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I really do say nice things, at least eventually

I pressed the appropriate button to replay my voice mail messages,

and a familiar voice shouted in my ear, “Don’t you ever have

something NICE to say?” I hear from this guy pretty often, and his

messages are generally the same. I suspect he wouldn’t appreciate the

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irony in my observing that, of the many anonymous messages he’s left

in recent years, I could ask him the very same thing. “Don’t you ever

have something NICE to say?”

But the caller isn’t alone in his perspective, and I confess to

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having heard the question many times over the years, sometimes even

from people who told me their names. Typically, the question is posed

by elected officials about whom I’ve said something that was other

than nice, or longtime friends of the official, activists in issues

favored by the official, or by activists in the official’s political

party.

I’ll digress for a moment to mention an interesting development

that’s taken place over the years. When I first began covering this

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area, our elected representatives came almost exclusively from the

ranks of staunch Republicans, even those who held supposedly

nonpartisan offices. Each time I teased or criticized an official, I

stood accused of attacking Republicans. Whether talking to the Lions

Club, opening my mail or walking down the street, I was quizzed about

a supposedly blatant bias against conservatives. One sitting

official, caught for the umpteenth time doing something he denied

ever having done, dismissed virtually every record and irrefutable

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proof of his actions as the forgeries of someone who was part of a

national conspiracy to thwart up-and-coming conservative Republicans.

In my favorite instance, a candidate found not to have received

some key endorsements he claimed to have said, “Will, were you

frightened by an elephant as a child? What’s this thing you have with

Republicans?”

I usually answered critics by asking which local Democrat I’d

overlooked. If they’d name for me a prominent local Dem who had

avoided scrutiny, I said I’d start making up for it immediately. The

critics would first get wildly excited at the challenge, then think

for a moment, then grumpily settle into the realization that there

simply weren’t any prominent Democrats, scrutinized or otherwise.

Some people would mention a certain former Glendale councilman. But

he left office before I came along, and some say he’s actually been

so conservative that many people suspected he only became a Democrat

to goad and annoy folks around him.

Fast forward a few years, and we’re up to our ears in Democrats.

You can’t throw a stick without hitting one. Today, when I talk to a

service club or stop at a mall to chat with a reader, many want to

know why the newspaper doesn’t offer a counterpoint to what they say

is clearly my bias against Democrats. I had a letter from a resident

apparently new to the area. She charged that I’m “obviously a member

of the old-time local country club establishment of golfers who long

for the good old days when Republicans wielded power.”

I’ve never taken offense at accusations of favoring one political

party or another. But that thing about country clubs really got under

my skin. Call me a lot of names, but I only have two rules: Leave my

mother and my kids out of it, and NEVER call me a golfer! That’s

“hate speech,” as far as I’m concerned.

Back to my shortcomings in the area of niceness. I’m plenty nice

in my personal life, and I don’t need to drag those problems into

work with me. But it’s also true our elected officials have staffs

that are devoted to getting out the word on the bosses’ good deeds.

Candidates have the same, and both have personal friends and

political machines dedicated to publicizing all the “nice” they can.

Even council members can count on the same. Watch City Hall’s

cable channel for a week and just try to find a report on a

councilman’s goofup. Lots of air time goes to sharing the details of

the city’s good works. But I’m still watching for that in-depth show

that has a camera following a homeowner through the hell of trying to

process a building permit for a remodeling project.

So, balancing efforts that go on 24 hours a day, seven days a week

is my task just twice a week. Kind of puny when you look at from that

perspective.

Perhaps just as important, I do sometimes say nice things. To

prove it, let me rave for a moment about steps Glendale’s City Hall

has taken to make council agendas and staff reports available via the

city’s Web site. Just a short time ago, even citizens at council

meetings couldn’t get them. They were forced to share one incomplete

copy tied with string to a table at the back of the council chamber,

or visit the city clerk’s office the next day to review paperwork on

issues decided the day before. Now they can get that material days in

advance. Nice, huh?

Sometimes I’m forced by principle to say nice things. For example,

a few weeks ago I wrote a column whining about mass mail that some

elected officials send at our expense, material that’s nakedly

calculated more to promote the official than it is to fully inform

constituents. Does anyone imagine Rep. Gary Condit sent pretty

newsletters updating his constituents on what was happening with his

role in the investigation of Chandra Levy’s disappearance? Do you

suppose any member of Congress is ruing out letters to make sure

constituents know they took campaign money from Enron or Worldcom?

But within my rant, I carelessly said that in recent weeks I’d

received thinly disguised campaign mail sent by local elected

officials, including our representative in Congress, our assemblyman

and by our state senator. I told you about pieces sent by the

congressman and assemblyman, but I didn’t cite any from Sen. Jack

Scott. That wasn’t because I ran out of room. He didn’t send any. I

lumped all the politicians together, and I shouldn’t have. So, here I

am saying Sen. Scott did not send reelection campaign mail at

taxpayer expense. That’s nice, isn’t it?

As for the anonymous caller, I don’t want him to stop his

criticisms. They’re often valuable, and he’s actually convinced me to

reconsider things a couple of times. And I don’t think he’s obliged

to call and say something nice once in a while. In truth, each time a

column runs and he doesn’t call, I contort that into a compliment

from him anyway.

I only wish he’d tell me his name.

* WILL ROGERS’ column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in the

News-Press. He can be reached 24 hours a day at 637-3200, voice mail

ext. 906, or by e-mail at WillColumn@aol.com.


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