The Yes on L side did not behave well at Sunday’s CivEnergy forum.
This inappropriate behavior certainly wasn’t CivEnergy’s fault. They had picked an excellent moderator in the form of attorney and former City Council candidate Linda Deos, who asked fair and neutral fact-finding-oriented questions about the West Davis Active Adult Community (WDAAC) project. And along the same lines, CivEnergy’s Bob Fung crafted from audience comment cards two more neutrally worded questions. Actually, all were framed in terms of discussions rather than questions, a touch that I rather liked. Deos further warned forum participants to keep their answers focused on the project and not make them personal. Alas, that was not to be.
The Yes on L side came in hot in its opening statement, forgoing the opportunity to tell the audience the positive points about the WDAAC. Instead, WDAAC developer Jason Taormino accused the No side of taking a page from Trump’s playbook and charged them with telling “big lies” and “little lies.” Not only was this uncivil, but it was a missed opportunity to inform voters who haven’t been following every back and forth in the newspapers and online.
The Yes side got on track for a little while after that, but in response to a question about the whether the inaptly named “Taking Care of Our Own” buyer’s program would be racist in its effect (as opposed to its intent – see background here and here showing that “our own” are disproportionately white), Taormino, rather than responding, derided the No side’s detailed and substantiated case as “baloney,” declared that the No side just doesn’t want to take care of Davis’s seniors, and asserted that this was just a sport to them. He further accused the No side of being against every development project.
At best, these kind of unsubstantiated and derogatory remarks are a distraction from the issues. They are intended to discredit the person rather than the argument, implying that listeners should discount what the opposing side is saying. The No side understandably felt obligated to defend itself, and so audience members end up deprived of what could have been a thoughtful discussion about a very important and complicated issue.
At worst, these kinds of personal attacks have a chilling effect on our democracy. When people have volunteered their time to engage in political discourse, they should not be subject to personal attacks for their trouble. This is not the anonymous internet, where such attacks are bad enough; this a community small enough where neighbor passes neighbor regularly. No one needs that kind of hostility from their neighbor. And knowing that they might be subject to that kind of hostility, who would want to participate? Or participate again, once they’ve been attacked? Frankly, our democracy is under enough attack as it is; we need all hands on deck, not hands bloodied and beaten from our neighbor’s stomping on them.
To be fair, David Thompson and Dan Carson of the Yes on L side stayed above this fray, focusing on the benefits of the project as they saw them. But you would think that the project’s developer would set the content and tone of Yes side’s case. Indeed – and ironically – the CivEnergy forum almost didn’t happen because the developers, apparently, expressed concerns. Perhaps the Yes side was looking in the mirror when it raised those concerns, because the bad behavior was all on its side.
Again, none of this is on CivEnergy, Bob Fung, or Linda Deos, who ran an excellent forum that did manage to inform on a number of important aspects of the WDAAC project. The blame here falls squarely at the feet of Jason Taormino, who, I believe, owes the No side as well as audience attendees an apology.