his positions, was initially disheartened but ultimately emboldened.
“This election has taught me a lot about life in general,” he said. “I have learned that people will attack politicians purely based on their partisan beliefs without considering them as human beings with emotions and sensitivities.”
Cheryl Kinsman took a glass half-full approach.
“I’ve learned that you need to be fast on your feet and ready for anything because the unexpected can and will happen,” she said. “I’ve learned that everyone running is doing so because they feel they can guide the city in the right direction. Win or lose I’ve made a lot of new friends.”
Jorg Dubin, the write-in candidate, took away some practical lessons. He said there were way too many forums.
“Three tops,” he said. “And no special-interest group forums. They should all be non-partisan and neutral.”
Several candidates lamented the number of forums.
Sue Kempf, who is currently on the Planning Commission but running for council, agreed there were too many. She also stayed out of the social media fray.
“Other than posting a few photos on Instagram, I generally ignored social media, due to frequent instances of lack of civility,” she said. “By contrast, voters are interesting, engaging and mostly very polite in person and in groups.”
If local races continue to stay non-partisan — at least officially — then the debates should revolve around the issues of the day: civic projects, funding challenges, environmental threats, public safety, infrastructure, cultural vision.
What should not happen are veiled attempts at partisan politics that try to apply worn-out templates.
In other words, cities are not just red or blue. Candidates are not just black or white. These are citizen volunteers, first of all, who should be treated fairly and with respect. Otherwise, no one is going to play.
David Hansen is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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