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Ode to a Frenemy

Sometimes Truth Trumps Partisanship


Bob Field is my hero.

Who is Bob Field?” you may ask. I myself admit to not having heard of him until a year or so ago. I live in Summerland; he’s from up in the Santa Ynez Valley. I run in mostly environmental, politically liberal circles; Bob is a self-described “conservative Republican” who has worked on planning issues and water after a career as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur (or so Google tells me). Not a likely pairing, for sure. Still, Bob Field is my hero.

It started last year when I was helping 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf with a press conference to address some of the crap that was being slung her way by Dan Secord, her Republican election opponent. Bob was one of the speakers at the event — not just one, but the best one, impassioned, articulate, clear about his own righter-wing politics, but also about the critical importance of honesty in political debate. He tore a big one out of Secord for trying to paint Supervisor Wolf as the criminal mastermind behind the national economic collapse that had swept Santa Barbara County along in its wake. “Go, Bob,” I thought, for putting truth in front of party political affiliation.

Lee Heller

Bob reinforced his hero-in-my-eyes status last week, at a forum on hydraulic fracturing held at the Natural History Museum. The provocation was the discovery that Venoco has been fracking up in Los Alamos (without proper permits, by the way). The panel of speakers ran the gamut from our congressional representative and the 3rd District supervisor to reps from the state’s Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the Environmental Defense Center, the county’s planning department, plus two North County “country boys”: the eloquent and intelligent Chris Wrather, and … Bob.

Turns out Bob, having once headed the Santa Ynez Valley Planning Advisory Committee, had gone on to board membership of a water company which gave him the expertise to understand the water issues involved in fracking (about which I’ve written in an earlier column). But it wasn’t his expertise per se that made me beam with bipartisan pride: it was his own supercession of partisanship. Here’s the essence of what Bob said, verrrrrrrrry heavily paraphrased:

“I’m a conservative Republican, and, in general, I support the work of oil companies and want them to make a profit. But not at the expense of public health and safety. If we could count on these guys to tell the truth and regulate themselves, we would. But we can’t, so that’s what government regulation is for, and that’s why we need to regulate fracking.”

Okay, verrrrrrrry heavily paraphrased, and I apologize if I got it wrong. But here’s what really struck me: Bob was putting aside his ideological preference for small-to-no-government-regulation in the face of a basic truth: oil companies do not as a general rule fully disclose, nor can they be trusted to adequately self-regulate or put public health before profit. As a result, law and government agencies have a role to play in making them do what they will not otherwise do.

Can you imagine Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann admitting as much? Hell, even Mitt Romney abandoned his own government-regulated health plan as soon as he smelled that the wind of right-wing political belief was blowing gale-force against him. But Bob Field — who admittedly has less at stake, since he is not to my knowledge running for president — put public interest in front of personal political belief.

Go, Bob!

Look, it is pretty screamingly obvious that I have strong political leanings of my own. But, like another of my heroes, Jon Stewart, my ultimate allegiance is to the truth … even if that means occasionally turning my back on those affiliations. At the end of the day, truth is really what matters, what makes for a safer, better, happier human (and animal) community. When I meet people like Bob, I have some hope for a political system that has become mired in partisanship to the exclusion of an honest commitment to community service.

So, Bob, you are my hero and my hope for a community — local, national — in which opposing sides put their community before their ideologies, set aside the compulsion to win for winning’s sake, and find common ground.

And if that sounds pathetically naïve and impossible … I’d have said the same, if I hadn’t met Bob.

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