Take a Breath: It’s hard work, but it’s not hard


Like a lot of great stories, it all started with a dog.

Shane Hoffmire was minding his own business, settling in for July 4 fireworks with his family and their pit bull, Harley. An Oak Harbor police officer told Hoffmire to muzzle the dog.

Days later, Hoffmire found himself in front of the City Council, stating that the city’s breed-specific restrictions were unfair and ineffective. And, according to the police chief, unenforceable. As reported in the News-Times, the council then proceeded to “muzzle pit bull laws.”

That was 2009. “It worked,” says current City Councilmember Hoffmire, with a shake of his head like he still can’t believe it. The lesson? “Regular people are the difference.” For those who want change, who are frustrated with our city, or who just want a bad law repealed, Hoffmire says, “Get involved. Your voice makes a difference. I realized something that day: they listened to me!”

Hoffmire became a regular at council meetings. He used public comment time to pitch his ideas and jumped at the opportunity to work on Scott Dudley’s successful campaign for mayor in 2011. His first leap into elected office was on North Whidbey Pool, Park and Recreation District’s Board of Commissioners. He served through contentious issues around staffing, budgeting and tumultuous PR problems that led to a failed levy and the closure of our pool. Today, he reflects on how the pool rose from the ashes when the levy passed again.

“We had to recruit a whole new staff, as a lot of people had moved on to other jobs, but we got it done. The team worked hard, top to bottom. We refurbished so much of the building, you’d hardly recognize the place.”

Hoffmire stepped down from the commission when he took the job heading up maintenance and operations at the pool, a position he holds today.

As a public servant, Hoffmire says he’s done significant personal growth and tries to focus on getting better every day. Serving in elected positions, he says, “has taught me to be a better listener, a more empathetic listener. I very much understand the struggles citizens are facing.” He says success in politics is based on compromise, and on selling that compromise to constituents. “Communicating decisions to the community is vital in keeping their trust.”

Hoffmire acknowledges it isn’t always easy. Government moves slowly, and it takes hard work, sometimes for years, to get action completed. But this buoyant optimist channels his Little League coaching approach: “It’s like I tell the kids, I can’t control everything, but I can control my attitude. And I can control how much effort I put into it.”

So he keeps working and doesn’t give up on his vision. Hoffmire says he serves because he wants Oak Harbor to be the best it can be. “This is not a career. As a citizen politician, it’s my job to listen to you if I run into you at the grocery store. I live here too. I have a family and a regular job, just like you do.” And if he ever quits listening, he reminds us, it’s the citizens’ job to get rid of him.

“There’s a contingent in every election that just wants to clean house. You know, toss ‘em all out!” That happens, Hoffmire believes, when elected officials lose touch with the citizens.

The current council, Hoffmire says, is diligent in seeking community input and involvement. He was lavish in his praise for each member of the council, saying each brings a unique perspective but they all work hard together and respect each other.

Asked about last year’s campaign for mayor, in which he was defeated by Ronnie Wright, Hoffmire’s optimism pops up again. Some citizens have noted how contentious that campaign was, but “Ronnie and I want the same thing for this city. In fact if you look back at our debates and forums, we agreed on just about everything. I felt like we each had some supporters who went a little far with their words and actions. Ronnie and I both tried to stick to the issues.”

Is there political polarization in Oak Harbor politics? It’s not like that on this level, he says. There are no factions or voting groups on the council based on ideology or personality. Divided votes happen on specific measures, but on another issue the council members may split up differently. And he chuckles at political irony: “We’re a pretty conservative community here. But we can be quite progressive when it comes to seeking out state and federal dollars to help our city get things done.”

Hoffmire didn’t pause when asked to dream up a leader who could promote civil discourse. Instead, he dropped familiar names. It’s no dream for him; those leaders already serve us.

“Norma Smith. Dave Paul. And did you catch the Civility First presentation with Denny Heck and Ron Muzzall? These leaders listen, they treat constituents with respect, and they do their best to represent everyone, not just the fringes on one wing or the other. I have a lot of respect for all of them. District 10 may be unique that way, with the mix of swing voters we have here, who want sensible people in office, regardless of party, and not extremists.”

In a sad full-circle moment, Harley, the pit bull that started it all, passed away during the mayor’s race last year. “He was a good boy. Wasn’t mean, wouldn’t hurt a soul. I sure miss him.”

Now that was a civil leader right there. And a best friend with a lesson for the rest of us.

William Walker’s monthly “Take a Breath” column seeks paths to unity on Whidbey Island in a time of polarization. Walker lives near Oak Harbor and is an amateur author of four unpublished novels, hundreds of poems and a stage play. He blogs occasionally at playininthedirt.com.