Jeff Ackerman: Candidates Forum proves a learning experience |

Jeff Ackerman: Candidates Forum proves a learning experience

It’s funny that the people who invented civil disobedience are now afraid of it.

Prior to last Thursday night’s Meet the Candidates Forum – which saw 18 candidates for 12 county and city seats and an estimated 250 people in the audience – I’d gotten calls and e-mails concerned about security. The Union and KNCO had been asked to help the Nevada County Tea Party Patriots organize the event designed to help voters learn a little more about the candidates running for city council, assessor, tax collector, supervisor, sheriff, district attorney, judge, schools superintendent, elections clerk, and auditor… all non-partisan seats.

Some were concerned that the Tea Party folks might get violent, scream, shout, hold up signs and maybe throw themselves in front of shopping carts. They are, after all, mostly conservatives and conservatives just aren’t supposed to act like … well … liberals.

Liberals have had the market on civil disobedience and now some of those same liberals are complaining that the Tea Party folks are stealing their protest playbook.

Why can’t Tea Party people just shut up and pay their taxes?

Not too long ago I sat along Broad Street as protesters paraded down the street with “George Bush Is A War Criminal” signs, and worse. Far worse. In fact, I remember a group of people plopping themselves onto the street hoping to be hauled off by the cops who really didn’t want to haul them off. Nobody wants to take a group of 70-year-olds to jail.

My son actually liked Bush and really didn’t like seeing his president treated that way. I didn’t call security, or demand that that they put the signs down. I told my son the protesters had a right to march, whether he liked it or not.

Just to make sure the Tea Party people didn’t start throwing their canes and pillows and blood thinner pills at the candidates, we contacted the Grass Valley Police Department and asked if they could keep an eye on things for us Thurs-day night. Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster (his body is a weapon) and Nevada City Police Chief Lou Travato (also a human weapon) showed up and stood in the back of the audience … looking as menacing as two chiefs can possibly look on a Thursday night in Grass Valley. I’ve seen both of them in shorts and I was really happy they showed up in long pants.

Looking out into the audience from my seat on the stage, I thought I was at a matinee at the movie theater. I’m pretty sure the median age was maybe 68 and nobody seemed to be in much of a mood to flip over police cars or break bank windows … like they did at more than one protest in 1968-69. We knew most in attendance (including myself) had to be in bed by 9 and our top priority was to end the event by 8:30.

The only signs of trouble were the red shirts that identified some of the Tea Party people. They chose red, I suppose, to illustrate the red ink that California and our federal government have been bleeding lately. Those I have spoken with wonder who will eventually cash all the checks that are being written today while the government checking accounts sit empty. It’s an excellent question that nobody seems to have an answer to.

California is broke and the Legislature broken. And the bills coming out of the Sacramento and D.C. domes will do nothing to encourage any business person I know to hire more people. In fact, one or two of those bills will discourage job growth, unless you count the thousands of government regulators who will be hired to enforce new rules.

When the Tea Party representatives asked me and KNCO general manager Bob Breck to help put the Thursday night candidate forum together, we discussed our concerns and conditions. The most important condition was that the Tea Party representatives have no influence on the questions the candidates would be asked and that the Tea Party make no political statements at the event.

They agreed. In the end, they just wanted to have an event that would help voters be better informed when they go to the polls.

Much to the dismay of the conspiracy theorists, it worked. Every candidate for every local race showed up and got to present his or her respective positions. We learned what they’d do with our tax money if they were in charge of it. We learned how they would enforce the laws. We learned what they would do for our schools and our courts. We learned how they would make Nevada County better and how they’d ensure against voter fraud. We learned what they could, or could not, do about the state’s miserable financial picture.

In other words, we learned.

We’ve agreed to participate in similar candidate forums later this month with the Nevada County League of Women Voters, a group that also espouses to be non-partisan. I’ve never checked the political affiliations of that organization’s officers against the county voter registration lists, but I’m confident those forums will be as non-partisan as the one we helped organize Thursday night.

I’m a huge fan of civil disobedience. It’s the biggest reason we get July 4th off every year with pay. If you’ve got a beef with government, have at ’em. Shout, scream, hold up signs and … when needed, plop yourselves on the ground and kick your feet.

Just remember that the best way to influence change is through education (be the change you want) and Thursday night’s candidate forum demonstrates that it is still possible to be civil while giving the disobedient part the night off.

Jeff Ackerman is the editor/publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299 or

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