10 April '16
Howdy, folks. Hope all is well out there. A while back, I had asked Phil Johnson, Democratic candidate for BOC Chair, for an interview. He happily obliged. Initially, I was going to email him some questions and then follow up with a phone interview to put together a write-up. I sent the email, and I had the phone conversation, but I've decided to just copy and paste my questions and his responses. I'm doing this because his answers were so thought out and thorough that I didn't really want to filter it or condense it in any way.
Our phone interview went really well. I've known Phil a long time and we've had some great conversations over the years. He's obviously a really smart guy, and he has a very firm grasp of the issues. For the most part, we covered a lot of things that you'll read in his responses.
While Phil and I disagree on some things and have some differences in our core political philosophies, we have a lot in common and I like a lot of what he has to say. I'm not currently endorsing anyone in this race, and I have some doubts about Phil's ability to survive the Democratic primary, but in terms of knowledge of the issues and intelligence, I would think he would probably be at the top of the list of any of the four other candidates running on either side. With that said, I'll also say this - with the campaign team he has assembled, I think he's definitely got a chance. Should be a fun race to follow. And as I've mentioned before, I'm hoping to have interviews with the other candidates in this race in addition to Phil (I've already interviewed Micheal Syphoe). Below is the text of my questions and Phil's answers.
As always, thanks for reading.
*Ed. Note - for those of you reading on mobile devices, you'll notice gaps in the text. That's a formatting issue from me having copied and pasted Phil's response from Microsoft Word. There's probably a way to fix it, but I'm not technically savvy enough to figure it out. My apologies.
~ Q & A with Phil Johnson ~
1) Why are you running for Chair?
A picture of my 10 grandchildren and one great grandchild is the best answer, but you
probably want more.
I began running for Chair almost two years ago, spurred by a disturbing leadership
vacuum in our county government. The pivotal moment came during public debate over
the 2050 Plan, when the current Chair told me he didn't believe he should take a
position on such matters. His lack of an articulated vision and failure to seek consensus
on critical issues before the commission over the past three years absolutely convinced
me our problem is leadership. It’s no coincidence multiple boards spent the past five
years arguing about our form of government, while ignoring the very substance of
government. In the chase for power, we’ve abandoned the essential leadership
necessary for inclusive, transparent, responsive government. I don't have all the
answers, but I understand full well the importance of tackling tough issues, discussing
them openly in the light of day, and having the courage to take a stand and lead.
Situations like the landfill and reservoir aren’t just issues for today; they affect future
generations in all our families. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to ensure future
generations of my family grow up enjoying the kind of community where I have lived my
2) Define your political philosophy specifically.
Our nation has long been divided along partisan lines, but fracturing within the parties
today reflects just how dissatisfied people are with the current system.
We’re split by significant issues nationally. But, at the local level, I actually see people
coming together, aligned on more fundamental values like fairness, integrity, common
sense, inclusion, and transparency. This gives me hope.
Local government isn’t tangled with the great philosophical or moral issues of our
day. As the saying goes, local government is about making the trains run on time.
To the extent political philosophy is how government should operate, I embrace the
morality that a public official is answerable to all citizens and must be transparent,
truthful, and fair conducting the people’s business. Outrage over the compromise of
these values is what united the people of Newton County to force the dramatic events of
the past 15 months. And, that’s a good thing.
Where reasonable people disagree is what role government should play and how much
government we should have. It’s an important discussion, but there are no absolute
answers. The Apple debate over individual privacy vs. public safety is a great example
where competing objectives required weighing tradeoffs. Locally, the 2050 Plan debate
is another excellent example. I believe strongly in the need for local governments to
establish frameworks for future land use and development, but I also joined the voices
who felt specifics in that plan were imposing unreasonable restrictions on landowners in
some parts of the county. Citizens expect individual freedom with property they hold or
acquire to develop, yet they also want a degree of predictability for what develops
Local government must find the delicate balance between those interests. We won’t all
agree on where to draw the line, but it is a leader’s responsibility to frame the
objectives, facilitate honest discussion, and to the best of human ability find good
compromises that serve community interests.