It's too bad more of our politics aren't focused on local
By Shane Fitzgerald, executive editor
The political conversation these days often centers around what is going on in Washington, polarization and all. A conversation that our editorial board had Thursday with Bucks County Commissioner Rob Loughery reminded us that the work our local governments do affects our daily lives equally, if not more, than what happens in Washington.
Let's face it. We have it pretty good in Bucks County. We're generally described as affluent and educated, with strong real estate, mild weather and beautiful scenery. All generally true. But there are challenges, as Loughery noted in our hour-long conversation.
It was striking in the conversation how much different Loughery's political life is from what dominates Washington. Loughery, a proud Republican, noted the problems that keep him up at night most notably deal with social issues. Our board kidded with him that he sounded more like Democratic Commissioner Diane Ellis Marseglia, who often vocally takes up social issues.
He and his fellow commissioners deal far more with forging relationships among the 54 municipalities in the county, managing real estate and everything else, from repairing small bridges to the larger-than-it-should-be opioid crisis that fills the county jail.
Loughery spoke with great compassion and concern about how illegal drugs have a horrible domino effect on individuals' health and the crime they lead to in the community. With his articulate, engaging teenage daughter Amelia next to him on Bring Your Daughter To Work Day, it wasn't lost on any of us that the parent in all of us takes the opioid crisis seriously because it is so apparent that addiction can happen to anyone.
Loughery noted the cycle of drugs and the crime that people commit to get money for drugs repeats itself far too often. We have to find different ways to help those caught up in the cycle.
For instance, he used as an example that so many people who fill the jail are there on probation violations because they missed appointments with probation officers or court-mandated treatment. Often, people don't have transportation to either a place where they can get help or even to just get home from jail. So those people often fall back into the same rut with the same people who were part of their world that created the environment that caused the problem. For them, it becomes lather, rinse, repeat.
Loughery noted that because transportation so often is an issue, he thought consideration should be given to working with ride-sharing companies such as Uber or Lyft for vouchers that could give people an alternative. Investing in transportation like this is far less expensive than churning people back into the jail/court system.
On another topic, I've railed often in this space about the number of municipalities and the bureaucracy that has been created. So it was encouraging to get Loughery's update on the county's municipal economic development program. Loughery said he hoped eight or nine municipalities would work with the county on this. That as many as 36 are participating shows the idea is working to bring municipalities together to work on similar issues or developments.
It also was encouraging that he believes our state legislators and U.S. representative have been keeping Bucks County's interests close at heart and maintaining a good relationship with the county. Not everyone is so fortunate.
We loved hearing that efforts continue to open up accessible space through trails throughout the area. Loughery noted that Bucks County residents want open space accessible for walking, biking and hiking and will work with communities that are interested in the same. And it didn't sound like he would waste a lot of time on communities that make excuses not to make that happen. (He didn't say "Northhampton" out loud, but our editorial board did.)
And, of course, Loughery couldn't get out of our conference room without someone asking him about President Trump, who he supported as the party's designated candidate. "I was a Marco Rubio guy, truth be told," he said. He was careful not to say anything negative about the president, noting that he only has been in office a short time. But Loughery added that he hoped people would judge him on his work as county commissioner, not who he supported for president. That seems fair.
All in all, it was an interesting conversation, largely because it didn't have the tenor, at all, that has come to pass for political conversation. It was substantive to the area. That's refreshing. Let's have more of those type of conversations.
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Shane Fitzgerald is executive editor of the Bucks County (Pa.) Courier-Times, the Doylestown (Pa.) Intelligencer and the Burlington County (N.J.) Times. 215-949-4160. 215-345-3118. 609-871-8157. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @sfitzg5.
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