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Brian M. Sobel spent several years working for a major corporation as a writer, training consultant and video producer, before opening his Petaluma-based consulting firm Sobel Communications.

He’s a been a candidate for the California State Assembly, a planning commissioner and vice mayor of Petaluma, and an on-air political analyst on Bay Area television.

The Business Journal asked Sobel for insight on the current state of national, state and local politics.

Tribal biases and divided loyalties seem to define the political climate of the country these days. If that is so, how bad is it, and why?

Many times throughout our history we have been sharply divided along political, geographic, ethnic and ideological lines. Policy differences and invective in the American system goes back to the Continental Congress and certainly the divisions leading up to the Civil War speak for themselves. It can be said of the Civil War we have never been so divided as a nation.

Deep divisions were also present before World War I and World War II when an ongoing debate in Congress and within the American populous concerned sending American troops overseas. Isolationists urged America to stay out of foreign wars. The famed general and aviator Jimmy Doolittle characterized it best when I interviewed him and we talked about a divided nation before World War II. His answer was, “On December 6, 1941, we were a divided nation. On December 7 we were as one.”

America also revisited a sharp divide throughout the Vietnam era as well, and so it goes. A divide is not necessarily the worst thing, although it can bring out the worst in people. At the end of the day we are a big broad-shouldered nation and we will be just fine.

Is there any way to recover a civil political discourse in the country? Or is this just more a swing of political trends, one that will shift back at some point?

Clearly, we need to be able to have a rational discussion with a person who does not share our point of view and yet, still respect the right of that person to have their opinion.

We are currently in a place where we are not being as civil to others as we should be. We often forget the bedrock of the American experiment is compromise. We have relied on compromise to pass landmark legislation and to address our most serious national questions. Compromise is not weakness and when everyone feels a little pain in the decision-making process, everyone also wins. At the end of the day, the pendulum will swing back to the middle or near middle as it always does.

Much has been made of the shift in the number of people being involved in politics – especially women. Do you think this is a sustaining trend, or something that will quickly dissipate?

First, the more people we can bring to politics, the better.

I once served on a city council where of the seven members I was the only male and to tell you the truth I never thought about it. The media were all over the story, including several national outlets, but our goal was to effectively run a city and while there were the inevitable disagreements over a range of issues, never did it have to do with gender.

More women, people of color and orientation should be involved because it reflects the population mix and is incredibly important to assure all points of view are heard. I think the trend will be for more people, not less, to become involved and we should especially encourage young people to seek public office.

As a former candidate for office, if you were advising a candidate today to run for office (assuming someone would want to), what would be your key three pieces of advice?

My advice to anyone seeking public office is to consider the following: First, know why are you running for office. The answer should not be vague and should also include two or three well-articulated goals.

Second, avoid answers such as, “I just want to serve others.” We have heard that many times and it often strikes listeners as self-serving, even if that is not the intent.

Three, if you are running because you believe you can make a “difference,” be prepared to explain just how you envision being the difference-maker.

Has Gavin Newsom already shown the public he is not Jerry Brown? In what ways, and has he done himself proud or already put his administration into damage control?

Governor Newsom is a different kind of politician than Jerry Brown.

When Newsom decided to scale back the high-speed rail project and downsize the scope of the Delta twin tunnels water project, it was sign that he would break from Brown on at least two major initiatives supported by the former governor. Brown, as we know, helped build a large surplus in California and we will see if Newsom can resist utilizing those funds for programs and promises he made in the run-up to being elected governor.

What about the taking on of President Trump over border policy, or Newsom’s decision to put new limitations on the bullet train, are those moves in line with the public or not?

After being elected and certainly as a candidate before, Gavin Newsom has sparred with President Trump. The border wall and immigration, along with other differences between Newsom and Trump, are prominent in his public statements.

In speaking about California, Newsom rightly points out that California is a major international economic force, echoing the idea this is a so-called “nation-state.” It is also true we are only one state among fifty and California needs the federal government in many ways, glaringly so during disasters.

The point is Newsom needs to be judicious in his animus regarding Donald Trump because a president and a hostile Congress can curtail the bounty of the federal government.

For example, should anyone have been surprised the president called for a return of federal money that has not yet been spent on the high-speed rail project? The Obama administration would likely not have considered asking for the return of the money, but elections have consequences.

My advice to the governor is to run a great state and not use the position as a national springboard, just yet. There will be enough time for that later.

Even though Democrats solidly control state government, is there necessarily going to be a smooth ride for Newsom? Why not?

Having the same party as the governor in control of the state assembly and senate is extremely helpful to Governor Newsom, however it will not guarantee he won’t have significant differences with some members of the two bodies over policy issues.

Why? Because it is true that all politics is local and various officeholders in different parts of the state have made specific promises in their own districts. Some of these promises and concerns may well differ from the agenda of the governor.

California is a deeply blue state so expectations are that everyone is in lockstep, but that may not be so. The idea of a one-party state sounds good if it is your party in control, but so-called “checks and balances” occur more often in a two-party environment.

Over the last four decades in California Republican governors, the last being Arnold Schwarzenegger, have been elected because intuitively people feel a need for balance with a Democratic legislature. Having all elected members coming from one party can lead to less than adequate debate on issues. That was a complaint, frankly, coming from some prominent California Democratic politicians in the case of the White House, the House and the Senate all being controlled by Republicans after the 2016 elections.

You will never hear a call for legislative balance from the party in control.

How should the Legislature and governor handle the fallout of the bankruptcy of PG&E?

The possibility of a PG&E bankruptcy or dismantlement of the utility is not something to be taken lightly. A break-up may profoundly affect customers across the state leading to higher pricing and more disparate service levels. Having a PG&E gives government and customers a place to go to redress grievances. It is clear PG&E needs to fix a host of systemic issues, but even given their failures, it is still true PG&E and their employees provide very good service in many respects.

I shudder to think of the state legislature or governor trying to manage PG&E.

Better in my view to force the kinds of changes that will lead to the best PG&E we can achieve. Even then, sadly, gas and electric-related disasters will still occur. It is inevitable.

Tapping your expertise on affordable housing and transportation — key issues for the North Bay — is there any way you see the area will arrive at the point when one day, most residents can live in a home they can afford to buy and have relatively stress free commute to work of less than 20 minutes?

I would say we are not even close to the dream of home ownership combined with a short commute to work here in the North Bay.

First, the high cost of housing forces our younger workers to live a commute away in order to buy a home and we are not adequately housing our teachers, nurses, first responders, and the list goes on.

To be blunt, we talk a good game about affordable housing but we don’t actually approve it in the numbers necessary to make a dent in the problem. People who fundamentally believe home construction of any type should not occur in their neighborhoods fight every development, however laudable. This is not a new problem. For years we have watched infill development and more recently, TOD (transit-occupancy development) fought every step of the way, even with the advent of SMART.

It is a Herculean task to get people to set aside their personal situation for the greater good.