I don’t like politics. I mean, I really don’t like politics. It’s nasty business. It’s tough for anyone to be a longtime politician and to be clean.

Mug-Thornton, Mark

Mark Thornton

Our communities, state and nation are made up of very small groups of people who are overly invested in their candidates and a much larger number of people who are completely clueless about who their government officials are and what they’re doing.

But they’ll tune in to The Bachelor and The Voice every week for months, then do all they can to make sure  their choice wins … But they won’t spend 30 minutes trying to learn about someone whose decisions may directly affect their life.

That’s the world we live in. Most people aren’t engaged. And I’m not here to shame them. Hell, who can blame them? Sometimes I wish I could join their blissfully ignorant tribe. My job requires me to at least be a spectator, though. 

Hard-working, everyday people have never felt more polarized from politics. Only the wealthy and connected, and the loonies on the fringes — on both sides — seem to have a voice. That’s why so many folks have thrown up their hands and decided to tune in to meaningless things that don’t directly affect them. Might as well enjoy some entertainment instead of getting involved in something that makes the blood boil.

Blind allegiance isn’t something I can relate to. I don’t respect people who walk in lockstep with others simply because of who they are. I look at what leaders do or propose. And I damned sure don’t expect blind allegiance from anyone in my life. Disagreements won’t sever a relationship for me. Knee-jerk, reactionary responses aren’t my m.o. No, I can be introspective to a fault, and I’m more likely to take the blame for something than I am to try to absolve myself.

That, in a nutshell, is why I’m baffled by what transpired here over the last 14 months.

A disagreement over dog-food receipts turned into a battle between Sheriff Alex Hodge, his entire department, a small but loud group of social-media supporters (most with direct ties to the JCSD or one of Hodge’s businesses) vs. three of us who write for the Leader-Call, a smaller group of social-media supporters and a large group of people who are engaged but not outspoken. It was Front Pages vs. Facebook.

As a result, Macon Davis won 29 of 37 polling precincts and took 58 percent of the vote.

But the winner on Aug. 27 wasn’t Davis or the Leader-Call. No, the winner was The Truth. The engaged people of our community were able to read and digest facts, then make their own determination. The sheriff may have had an explanation for some of the facts that we reported, but he made the choice not to communicate with us — again, all because of dog-food receipts. 

At some point — even if it’s while he’s alone in the dark or driving on a country road — Hodge has to be introspective about the decisions he made over the last 14 months. The raid on Lyon Ranch Road, cutting us off and calling us out, the budget battle with the Board of Supervisors, his reaction to the department’s failure to serve indictments, lying about not being aware of the auditor’s investigation, the daily videos that were somehow simultaneously desperate and arrogant leading up to the runoff …

If Hodge is incapable of sincere self-examination, I hope his disciples are. In court the other day, I discussed that with one of many JCSD staffers I like and respect. During a break, while two of his colleagues were ghosting me, I told him that at some point, everyone associated with the JCSD is going to have to come to grips with the fact that Hodge is to blame for his fate, not us.

Maybe now that he’s a lame duck, his crew will be able to break away from the cult-like following he demanded. Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we have to be enemies. It doesn’t even mean we can’t work together.

Early in the campaign, a JCSD employee told me they have to support Hodge or else … “Just like Jim would fire you if you wrote something nice about Alex.”

I smiled and said, “That’s not true. If I wrote a column saying that Hodge should be re-elected, Jim would respond with a column calling me a moron, but he wouldn’t refuse to publish it.”

Blind allegiance — to a person, a political party or a religious denomination — can be dangerous. At best, it’s intellectually lazy.

As I’ve written numerous times, Hodge started out as a great sheriff. He made some upgrades to the department. But then he changed. We didn’t.

I used to work at a newspaper that was owned by a man who is a lot like Hodge. He got into this business to fight for the little man, and he did it well. Then he worked his way up and became the owner and a multimillionaire. He started rubbing elbows with people in that same tax bracket. He knew he didn’t fit in, so he started over-compensating. They became the ones he was fighting for, doing favors for. The power was intoxicating. 

After he sold the paper, he had more money than he knew what to do with, but he was miserable. He no longer had the influence that his rich “buddies” cared about. He’s grown old alone, desperately trying to be relevant again. 

That’s what Hodge was so desperately trying to avoid in the days leading up to the runoff. He thought the job was his for as long as he wanted it because he surrounded himself with people who told him what he wanted to hear, not what he needed to hear. He started to believe his own B.S.

A while back, Wayne County Sheriff Jody Ashley placed “In God We Trust” on the back of his department’s vehicles and encouraged other area sheriffs to do the same. Most followed suit … but not Jones County. “Sheriff Alex Hodge” remained on JCSD’s vehicles. Either he thought he would be there forever or he thought he was worthy of worship. Proverbs 16:18 - “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”.

Mark Thornton is editor -in-chief of the Leader-Call. Email him at editor@leader-call.com.

 

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