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Commentary: Civil discourse and free speech

Words matter. Civility and reasoned discussion and debate are fundamental to the success of American legislative outcomes. Collaboration and compromise, too often lost in local, state and federal politics, create better results for the people we serve.

In San Diego County, as in America, we need to encourage and reinforce civil discourse while accepting that others will not agree, perhaps vehemently. Disagreement can be a healthy means to achieve the best outcomes.

We should be encouraging public participation, not limiting it. Of course, it must be done with respect to allow every voice and all sides of an issue to be heard.

Rough criticism is in-bounds, and it is part of the job for elected County Supervisors and other elected officials.  America’s Founding Fathers were vicious to one another and insulting talk has long existed in U.S. politics.

And, that’s a sign of vibrant democracy, because citizens able to publicly criticize the positions and actions of elected officials signals that they are unafraid of those with decision-making power.

It’s become increasingly fashionable to be dismissive of our First Amendment rights. Yes, free speech will cross the line and become offensive at points.

But, the alternative is worse. In countries such as China and Russia, even soft criticism of the ruling elites is dealt with harshly and can result in prison time. We cannot start down a path at any level of government that suppresses the expression of thoughts and opinions.

We cannot be distracted by an extreme few. And, most importantly, we cannot allow politicians and government to capitalize on the extremes to quiet dissenting voices. Words matter.

We must insist on a level of decorum at our public hearings and then, we should follow the words of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, and allow San Diegans to petition their Government for a redress of grievances.

Jim Desmond represents the 5th District on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

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