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Gary Horton: Public discourse alive and well in Santa Clarita

Posted: July 11, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 11, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Last Thursday I met Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon — R, Santa Clarita, at his local offices over at McBean and The Old Road.

Buck, of course, isn’t always stowed away in some submarine hunting for Red October, parachuting into strife-filled war zones or touring far-flung Army bases.

Sometimes, he leaves the Arms Services stuff behind and hangs back at home with us civvies, taking care of the local side of Congressional responsibilities — meeting and greeting and chatting with constituents.

As I’ve said before — pro Buck or con, our congressman is accessible and is accessible for give and take from all sides of our political spectrum.

If you’ve got something to say, give his office a call or write a note. You’ll get heard and will generally get a response. Will you influence national policy? Eh, maybe not — directly. But getting heard adds up, and getting heard is much better than getting ignored — which is more often the case in today’s political arena.

While in Buck’s lobby, I noticed a business card for Margie Anne Clark, Congressional District 25 “Constituent Services Representative.” I hadn’t previously known such a position existed. It turns out Buck has two such service representatives in his Santa Clarita office and two in Antelope Valley.

These folks bring a local face and local assistance when you encounter problems or questions with government that’s federal in nature. Confronting immigration issues, passport problems, access to Federal programs may seem like going up against a faceless, thoughtless machine.

But, we’ve got paid staff right here in the 25th Congressional office whose very job is to assist when you’re needing help navigating through potentially daunting federal concerns.

I learned, for example, that Ms. Clark has assisted a local family in bringing home their adopted Haitian baby after the devastating Haitian earthquake. There’s a host of stories where the congressional office has been able to make big differences in personal lives. So, hurrah for a nice human touch that makes even Big Government feel somewhat local again.

Buck ended up sharing about a half-hour discussing the Cemex mine. More on the mine in coming columns, as that one subject stands out as perhaps the most inflamed and divisive of local issues. On the way out from our meeting, I was pleasantly surprised to bump into Morris Thomas, general manager of this very Santa Clarita Valley Signal.

“Uh oh, the powers that be have called in the press to issue marching orders…” Well, that would be the conspiracy theory take, anyway.

So much for that concern. Monday’s Signal ran a large column by McKeon challenger Lee Rogers, calling Buck out for a “VIP” home loan he received from Countrywide back in 2008. Countrywide had promoted a VIP funding package containing certain perks for national politicians, and Buck and many others refinanced through the program, which, in retrospect, may not have been the most judicious decision — particularly over the whopping one point the VIP deal saved our various partaking leaders.

Recently, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a report detailing how Countrywide may have used its VIP program to influence policymakers.

Lee Rogers is understandably making political hay with the story, while the Signal dutifully provides the public forum, as surely, one way or the other, this story deserves light of day and public scrutiny.

I don’t know what Buck and Morris discussed that day, but it certainly wasn’t suppression of negative op/eds. So another Hurrah! — this one for our own SCV Signal — an independent voice for our community that provides an equal access platform and level playing field for our political battles and hot button local issues.

Some may take The Signal for granted, but consider how empty our local political discourse would be should The Signal fall silent. Small town Santa Clarita enjoys big town political discourse courtesy of our local and generally unbiased newspaper.

Which brings up my third Hurrah! — our right of participation in public debate. We just celebrated the Fourth of July — Independence Day. And while the day memorializes our independence from the tyranny of 1700s England — in a greater sense, we celebrate our right of free thought and free speech.

So, as a local patriot, why not exercise this right by writing or calling Buck’s office with what’s on your mind and what you think about our issues of the day? Why not jot that quick letter to the editor or even pen your own column for submission to The Signal? This is where the rubber meets the road in our still local democracy.

We get a double win in Santa Clarita. We’ve got a congressional office that reaches out to constituents in many ways, and we enjoy an active local newspaper encouraging shared discourse and public opinion. Our town is fairly unique to enjoy both — and it’s your fortunate opportunity to so easily stand up and be heard.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. Full Speed to Port appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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