Why I’m not a left wing Ann Coulter
by Kelvin Wade
It was 1992 and I was in a small Mexican restaurant sitting across the table from a prematurely gray-haired man with a dark mustache. His name was Bill Buchanan and he was the managing editor of my local newspaper, the Fairfield Daily Republic. He’d been impressed with a series of letters to the editor I’d written, but what really caught his eye was an interaction I’d had with a self-proclaimed racist.
Months earlier I’d exchanged dueling letters to the editor with a man named Lou Sturmer. We tussled over affirmative action and other issues. Somehow we agreed to meet at the local library. A third person, whose identity escapes me now, showed up as well. This third party had read our exchanges and found them fascinating.
Sturmer was an imposing figure. He was around 60 years old and stood maybe 6’4″ and went close to three bills. He was bald. He referred to himself as a curmudgeon. We shook hands and went into the library and grabbed a table in the back. We cordially discussed all kinds of issues facing the country. Sturmer was to the point, though. He was a conservative Ross Perot supporter and back then, I was a liberal Democrat Clinton supporter. While we may have disagreed, I left there feeling we’d actually heard each other. I wrote about our meeting in a letter to the editor.
Bill Buchanan contacted me, and wanted me and Sturmer to co-write a point-counterpoint column. We agreed.
Sturmer and I met again at the library to hash out our column. A funny thing happened to the old white racist and the young black guy. We found we had a lot of common ground. Our views didn’t always fit into right and left boxes. Plus, on a personal note, we both shared an interest in computers. I’d recalled seeing Sturmer at computer shows in Vallejo in the past. We were both into guns. I was into professional wrestling and Sturmer had actually been a wrestler in the past.
On issues of race, Sturmer told me his history of how his relatives never had anything and how he saw blacks as wanting a handout. I gave him my perspective. We didn’t always agree, but we listened to each other.
Well, for one reason or another, Bill Buchanan didn’t get back to us on our column for a couple months. Sturmer grew impatient and began writing a column for the Vacaville Reporter in the next town. Buchanan contacted me and had me meet him at the Mexican restaurant to discuss doing a column of my own.
The Daily Republic had a conservative columnist by the name of Bud Stevenson who wrote a column called “Mr. Nice Guy.” Buchanan wanted me to write a column that would balance out Stevenson’s. I agreed, but told Buchanan that I had an independent streak and wouldn’t always toe the party line. He understood and my column, The Other Side, was born.
I never thought I’d be a newspaper columnist. I always loved writing but it was fiction I loved. I was the kid writing stories in class instead of doing the assignment. I took a typing class in high school solely to be able to type stories in class.
I had taken a journalism class in junior high where my teacher introduced me to column writing via Herb Caen’s column. And, in a bit of foreshadowing, I ended up writing a weekly column for the Daily Republic about my school’s happenings.
I left the Democratic Party over a decade ago as my politics have moderated. I have a worldview that tilts left more than right but, as a columnist, I could never be a progressive Mr. Nice Guy, a bomb thrower who exists just to inflame. It would be easy to be a left wing version of Ann Coulter and rile people up just for the sake of argument, but facts are important to me. Accuracy and fairness is important. And while I may blast the Republican Party, Tea Party and religious right, I remain mindful that they’re not my enemies. We’re on the same team.
That’s something I learned from being able to get along with a grumpy, conservative self-described racist named Lou Sturmer, who used to send me Christmas cards. Sturmer has since passed away but I’ll never forget the guy. We had an unlikely friendship. He reminds me to this day to keep an open mind.