In many ways, the issue long ago stopped being about the words “In God We Trust.” Instead, it morphed into an issue about divisiveness in the community, and intransigence by county councilors, and a power play by Councilor David Madore. And in the end, it became yet another egregious example of how the county council poorly serves its constituents through tone-deaf management and illogical decision-making.
While it might seem uncommon for four simple words to carry so much weight, Clark County is bedeviled with an uncommon county council. So, Tuesday, after more than a month of discussion and multiple meetings that included hundreds of public comments, the council voted 2-1 to prominently display the national motto of “In God We Trust” on its meeting room wall. Tom Mielke, who initiated the proposal, voted in favor, along with Madore; Jeanne Stewart, who argued that the motion should be tabled until the county council is expanded to five members at the end of the year, voted against.
As mentioned, this was not about whether the words should be placed on a wall. “In God We Trust,” after all, is the official national motto, adopted by Congress in 1956. Last month, at the urging of In God We Trust-America, a national organization dedicated to seeing the motto placed in city and county offices, Mielke proposed the idea for Clark County and indicated that he didn’t expect much backlash. “It’s on your money, too,” he noted.
In making the comment, Mielke, as usual, demonstrated a thick-headed misunderstanding of the issues and the people he purportedly represents. The idea of officially invoking God in a county building predictably generated strong feelings on both sides of the issue at a public hearing, and Madore and Stewart each declined to second Mielke’s motion. That is, until a board meeting the following day in which Madore recommended revisiting the issue. In other words, Madore declined to support Mielke’s proposal until he could find a way seize the reins on the issue and remind the county chair of who is in charge.
Along the way, Madore and Mielke served to demonstrate the vast dysfunction that has marked county government under their watch. While more than 80 members of the public on Tuesday shared their opinions about “In God We Trust,” the underlying issue was one of divisiveness and a county council that frequently works to drive apart the people of this community.
During his time as an elected official, Madore has picked fights with the Columbia River Crossing, the C-Tran Board, the Columbia River Economic Development Council, the Vancouver City Council and even the Humane Society for Southwest Washington. Mielke, meanwhile, has demonstrated a confounding inability to understand complex issues or to comprehend the reaction his decisions will generate.
While Madore and Mielke have a fair amount of support among their constituents, they have mastered the art of developing and pushing wedge issues that create ill will in exchange for miniscule political gain. The hard feelings that will linger from the debate of the past month will far outweigh the benefit that will come from placing “In God We Trust” upon the wall.
Would we be better off if Mielke had never brought up the proposal? Would we, as a community, be better off without hours upon hours of public debate that served to highlight our differences rather than promote our commonalities? Yes, we would. And the ability to understand that is one of the most important definitions of leadership.