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Grover Norquist

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. 

Through the magic of Facebook’s “On this day” feature, which shows you all of the stuff you’ve posted on a particular day over the years, this week I rediscovered a column I wrote back in 2012, one I wrote in the midst of a political controversy in Calistoga that was every bit as bruising and emotional as the one under way now over Measure C (and D too).

As I read the column — for the first time in many years — I was struck at how timely it remains today. So I am going to do something I normally don’t like to do, and that is revive one of my old columns.

Just for context, this was written shortly after the Calistoga City Council approved a redevelopment plan for a defunct inn on Silverado Trail, known as the Silver Rose project. It is under construction today and is planned to become a Four Seasons resort.

As an interesting side note, some of the people I allude to who were active in that fight, and angry over the council’s decision, have also been active in Vision 2050 and the campaigns for Measures C and D.

Here’s what I had to say back on May 10, 2012:

In the late ’90s, I was a fresh-faced reporter in Washington, newly promoted to the national desk at my newspaper and eager to cover Congress and presidential politics.

One day, shortly after my promotion, I got a call out of the blue from the secretary of a guy named Grover Norquist, saying that he would like to meet me for breakfast at the ritzy Mayflower Hotel.

If that name sounds familiar, it should: Grover Norquist was, and still is, one of the most influential Republican powerbrokers. He heads Americans for Tax Reform and is the creator of the famous no-new-taxes pledge that virtually all Republican legislators, and more than a few Democrats, sign as candidates.

This puzzled me since I was a marginal figure in the press corps, new to the beat and of no remarkable distinction in my previous assignments.

But when Grover Norquist calls, you answer.

So I met him one morning. He didn’t engage in much small talk; he went right into the most remarkable lesson on politics I have ever heard, more than an hour of wisdom from one of the nation’s foremost political strategists.

He talked about coalitions, how a political organizer can easily fall into a trap by thinking that just because he has supporters on one issue, he will have the same followers on another issue.

Smart organizers, he said, pick a topic, stick to it and recognize that the people who agree with them on that issue may vehemently disagree on others. That’s why Norquist sticks tightly to tax issues and stays away from other GOP-friendly issues such as abortion, immigration, or same-sex marriage.

He also talked at some length about political novices, people who have gotten excited about politics for the first time. He was talking about evangelical Christians, who were a growing force at the time under the informal leadership of James Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family, but he said he had seen the pattern repeat over and over with other groups.

New activists, he said, get excited and energized by some issue. They feel the rush of power, the elation of being part of a cause greater than themselves. They throw their hearts and souls into the election campaign.

And then, inevitably, at some point, they are disappointed. They lose an election. They fail to change the process in the way they envisioned.

Many of them will turn away in disgust, convinced that the system is rigged, or that one person really can’t make a difference. They will retreat into their private, non-political lives.

A wise few, however, will realize that loss is part of the political game. You lose this time, the wrong guy gets elected, but you come back next time with Mr. Right. Maybe you have to come back a couple of times, or even start thinking in terms of years and decades to make the change you want, losing more than once along the way.

Those people, the ones who can overcome their disappointment and disillusionment and start taking the long view in politics, he said, are the ones who ultimately prevail.

Then Grover got up, thanked me for my time and left, without ever explaining why it was he wanted me to know this, or why such a powerful person bothered to take notice of a rookie national reporter on a smallish newspaper.

I was reminded of that episode this week as I watched the obvious anguish among opponents of the Silver Rose Inn project as the City Council unanimously approved the plan more or less as the developer had requested.

Some seemed stunned. One normally soft-spoken person slammed down her notebooks and shouted an obscenity before storming out.

The room was full of people who were new to politics. They were suffering their first loss.

Many of those people, no doubt, went home Tuesday night convinced that the system was corrupt and dysfunctional, that the little guy has no voice.

I hope, and I expect, however, that a few of these political newcomers will realize this simple truth: In politics, you win some and you lose some. The most important thing in any battle is to live to fight another day.

Those people are the ones who just might change the world.

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You can reach Sean Scully at 256-2246 or sscully@napanews.com.

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Editor

Sean has been editor of the Napa Valley Register since April of 2014. His previous credits include the Press Democrat, The Weekly Calistogan, The Washington Times and Time and People magazines.