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On Leadership



There's a big difference between running for office and actually governing. Or being confirmed as a Supreme Court justice and crafting a thoughtful, independent decision. The latter takes leadership. We witnessed two examples last week, one in Washington, D.C., and one here in Humboldt.

In 2010 I wrote in this column what the Health Care Reform Act would mean to our small company (fewer than 25 employees) and to me personally. Since the Journal pays 100 percent of the insurance premium for our employees (those not covered elsewhere) we have received more than $8,000 in federal tax credits over the past two years. The fear-mongers -- those who said if the Health Care Reform Act passed, small businesses would suffer -- were wrong.

And good job, California. The state started planning early for a health care insurance exchange, an online marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to buy insurance. Now the state is well on its way to implement the federal insurance mandate on Jan. 1, 2014.

Personally? As of 2010 we have one granddaughter who cannot ever be denied health care coverage due to a pre-existing condition, and her parents are free to change jobs if they choose. We have other grandchildren who can stay on their parents' policies until age 26. And although it's too late for my mother, others like her now receive increasingly more help paying for prescription drugs every year -- until the year 2020, when the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap will be eliminated.

A stunning thing about the Supreme Court decision last Thursday is that Chief Justice John Roberts led the way. (Yes, that Roberts -- the one responsible for Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 decision of twisted logic that gave corporations some of the same rights as people.)

The San Francisco Chronicle on June 29 quoted Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor, saying: "I think [Roberts] is concerned about being the leader of the court, concerned about legitimacy." [Italics mine.]

Last week I was also back in one of my old haunts -- the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors chambers at the county courthouse. As a reporter, I covered the supes for many years, beginning in 1981. Last week, however, I was there -- nervous at the podium -- as an advocate.

As I wrote last week, I've been working with a group pushing for a bike-and-pedestrian trail around northern Humboldt Bay (Eureka through Arcata to Samoa) and a tourist train (Arcata to Samoa). Tuesday was an important hearing and vote before the Board of Supervisors. We were asking the supervisors to send a letter to the North Coast Railroad Authority asking it-- the NCRA -- to study railbanking and to report back in four months. If railbanking is appropriate for this northern section of line, and we think it is, then the "Bay [T]rail Plan" could go forward.

When I sat down, I noticed Jimmy Smith's nameplate was not on the dais (absent due to illness). Not a good sign. We thought he would likely be receptive to our request.

The staff report and slide show were thorough and convincing: For 15 years the NCRA has been clearly negligent in maintaining its public asset, the right of way in Humboldt County. Along the Eureka-to-Arcata bay front, the rail bed "is melting" and threatening Highway 101, said Public Works Director Tom Mattson. There were 43 people testifying, including myself and fellow Bay [T]rail Advocates Dennis Rael and Rees Hughes. Many speakers enthusiastically supported our request. Some were opposed to even considering railbanking. After 2½ hours of sometimes emotional testimony, it was the supervisors' turn.

Clendenen and Lovelace were in support. Sundberg said that maybe we should wait and hear from the advocates for an east-west rail line first. My spirits began to sag. The supervisors knew we have been working within a specific time frame: The NCRA meets here only on July 11 and not again until November. We want the railbanking committee to be formed and recommendations to come back in that four-month time period.

It was time to hear from board Chair Virginia Bass. She, too, had some doubts. With Supervisor Smith absent, it looked like the vote might end up 2-2, which is the same as a no vote, she said. She clearly was pondering options.

We were well into the lunch hour when Bass started making suggestions on how the letter to the NCRA could be strengthened -- to reaffirm the board's position that port and railroad projects are important, that the trail is only an interim use until the rail returns. She asked the staff to work through the lunch break and bring back those changes. The staff did, and the letter to the NCRA passed on a 4-0 vote. Which is even better than a 3-2 that might have been.

I was impressed. Since then I've heard a lot of comments privately and in emails giving kudos to Bass for chairing an emotional discussion, keeping everyone civil, and for finding a solution -- a way forward.

That's leadership.


The Board of Supervisors' letter is one step forward. It only asks the NCRA to form a committee. The next step is to go before the NCRA board members -- next week, July 11 at 10:30 a.m. in the same room in the county courthouse -- to tell them we want the right-of-way here in Humboldt County protected and maintained, and railbanking might be the way to do it.


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