What I've learned from nine years of writing column

When I started writing this weekly political column for the Appeal in June 1996, I never dreamed that I'd still be writing it nine years later. But it's June 2005, and we're still here putting up with each other. So what, if anything, have I learned?

In my very first column, I denounced partisan politics and urged a calmer, less emotional, approach to controversial issues. Here's what I wrote: "Unless we clean up our acts, more and more voters will be turned off by politics as usual, and a small minority of voters - many of them single-issue fanatics - will elect the politicians who ... will make vital decisions affecting our lives and the lives of our children." Did I live up to my own lofty rhetoric about the need for civilized political discourse? Probably not, especially during ex-President Clinton's "Monicagate" scandal, but in general I've tried not to insult those who disagree with me - and you know who you are.

But then, I don't write this column for the purpose of convincing anyone to agree with me on important political issues, but rather to stimulate public discussion of those issues. And from what I see on the Appeal Web site, and from what I hear around town, I seem to have had some success. While this column will never have a mass audience, it does have a goodly number of loyal readers, and I'm grateful to those of you who've stuck with me over the years, even when you don't agree with what I write.

As a political columnist, the first thing I learned was that you can't please all of the people all the time. No matter what I write, I'm sure to offend someone, so my goal is to be an equal opportunity offender in accordance with that old journalism adage: Our job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I've probably done more afflicting than comforting over the years. Sorry about that.

Readers are always asking me about my personal politics, and that makes me uncomfortable because it's so personal. All I can say is that I was a (Gov.) Grant Sawyer Democrat when I worked for him during the 1960s, and I've never changed my party registration. But now, older and wiser, I describe myself as a moderately conservative Nevada Democrat. Some of you might call me a Reagan Democrat, but you'd be wrong.

Anyway, just when my Republican friends are happy with me, I usually turn around and disappoint them, as I did last Sunday when I criticized President Bush's handling (or mishandling) of the war in Iraq. Within the past month, I went from being a "right-wing extremist," according to at least one Appeal reader, to being a pacifist wimp. Go figure!

Sometimes I ask myself whether this column has made a difference on any issues that really matter. Perhaps. Shortly before he left office, former Gov. Bob Miller was mentioned as a possible candidate to become the next U.S. ambassador to Mexico. I thought that was a bad idea and said so, writing that Miller was doing such a great job in Carson City that he should stay here - a diplomatic copout for sure.

I compared Miller to his chief rival for the Mexico job, career diplomat and personal friend Jeff Davidow, with whom I had served in Caracas, Venezuela. I noted that Davidow was taller, smarter and funnier than Miller, and spoke much better Spanish. Miller withdrew his candidacy four days after my column was published and Davidow went on to serve with distinction for five years in Mexico City. I like happy endings.

A couple of years later some city officials thought it might be a good idea to sell Fuji Park to developers for what former City Manager John Berkich billed as an "upscale lifestyle center," whatever that is. I knew that Fuji Park patrons were happy with the existing facilities and somehow couldn't imagine that an upscale boutique would want to locate between trailer parks across the street from Costco. In the end, we (the people of Carson City) won and the developers lost that spirited battle, and I was proud of whatever small contribution I made to a worthy cause.

Over the years, I've made it a point to turn down memberships in a variety of civic clubs and organizations since I don't want to belong to anything or anyone. As an old umpire once said, I calls 'em the way I sees 'em. And that's that! There's nothing I value more than my independence. No one tells me what to write and the Appeal publishes my columns just the way I submit them, which I appreciate.

On some issues, like illegal immigration, Burning Man and Indian gaming, I'm a regular Don Quixote, tilting at political windmills. Although my opposition to Burning Man has earned me a couple of death threats from the Bay Area peace and love folks, I'll continue to hammer the Burners and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for co-sponsoring an annual drug festival in the Northern Nevada desert. And I'll keep urging the Nevada Gaming Commission to make Station Casinos of Las Vegas choose between its California (Thunder Canyon at Auburn) and Nevada gaming interests. That's probably never going to happen, but I won't shut up about it either.

So as this column enters its 10th year, I can only promise that I'll try to be accurate and fair in my treatment of controversial issues. And if I continue to disappoint my friends on the far left and the far right, I'll know I'm doing something right. Again, many thanks to those of you who've stuck with me for nine years. And remember, I always welcome feedback, positive or negative, and look forward to hearing from you.

n Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, started writing this Sunday column in June 1996.


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