City Council’s decision to appoint former Gazette editorial page editor Sean Paige to fill the vacant District 3 seat has aroused controversy, to put it mildly.
Paige applied for the position as a joke, found that he had some support, became serious and won the race.
Paige’s sudden ascendancy has not been greeted with universal applause. Three-quarters of the respondents to a poll on CSBJ’s Web site say that Paige was “the wrong choice” for City Council.
Detractors note that Paige has lived in the city for less than seven years, and that his views are very different from those of his predecessor, Jerry Heimlicher.
Heimlicher, who was overwhelmingly elected to a second term by District 3 voters, believed that local government should actively promote economic development and neighborhood revitalization. He was supported by community activists, by historic preservationists, by small businesspeople and by substantial majorities in every District 3 precinct.
Bewilderingly diverse, District 3 includes Nob Hill, the West Side, parts of the North End and Broadmoor, South Nevada, and much of the city’s south side. Its residents are just as diverse, politically somewhat liberal and notably cranky.
Paige isn’t just conservative-he’s a conservative with a capital “L,” for libertarian.
In case you’ve never read one of the G’s editorials, libertarians are just as cranky as West Siders. Inspired by both the liberal and conservative playbooks, libertarians generally dislike much of what passes for government, fervently support your right to bear arms, to smoke dope, to open strip bars, and to paint your house bright purple, regardless of neighborhood covenants. They’d just as soon government keep out of your wallet, and out of your bedroom. Nice in theory, a little more complicated in practice.
Since leaving the Gazette, Paige has founded a nonprofit, Local Liberty Action. According to the organization’s Web site, “LLA was established to celebrate and perpetuate the limited government ideals that made the United States a bastion of freedom, opportunity and prosperity – and to counter the growing tendency of some Americans to look first to government for all the answers. We hope to change the way citizens think and act by being highly respected and persuasive advocates for limited government, free market capitalism, property rights and economic and civic literacy.”
As an editorial writer, as an advocate for limited government and as a persuasive opponent (or supporter) in argument, Paige has few peers.
But now that he’s a member of City Council, he may have some ‘splainin’ to do …
Ours is a representative democracy. In practice, that requires elected officials to find a balance between representing their constituents and following the dictates of their own conscience. He was appointed, not elected-and a lot of his new constituents have views widely at variance with his own.
In Paige’s case, he’ll have many challenges.
Will he, for example, keep his day job with Local Liberty Action? It’s a policy-oriented nonprofit, like the ACLU, the AARP or the Cato Institute. His opponents could argue that such employment is inherently conflictual.
It’s fine to advocate limited government, but political philosophies of any kind often run aground on the shoals of reality.
Council members need to keep the creaky ship of state afloat, not debate the finer points of naval architecture. Paige’s constituents knew where Heimlicher stood on South Nevada renewal, on the acquisition of White Acres and Section 16, on Issue 2C and on the U.S. Olympic Committee deal.
Where does Paige stand on these, and dozens of other issues unique to the district?
He’s opposed to 2C, but what will he do if it doesn’t pass? Will he offer constructive, practical suggestions, or simply recite the conservative playbook?
Paige is no Stepford wife, no mindless adherent of ivory tower libertarianism. He brings a refreshing skepticism, an inquiring and powerful intellect, and an evident desire to serve the city and work with his new constituents.
He’ll find, as all politicians do, that policy is made and implemented in the real world, and that compromise is inevitable and necessary. He’ll find that his constituents are interested in results, not words.
If a West Side sewer line backs up and floods a dozen homes with raw sewage on a Saturday night, he’ll have to show up and deal with it, because that’s what his constituents expect.
Today, the city faces challenges that might be graver than any since the 1930s. Decades of rising tax revenue and expanding services have given way to a new era of austerity.
Paige will have his hands full.
And I, for one, look forward to watching him try to change the city, and watching the city change him.