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Hemig: Are you a good ol’ boy?

Jim Hemig
John Hart/jhart@theunion.com | The Union

“It’s time to end the reign of the good old boy/girl network.” — Jim Firth

This quote ran July 15 in The Union in a story about candidates Jim Firth and Jerri Glover putting their names on the November ballot for Grass Valley City Council.

I believe Firth was establishing his position in the next election.

I have heard this “good ol’ boy” phrase before, usually around politics, and specifically during the last Nevada County election in June.

I always thought of a “good ol’ boy” as someone long-standing in the community. Someone everyone looked up to.

This got me wondering, who is a “good ol’ boy”? And can girls also be labeled as “good and old”?

I always thought of a “good ol’ boy” as someone longstanding in the community. Someone everyone looked up to.

For me, Lowell Robinson comes to mind. I see Lowell at 7 a.m. every Wednesday morning at Rotary. He is always sitting at the greeter’s table selling raffle tickets. The raffle money earned goes to worthwhile local causes. Does Lowell need to do this every Wednesday? No. Does he need to give generous support to such local causes and groups as the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, Nevada Union High School, Sierra College, Nevada County Historical Society, Future Farmers of America, Boy Scouts of America, United Way, Junior Achievement, 4-H and local fire departments? Again, no. But he does. Lowell turned a successful business ownership and long-standing local family roots into many years of community support. I call him a “good ol’ boy” in the most respectful way possible.

However, my curiosity still got the better of me. Looking up “good ol’ boy” on Wikipedia brought up both positive and negative connotations.

The term “good ol’ boy” can be used for well-socialized men who live in rural and generally Southern areas. If a man is humble and well thought of, he can be referred to as a “good ol’ boy,” regardless of his age. It is commonly applied to men from a family of generational wealth or prestige, or overall moral behavior.

Or “good ol’ boy” can be used as a pejorative term, referring to someone who engages in cronyism among men who have known each other for a long period of time. Collectively, these people are referred to using the slang term “good ol’ boy” network (also known as an old boys’ club).

Maybe Wikipedia isn’t up with the times. Nowhere are women mentioned. Maybe Firth is updating the phrase?

Since this was brought up a few times in the last election, in addition to Firth’s recent comment, could the term reflect a political bias? If this is to be considered a political label, could this be referring to Republicans? Or could a “good ol’ boy” be a long-standing male or female Democrat?

To explore this further, I thought I should ask around.

I called Grass Valley City Council member Lisa Swarthout. I suspect she is one of the “old girls” to whom Firth is referring. I don’t mean any disrespect.

Swarthout is by no means old, but as a long-standing local who’s been active in her community she probably fits the description of a “good ol’ girl.”

I asked Swarthout what her definition of a “good ol’ girl” is, and if she thought she fit the label.

She said, “Probably because I’ve lived here a long time.”

She has also served the City of Grass Valley for three terms.

“I’m equally disliked by both sides,” she said.

Does that make her a “good ol’ girl”?

Digging deeper, I called another longtime resident, and a city council member, Howard Levine.

Levine said he thinks a “good ol’ boy” is “someone with a reputation of getting things done, being a leader, listening to others and working together.”

Levine finished by saying, “On the city council, we have our differences of opinion, but we work together. Why is that a bad thing?”

To get an opinion of someone outside of the city council, I asked The Union’s opinion page cartoonist and editorial board member, R.L. Crabb, about his views on the subject. He said he thought people joined the “good ol’ boy” network when they reached a certain age and had lived here awhile.

“I think I’m on it now. That really cracks me up,” Crabb laughed.

He thought that this label wasn’t gender specific, but did feel that it’s probably in reference to Republicans.

He said, “When the people in power have been here for a long time and are opposed to change and not progressive, they are probably considered part of the old boy network.”

Crabb finished by saying, “This is probably just an excuse to drum up support to oppose the opposition in an election — to demonize the opponent.”

It’s interesting for either Crabb or Levine to be considered “good ol’ boys” since both have admittedly caused so much disruption, both socially and politically, for many years.

Since I was searching out a variety of viewpoints on this subject, I had to include someone rather passionate about it. I asked Keoni Allen, a Nevada County Contractors Association board member, for his opinion. And he never disappoints when asked for his opinion.

“What’s the opposite of a ‘good ol’ boy’; a ‘bad new boy’?” he asked. “If elected, does a ‘bad new boy’ become a ‘good ol’ boy’ over time?”

Finally, I followed up with Firth for more input about his comment.

Firth has always been very open and willing to chat about any topic. I appreciate his candidness. He explained to me the history of people who joined our community, from the early miners to the hippies to the current influx of people escaping to a less stressful environment. He mentioned that while walking Grass Valley neighborhoods he met folks saying they were glad to see new people seeking to represent our community. He said some of the longtime business leaders “don’t provide a lot of room for people that are new to the community.”

Firth added, “It may not take long, or maybe 10-20 years, depends on whether they play the game or not, to be considered old-timers.”

He is hoping to upset the business elite and those who are more established and active in business and politics.

I appreciate that Firth provided information to my inquiry. And he intends to follow up with this topic in a future column as an Other Voices submission in The Union. I recommend our readers look for Firth’s explanation on his position. I am likely teeing up his next contribution, but he deserves the opportunity to provide more detail about his campaign direction.

So, back to my original question, who are these so-called “good ol’ boys”? Are they the “longtimers”? The established leaders in our community?

Swarthout told me that in the last five city council elections spanning back to 2004, nine of the 16 combined city council members were “longtimers.” That means seven were newer members to our community.

And this group of council members included both men and women, Republicans and Democrats.

What is the ideal balance? I imagine 16 of 16 “longtimers” is too many. Conversely, 16 of 16 “newcomers” seems out-of-balance as well. Does nine out of 16 constitute an old boys’ network? If so, what is the right mix to lead Grass Valley?

As voters in Grass Valley, what are your thoughts? You will ultimately determine the outcome.

Swarthout warned me that by asking these questions I would become an “old boy.”

But I’ve only been here for seven months.

I suppose time will tell.

But if I end up mentioned in a group with the likes of a Lowell Robinson, I will be extremely honored.

Jim Hemig is publisher at The Union. Contact him via email at jhemig@theunion.com or at 530-477-4299.


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