Notes From County Republican Headquarters

"Our glass is always half full," said a man who looked like film star Robert Mitchum when I entered the room requesting comments about the latest projections. I soon found out why he looked like Robert Mitchum when he introduced himself as Chris Mitchum, Robert Mitchum's son. Despite the announcement made on national television mere minutes earlier that even with a few unlikely votes here and a few unlikely votes there, Obama would be victorious, staffers at the headquarters of Santa Barbara County's Republican party were upbeat and cheerful.

"I'm encouraged that there's a really positive attitude among Republicans," said Monte Ward, Sr., the group's chairman. "I'm really proud. There's no hatred and bitterness." Ward painted a verbal picture of Howard Dean's loathing of Republicans. "We don't hate Democrats or anything." Ward did say, however, that the changes needed within his party aren't yet readily apparent. "I think that the Republican Party needs to define themselves a little better than they have."

Ward, who was educated at MIT and spent his career as a naval architect and mechanical engineer, said he saw his share of how the government works (or doesn't) while supervising Naval construction projects at the Bremmerton Shipyard on the Puget Sound. Having worked as a surveyor for a dredging company, I had to work with the Army Corps of Engineers on a regular basis, so we had lots of stories to share about the potential for ineptitude on government projects. However, I had to demur at considering that as a blanket notion.

In the end though, Ward said that his experience at Bremmerton reaffirmed his belief in letting people make their own decisions. "That was supposed to be the best shipyard in the country, and you should have seen how much waste there was," he said. "I feel that Republicans trust the American people to make good decisions about their own lives, and I don't believe that the Democrats do."

Ward felt strongly that the role of the federal government ought to be concerned mainly with foreign policy issues, and should steer clear of dictating peoples' personal lives. At this point in our conversation, I felt inclined to ask him how he felt about the support of Proposition 8 by many Republicans. I pointed out that many people considered a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to be a limitation of personal freedom. "Santa Barbara County's Republicans took a neutral position on Prop 8," he replied.

The rest of Ward's staff was friendly and cheerful as they spoke with me between making and receiving calls. They all felt that John McCain would have been a better president with the more Republican ideals of limited government and tax cuts extending a little higher up the food chain, but none were rancorous about the fact that Obama will be our next president. In short, from what I saw, Santa Barbara's Republicans were gracious in their defeat. Their attitude added to the sense of relief I felt when I heard McCain's very eloquent and conciliatory concession speech 30 minutes later.

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