When I took office as County Commissioner for Precinct 3 in 2008, I knew one of my biggest hurdles was going to be finding common ground with one of the staunchest and most powerful democrats in the county: Paul Elizondo. A man storied in the capacity of hardball politics. One who took no prisoners nor gave quarter to enemies of himself or his party.
He was all that … but so much more.
In the beginning, I saw this as proof of all that I heard about the infamous Bexar County Democrat. But as time passed I began to listen more closely to my colleague’s arguments. Much to my frustration, I found many of his arguments were based in sound, well thought-out logic and not just the political rhetoric we hear all too often.
This “enemy” of mine was smart. If I was ever going to have a chance of ever beating him, I’d have to work hard.
I studied and learned everything I could about how the county operates — with particular focus on how the county budget works. The primary responsibility of the Commissioners Court is the responsible handling of the budget and after all, everyone knew Paul was the “budget guru.” I did my homework because I knew my colleague was doing his.
Sure, as time went on we continued to have “fights.” Some were purely political in nature, others were about differences in operational initiatives — but all were with strong feelings and thought put into them. I had started to learn something very important: that even when we would disagree on what, when, or how to do something, I could always count on Paul to do what he said. He wouldn’t tell me one thing and then do another.
As elected officials, we hear people’s best arguments — up until the last second hoping to persuade us to vote with them. Electeds often buckle to this pressure and “flip flop.” Not Paul Elizondo. Once he had done his homework and made up his mind on what he thought was the best decision, you could take to the bank that he would be true to his word.
Turns out that’s not such a bad way to operate. While I may have disagreed with whatever Paul’s decision was on an issue, I never had to question where he was or why he was taking a particular position. This led us to a place we found we could both work well — a place of mutual respect and trust. This, in turn, allowed us the ability to agree to disagree amicably … and more importantly, to reach what is often looked down upon politically: compromise.
There are no Hail Marys in politics. To get the things that matter done requires compromised ground, one or two yards at a time. When you reach the end zone few ever notice, but when done this way the solution usually does the greatest good for the greatest number. It’s not sexy or headline worthy.
It is how the true operation of government gets done. It takes dedicated people from differing points of view to listen and learn from each other in order to do the most right things for the people they serve.
Paul was a dedicated, smart, tenacious, and loyal representative of his constituency. He was also a worthy adversary and a close supporter. In the beginning, I had an enemy, who I learned to trust enough to become my friend. We didn’t always agree. In fact, we fought up until the end over moving courtrooms: an argument that ended in a compromise that won’t be remembered, but did move us a few more yards down the field for the good of all.
I’ll miss fighting my friend, for those are how our fights should be handled.
Kevin Wolff represents Bexar County Precinct 3 on Commissioners Court.
Article originally published by MySA – Kevin Wolff