Over a dozen local officials pledge to quit political vitriol

2011-01-15T00:00:00Z Over a dozen local officials pledge to quit political vitriolAndrea Kelly Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 15, 2011 12:00 am  • 

In the latest call for civility, a bipartisan group of local elected officials pledged Friday to knock off the name calling and nasty talk.

A dozen city, county, state and federal elected officials met downtown to pledge: "I commit to promote a civil discussion of the issues we face."

It starts with leading by example, said Brian Miller, Pima County Republican Party chairman.

And for Democratic legislator Steve Farley, it includes apologizing to those who may have been hurt by his harsh words in the past.

Though it's not certain what motivated suspected gunman Jared Lee Loughner to shoot 19 people at a grocery store in Tucson last weekend, a national debate about vitriol in political discourse has followed. At his Tucson appearance on Wednesday, President Obama implored Americans to stop pointing fingers and "make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."

More than a dozen local elected officials took the pledge Friday.

"Sometimes out of tragedy there comes opportunity, and this is a chance for all of us to take a step back and welcome the renewed spirit of cooperation. We are all neighbors and we can all be friends," Miller said. "Our differences can divide us, but they should also unite us."

Acknowledging debate is a hallmark of democracy, and group members said they don't want to silence it, just affect the approach.

"It's the tone and texture of our disagreement that we are being asked to deal with and to confront," said Democratic U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva.

That held as a theme of the meeting: Politicians don't have to agree with one another, but they can disagree kindly.

"This call to civility is not a call to stand aside from the principles in which you believe," said Steve Kozachik, Republican Tucson city councilman. He referenced a famous Gandhi quote: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."

Pima County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Rogers said the task of taking vitriol out of politics "may be insurmountable, but we're going to try." For local races, that means separating the issues from the politicians, and discontinuing personal attacks.

"People are tired of hearing it," he said.

The diversity of the community was represented well last Saturday in the people who were injured and killed in the shooting, and those who responded to the tragedy, said Democratic Tucson City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich.

"I'm reminded to conduct myself in a manner that truly honors the good will of our people and to resist political aggression and fear by summoning courage and compassion, as they so clearly did," she said.

Others, including Farley, noted they have their faults but plan to be more mindful of them.

"I often say that self-control and charity are sorely needed today in civil discourse and politics. I'd like to be an example of walking humbly in public life," said Ray Carroll, a Republican Pima County supervisor.

Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup said it's important to remember everyone is a person first and a politician second. "We are for the moment elected officials, but more than that we are human beings, and we will be human beings forever," he said.

Contact reporter Andrea Kelly at akelly@azstarnet.com or 807-7790.

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