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The Tribune Editorials: Partisans and conspiracy theorists ran Tommy Gong out of town. That’s a disgrace

Of all the words we can use to describe departing SLO County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong, “trustworthy” tops the list.

That’s why it’s been so stunning — in a very bad way — to hear the unrelenting attacks on his integrity from a gang of zealots who, without a shred of evidence, continue to insist the 2020 election results were rigged.

It’s disappointing that Gong will not serve out the year and a half left in his term — and frightening to think of who might wind up in his post following the 2022 election, given the nationwide Republican campaign to back candidates willing to support voter suppression tactics.

Fortunately for Californians, most election laws are controlled by the state. But there are steps local officials can take, such as discouraging vote-by-mail and encouraging the wacko idea that conservative votes aren’t being counted fairly — even in counties like San Luis Obispo where Republicans hold many of the top positions.

For fair-minded election officials like Tommy Gong, it’s a hellish situation.

Ever the diplomat, Gong has declined to say how much of a role attacks on his character played in his decision to take a position as a deputy clerk-recorder in Contra Costa County.

It “probably played a factor” is what he told Tribune reporter Lindsey Holden. Supervisor Bruce Gibson took it a step further: “It’s in large part because he did not have the support of the full Board of Supervisors following the appalling attacks on his integrity.”

Gong says the primary driver in his decision is a desire to be closer to family. But there’s no doubt his departure was made much easier by the cruel assaults on his character that included an anti-Asian slur — attacks so bad they’ve put SLO County in the national spotlight.

Media reports have mostly focused on the barrage of calls made to the county Board of Supervisors at a May 4 meeting, but that was merely the culmination of a campaign to discredit Gong and his elections staff, exemplified by a Republican-hyped radio ad. “Election integrity is under attack in the U.S., including right here in San Luis Obispo County, but our elected Clerk/Recorder Tommy Gong is not concerned,” it said.

Republican supervisors had the opportunity to defend Gong.

For the most part, they didn’t.

Supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton, for example, declined to call out the racist comment directed at Gong at that May 4 meeting. By way of an explanation, Arnold later told The Tribune that supervisors also are on the receiving end of negative comments and she “didn’t want to speak against the concerns” expressed at the meeting.

Please. Are you a leader with the conviction to stand up for what’s right or a simple partisan who will let silence give voice to defamation and falsehoods?

All supervisors may be subjected to negative comments over policy issues — that comes with the territory in a way that’s different from the clerk-recorder — but racist slurs are another matter entirely and can never be tolerated.

And slurs and attacks on a nonpartisan officeholder with a long record of integrity and fairness who goes above and beyond to keep the peace are beyond the pale.

By the way, whatever happened to that code of civility county supervisors — including Debbie Arnold — unanimously embraced in 2015?

Apparently, it meant nothing at all.

As far as allowing the public to speak their “concerns,” there’s a huge difference between listening to concerns and encouraging them — no matter how ludicrous they may be — which is exactly what Debbie Arnold did.

She even went so far as to suggest taking a closer look at hand-counting all ballots, which would take us right back to horse-and-buggy days before women had the right to vote.

At least Arnold responded to the news of Gong’s departure. Compton and Supervisor John Peschong didn’t even offer that courtesy to their colleague. Is it any wonder that Tommy Gong and election officials in many other parts of the country are leaving their high-stress posts?

It’s unfortunate, because Gong truly is the most nonpartisan of officials in a county where the meaning of nonpartisanship has been utterly lost by many of our local electeds.

In all our years of interacting with Gong, we never had a clue as to where he stood on any particular issue or any candidate. His only interest was in upholding democracy by ensuring San Luis Obispo County voters had access to the polls — one of his last official acts was lobbying for vote-mobiles to serve remote locations — and that ballots were properly counted.

That’s the exact opposite of what Trump conservatives are after. It’s not hyperbole to say American democracy is under attack — including here in San Luis Obispo County — and it’s an attack we must resist with all of our energy. We lost a defender in Tommy Gong.

Now it’s up to us to elect a candidate to replace him in 2022 who will carry on the fight for free and fair elections.

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