Prompted by LI’s post, I had an email exchange yesterday with Supervisor Stevens Miller. Long story short, we are both posting the exchange on our blogs because it was interesting, but also because civil dialogue across ideological divisions is too rare nowadays, so this can serve as a modest example that such a thing is possible locally.

From: Joe Budzinski
Sent: Thursday, January 20, 2011 12:36 AM
To: Miller, Stevens
Subject: Good luck, Stevens

Your announcement on the blog was well-stated.

Unless you switch parties, or unless the Democrats change, I won’t be supporting you; but I respect your intelligence and the fact you do what you think is right. I think what you are doing on your blog is far and away the best of any local elected official.

If I happen to comment on any future race you are involved in, I will do my utmost to be fair, and I invite you to chastise me publicly if I am not. I pledge to always post your comments uncensored.

Joe


From: Stevens Miller
Sent: Thursday, January 20, 2011 10:46 AM
To: Budzinski, Joe
Subject: Re: Good luck, Stevens

Thanks, Joe.

In the course of my term, I’ve met quite a few Republicans and unaffiliated conservatives whom I respect and who are willing and able to work with me on projects that will help build a better community for everyone. In the much smaller realm of the online world, however, I see you as maybe the last remaining example of sense and honesty among my critics who support the agenda of the political right. If you float your cursor over the NoVa Town Hall entry in my blogroll at Without Supervision, you’ll see I’ve publicly taken notice of this.

As a candidate and public servant, I try hard not to make a big deal out of my own beliefs or theories, focusing instead on what I will try to do if I get the chance. After all, what the Hell difference does it make what I “believe,” when the question that matters is, “what will I commit myself to accomplishing?” That said, I do believe our two-party system, in all its adversarial glory, serves us better than if, somehow, we only had one political mainstream, with no one ready to offer at least a choice to those who would be marginalized. Instead, we have two political mainstreams, constantly testing their theories in the endless experiment of American democracy. Everyone gets to watch, see the results, and make their choices at the polls accordingly.

But it only really works well when each side makes an honest case about its goals, methods, and results. I respect people like you who adhere to that kind of honesty, and leave the lies, spin, and name-calling to lesser folk. When the better party, the better candidate, or just the better idea wins, America wins. When the side with the better line of bull wins, then the bull wins. I see people like you and me as having at least one fundamental quality in common: we want America to win, not the bull. Because of that, I’m actually grateful that a guy like you is active in the political arena, even if we rarely agree on anything else. Without an honest debate, fully delivered for its best effect by both sides, real choice isn’t possible at all.

See you down the trail.

Stevens

P.S. I should admit that I don’t read many blog posts, which I’ve lately learned really irritates some people. But, I have read yours and I liked what I saw. Keep it up.


From: Joe Budzinski
Sent: Thursday, January 20, 2011 8:53 PM
To: Miller, Stevens
Subject: Re: Good luck, Stevens

“Two political mainstreams” is an intriguing way to look at it. Sometimes I have thought there is one, and at other times a whole bunch like the many waving arms of Vishnu. But from a purely functional standpoint you may be right.

We share a view of how political debate should be conducted. I have not always lived up to the standard but do make a constant effort to remain outside the circle of party animals on my side of the fence.

By the way, love your use of the title attribute! I knew how that worked but never thought to implement it as a way of adding information – thanks for the lesson. I appreciate general articulateness in a public official but tech-savvy also goes a long way in my book.

Thanks again. It will be interesting to see which district you end up in.

Joe

Granted, it’s not the Missouri Compromise, just some quick emails sent back and forth, but I was gratified by Supervisor Miller’s lengthy, thoughtful reply to someone who has been critical in the past. He and I have had a few conversations since his 2007 election, and he has always been frank and serious.

I think we create missed opportunities when the level of rancor shuts off the possibility of meaningful discussion with those with whom we disagree ideologically. Namely, we don’t get to find those minor areas of agreement, which may be remote from matters of current public debate but which I think are significant and worth seeking out. You don’t get to find the first smidgen if you never converse. For that reason, I find it just as interesting to talk to my opponents as to talk to those on my side, and I appreciate when an elected official is willing to do so.

Like many of you, my highest loyalty is to principles and the policies that follow from them; party comes further down the list. Although I take a back seat to few people in terms of combined time and money given to Republican candidates and GOP organizations each year, I don’t do it for the team but to try and make the world a better place. To that end, I value dialogue as highly as the “us vs. them” campaign posture.

I appreciate Supervisor Miller’s “America wins” philosophy, and his appreciation of the fact that despite my opposing positions on many issues we are on the same page regarding the ultimate goal. I look forward to continuing the conversation.