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
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
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
I’ll digress for a moment to mention an interesting development
that’s taken place over the years. When I first began covering this
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
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
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
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.