Presidential politics play out at South Shore |

Presidential politics play out at South Shore

Jeff Munson

Jonah M. Kessel / Tahoe Daily Tribune

For good or for ill, partisanship has come to be the standard in every presidential election cycle. Politics, party alignment and position-taking are the essence of what a free-to-choose America is about.

And every four years it seems our emotions run higher. We’re compelled to think in terms of strategy. Kitchen-table talk can turn to division between parents and children, spouses, sweethearts, colleagues and college buddies.

We show our support by putting bumper stickers on our cars. We put yard signs on the lawn. We give money.

Hands are shaken, babies are kissed, television is watched, and it seems everyone – whether informed or uniformed – has an opinion one way or another about who they like, dislike and why.

In between election cycles, voters are more passive. They tend to their own and, for the most part, mind their own business. If the economy is good, there’s time for reflection and introspection. If the economy is sour, blame is passed all around.

It can be said that the political culture of the South Shore always is ongoing, regardless of a presidential election. In any given year here, it seems there always are sides that are being taken, strange bedfellows discovered, self-fulfilling prophecies made, and good and bad blood exchanged.

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With three weeks left until Election Day, the Tribune sat in with two presidential debate audiences: A three-generation Republican Tahoe family, and a newly formed group of local Democrats. Here’s a snapshot of what we saw.

With his 2-week-old infant daughter, Olivia, cradled in his mother’s arms and a proud grandfather sitting nearby, J.T. Davis is a Republican for many reasons. He’s pro-life, in law enforcement, and is faced with more and more taxes. He wonders how he’s going to pay all the bills, especially if his tax bills continue to rise. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama will raise taxes on people such as himself. It may not necessarily be withheld from his paycheck, but from other areas. And that’s something he’s not comfortable with.

“The problem with Obama is that he says he’s going to give tax cuts on 95 percent of Americans, yet he is proposing $18 billion in new spending. Obama’s claim is that people who make more than $250,000 a year need to pay more taxes yet the top 10 percent of wage-earners in this country already carry 80 percent of the tax burden,” Davis said.

“Whereas the lower wage-earners of this country pay 2.5 percent of the tax burden, so obviously it is showing a disproportionate number of rich that are carrying the tax burden. The rich don’t need to be taxed more because they are already carrying the majority of the tax burden,” he continued. “I think Obama’s plan is Robin Hood economics. Taking from the rich to give to the poor. That’s socialism.”

Lake Tahoe businessman and former city councilman and mayor Tom Davis watched his son watch the debate and engaged him in conversation. He calls his son “a good conservative” – a law-abiding, tax-paying, hard-working family man who wants to do right.

In college, J.T. Davis worked tirelessly for President Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign in Colorado. And before that, he helped his father in his 2000 bid for the South Lake Tahoe City Council. At 26, he has developed rhetorical skills to go with his unbending ideology.

Over time, he might sway some, as his lifelong Republican father has. Tom Davis has a maverick reputation himself, able to reach out to both sides.

While J.T. Davis sees Obama as “untrustworthy” and “untruthful,” the elder Davis sees the candidate as “a good man” who’s “naive” and “not yet ready.”

Whether it’s his position on abortion, taxes or campaign commitments, Obama isn’t fit to be president, the younger Davis said.

“He does one thing and says another,” he said. “It shows me the lack in his character.”

The elder Davis, whom his son calls “a good Republican,” is more introspective on Obama.

“I’ve got to go with experience instead of very little,” Tom Davis said. “We have too much at stake right now. Maybe in four years, Obama will be ready. He’s a good man. He means well, but I don’t think he gets it.”

The elder Davis says this election is about his own pocketbook. Obama wants to spend money, and he wants the taxpayers to pay for his programs. Republican candidate John McCain vows to rein in spending and let the free market – with some much-needed banking regulations – do the rest.

“The less government, the better,” the elder Davis said.

Across town, the upstairs room of Steamers Bar and Grill has been the unofficial gathering place for South Shore Obama supporters. In fact, there have been so many people at Steamers during the debates that a second bar, Divided Sky in Meyers, opened its doors and turned on its televisions for local Obama backers.

As buffalo wings, onion rings and cold suds made their rounds during the debate, the mood among watchers sporting Obama buttons was pensive yet respectful. Even the jeers against McCain seemed mild.

“The country has become a place where people won’t find common ground, because they’ve become afraid of one another,” said Obama supporter Judy Williams.

“Obama is able to give the few extra brushstrokes to a bigger picture. He’s able to understand our complex world and the challenges ahead. When it comes to the economy, he has a strategy, and he spells it out,” Williams said of his tax-cutting measures for the middle class, and rewarding American businesses that create jobs and keep their jobs at home instead of sending them abroad.

Bringing Tahoe Democrats together wasn’t difficult – mainly, they just needed a clarion call to bring them together, said Mary Jane Sanchez, organizer of the new Tahoe Democratic Club. Her energy is mixed with a kind of positivity that coincides with the theme and tenor of Obama’s campaign. While she’s more than familiar with Obama’s campaign themes and recites them with ease, her main goal is to organize people into one collective voting body.

Commenting on the debate, Sanchez said McCain’s body language doesn’t connect with regular people. McCain “was obviously angry with his grimacing and sighing and inability to articulate a coherent thought without having anger toward Obama’s friendly and open demeanor,” she said.

“This is about the future, and where we’re going and what it will take to get us there,” Sanchez said. “And the people are the ones making this happen. This campaign is all about being inclusive, and that’s what will be needed so that this country can begin to heal.”