Rollie Atkinson

It’s more than luck that us folks living in Sonoma County have things pretty good.

We are blessed with natural beauty, lots of rural and open space, a Mediterranean climate, high levels of civic engagement and dominant liberal values in our politics and beliefs. What could be missing is a stronger infusion of conservative viewpoints and guidance.
We’re serious. We are big on diversity and innovation but we could benefit from tighter government constraints and more individual accountability, two bedrock conservative traits. An added dose of conservative fundamentals might help with our housing crisis, public pension crisis and investment in our youth and families.
Only one in five (22%) registered voters here are Republicans, our more conservative political party. Like nearby regions of northern California, Republicans are outnumbered here by independents and decline-to-state voters. Our California state government is being run by a super majority of Democrats and we find that both alarming and potentially dangerous. Governments need to operate with a counterbalance.
Maybe a fact-based, or even a “just for fun” local debate over the definition of what’s a liberal versus a conservative could be illuminating for us.
Just looking around here, we see that liberals like different kinds of food than conservatives. Can you imagine how few conservatives here drink chai or eat sushi? Real men might eat quiche, but we bet many of them wear Birkenstocks and not cowboy boots. We don’t mean to stereotype anyone, but when’s the last time you saw a liberal with a man-bun at a steakhouse? Liberals like all kinds of music, from symphony to The Rolling Stones to almost everything in between. Most conservatives don’t. They will tell you exactly what music they like and it is usually American, often from Nashville, and with a little Motown for nostalgia.
We wonder who makes better mothers, forgiving liberals or disciplinarian conservatives? How about both? Children need to be nurtured with a variety of experiences and free play. But they also need firm limits to guide their growth and to test their self-worth. Maybe more liberals should marry more conservatives. Instead of children with hyphenated last names they could have split political party affiliations.
Around here we think of terms like sustainability, land preservation and social capital as liberal code words. Maybe we forgot that our first conservationists were our farmers and others who make their living from the soil and base their family values upon a love of land. It’s too bad Sierra Club and Farm Bureau members don’t understand how much they have in common.
Maybe in other parts of America the immigration debate is about keeping Latinos and foreign-born refugees out of our country. That’s not the case here. California’s agricultural industry and leadership groups are in unanimous support for immigration reforms even Cesar Chavez might have endorsed.
Sonoma County voters wouldn’t have to change party affiliations to accept more conservative principles like less government regulations and fewer special fees, or a more “open door” pro-business reputation. We need more market-based, not government-mandated, social services and community programs.
As we said, our elected officials, voters and community leaders have been getting most things right around here for quite some time. But our biggest and growing problem — lack of adequate and affordable housing — has stubbornly remained out of our reach for decades. We have applied many liberal approaches to this problem like public subsidies, inclusionary zoning, rent control and impact fees. Maybe it’s time to evoke the original conservative law of supply and demand and build, build, build in as many pre-zoned places as possible.
Here’s a bonus question: is a NIMBY a liberal or a conservative? (The correct answer is not “depends,” unless you also answer, depends on what.)
-Rollie Atkinson

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