Most people who have enough ambition to run for political office also have big personalities. You can call it ego, but most of the time it's simply the confidence that lets you believe you can make a difference. It's a necessary ingredient, but it must be set aside when good governance involves working with others for the greater good.
Which brings us to Wednesday evening, when 15 politicians tried to come to grips with one of the most pressing issues facing the county -- fixing crumbling and inadequate roads.
County supervisors, three Modesto City Council members and one representative from each of the county's other eight cities met as members of the Stanislaus Council of Governments. Urgent on their agenda was finalization of the language of the countywide transportation half-cent sales tax measure that voters will be asked to approve in November.
After dozens of meetings and conversations over six months, each City Council and the board of supervisors had approved the concept. This meeting was to give the public one more opportunity to comment, and be certain that all the t's were crossed and i's dotted.
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Turlock Councilman Ted Howze had other plans. He brought up issues already decided -- essentially boiling down to who controls the money -- and threatened to derail the process. Suffering for political principle is laudable, but Howze appears to be suffering from political paranoia.
His biggest concern was that the three county projects -- including the south-county corridor -- could be changed or eliminated too easily and the money diverted. Existing language required a two-thirds vote to affect such a change. On a board with 16 members, that's 11 votes.
Believing such a high threshold leaves "a vast opening" for mischief, Howze wanted to make it more difficult to alter any plans -- insisting on a four-fifths vote. Finally, the object of his paranoia emerged as he pointed out that if the three Modesto council members got together with the five supervisors and only three small-city members, they could override the concerns of other communities.
Huh? Modesto couldn't even keep its three representatives on the same page. Councilwoman Janice Keating -- who knows we need to fix our roads, but thinks this is effort is too hurried -- voted against the language. And Supervisor Tom Mayfield wasn't there.
But fear that 11 board members could agree to gang up on Turlock didn't quite get to the bottom of Howze's paranoia. He also wanted assurances that if a countywide project was abandoned or had any leftover money, the funds had to be spent on projects in the same "region."
Exasperation became palpable on the dais.
"If we're worried about losing our money, why did we even put (the project on the list)?" asked Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour, who has worked hard for this measure.
"All of us realize that this money is to be spent toward the south corridor," Supervisor Dick Monteith said.
Vince Harris, StanCOG's executive director, pointed out that similar language already was in place. And that it had been presented during meetings with all nine city councils -- including Turlock.
But Howze insisted until Supervisor Jeff Grover explained it would be a "moot point" if the board agreed to Howze's four-fifths rule. Never mind that such a rule removes flexibility for everyone. Grover extracted a promise from Howze that he would work as hard for passage of the tax as he had in making sure the board met his goals.
Maybe Howze isn't paranoid enough. What if Turlock decides that the south county corridor does more for Patterson than for Turlock and wants a change? Now he's going to need 13 votes to fix it instead of just 11.
The StanCOG meeting wasn't the only excitement for Howze last week. At Tuesday's council meeting, he stepped into a verbal battle between Turlock Mayor John Lazar and Councilman Kurt Spycher over the value of having a Sacramento lobbyist. Howze felt the city's lobbying firm was too liberal. Platinum Advisors' roster of lobbyists includes Brian Lungren (brother of Republican U.S. Representative Dan), Bret Granlund (former Republican legislative leader from San Bernardino) and Scott Baugh (who chairs the Orange County Republican party), among others. But, we wonder, in a Legislature filled with so-called liberals, wouldn't you want a liberal lobbying firm?
Dean Andal's challenge to Rep. Jerry McNerney in San Joaquin County is heating up all the way to lukewarm. The Web site swingstateproject.com is tracking how much money is being raised in congressional races. Republicans, still smarting over having lost Richard Pombo in what they felt was a safe seat, have had high hopes for a challenger. Any challenger. But McNerney has worked hardest in the 11th District's most conservative enclaves, and beating him will take some serious effort (i.e., cash). Andal raised $11,000 in the last reporting period and has $600,000 on hand; McNerney has $1.6 million. Said the Web site's equal-opportunity skeptic: "And this guy is supposed to be the GOP's great hope this cycle?"