Thursday, November 19, 2009

Around Here, The Opinions Are Flying Out The Door

First it was Travis Armstrong leaving the News-Press. Now Cheri Rae, the political columnist of the Daily Sound, is saying sayonara to the op-ed pages.

Suddenly, opinion columnists seem to be among Santa Barbara's most endangered species.

Nick Welsh, who writes "Angry Poodle Barbecue," over at the Independent has been the town's best political/opinion columnist for years in my view. But Nick is now the last man standing.

Before she started writing for the Daily Sound two and a half years ago, Rae, who shares my affection for California bungalows (BTW, I'm moving into one at the end of the month), was best known as a neighborhood advocate who opposed Cottage Hospital's development plan for the former campus of St. Francis Hospital.

That focus on neighborhoods went with her when her column first started appearing on Thursdays in the Sound. Over time, she addressed a wide variety of issues including the election of Barack Obama, who she was for from the very beginning, and the emergence of Sarah Palin, who is every political writers best friend.

In her final farewell column that appeared in Thursday's edition of the Sound, Rae cited her desire to finish a book she is working on as the reason for her departure.

A long-time writer who in the past had written for the L.A. Times, Rae was much more than simply an op-ed page columnist at the Sound. She, along with the paper's editor and publisher Jeramy Gordon, interviewed candidates for city council and mayor and Rae helped shape the paper's endorsements. And, if you're wondering why the Daily Sound endorsed Dale Francisco for mayor, the answer is, Rae.

According to Rae, the front-runner in the mayor's race, council member Helene Schneider, had been 100 percent behind Cottage's plan to put workforce housing along with 34 market-rate units at the old St. Francis site. Rae was all for the workforce housing part, but couldn't get behind the market-rate units. Although Rae denied it in a phone call with me, you can't help but think their difference on the St. Francis plan hurt Schneider's chances of getting the Sound's endorsement. On top of that, Rae didn't care much for Chamber of Commerce President Steve Cushman. With Rae having a say in who would get the paper's nod, Francisco became the default choice.

When I asked Rae what she would miss most about writing her weekly column she thought for a moment then said, "I'll miss the immediate connection with the community and the feedback. Just today I ran into someone who told me, 'I don't always agree with you, but you always make me think.'"

Indeed, that's what a good opinion columnist should do, make you think, regardless of whether you agree with them.

Of course, not everyone around here realizes that. From time to time, Rae would get her share of ridicule from the commenters on the Daily Sound's website and on the blogs. Perhaps the most recent example is the column she wrote about Cushman shortly before the election.

Rae acknowledged that, "Column writing is more personal." She said that she tried to read comments and consider the sources. "When they're anonymous you tend to take them not too seriously."

I didn't always agree with Rae. And, I thought she gave Randall Von Wolfswinkel the kid-glove treatment. But I must say, of all the opinion columnists I've ever known, you'll never meet a nicer one than Rae.

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A letter to the editor in Thursday's Daily Sound takes the paper to task for calling Bob Wilcher, a chiropractor who writes a "fitness column," "doctor."

And while we're at it, I think it's time we sent cease and desist letters to "Dr. Laura," "Dr. J." and "Rex Morgan, M.D."
© 2009 by Craig Smith and