For those of us who aspire to service the public and help to build a better world, we face many life-changing decisions, not the least of which is figuring out where we can make the biggest difference for the greatest good. That decision is often a recurring one based on what’s going on in the world around us at any given time.

My latest life-changing decision was to begin helping to coordinate the citizen campaign to recall our local anti-environment 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone in order to spare our beloved coastline and open spaces, including the Devereux Slough near Isla Vista, from the massive development that has been proposed.

I’ve been a Santa Barbara County resident ever since I moved here in the early 1980s as a young college student. While most of my career in public policy has focused on issues of national and global concern – ranging from nuclear proliferation and global terrorism to human rights and global warming – my first love is our unbelievably beautiful county with its spectacular coastline.

After several months of watching Firestone cast vote after vote on measures that threaten our environment, and repeated unsuccessful efforts by myself and others to convince him to establish a public forum to include his constituents in the decision-making process, it finally became clear to us that the only way to hold our elected representative accountable – the only way to restore our voice in county politics – is to recall Firestone and elect a new representative who is committed to actually serving as a representative of the people, rather than special interests and wealthy developers.

I now look forward to a real discussion about our county’s environmental and political future, and to helping renew the public interest in local government. What I’m not looking forward to, however, is all the personal attacks and vicious mudslinging that has become endemic in local politics.

Those personal attacks, for me, began last week on the pages of the Daily Nexus in an opinion piece written by Henry Sarria. Not only were Sarria’s attacks against me personal, petty and completely without merit, they were also likely intended to distract UCSB students from the vital issues facing our county’s environment and political process.

First, Sarria claimed that he “read that the Ventura-based California Center for Strategic Studies is filing a petition to recall current 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone.” That statement could not be farther from the truth. A group of concerned registered voters, including several UCSB students and Isla Vista residents, filed that legal document.

The fact that one of those registered voters – me – serves as president of CCSS, a progressive policy think tank headquartered in Ventura, does not mean that CCSS is involved with the recall. For anyone curious about our think tank, which is “dedicated to securing world peace, fostering human rights and promoting environmental sustainability,” click on for more information.

Second, Mr. Sarria goes to some length trying to discredit me personally, accusing me of being “an outside agitator looking to launch [my] political career” in some sort of “carpetbagging scheme.” But had Sarria done his research, he would have discovered what I’ve already mentioned: I’ve been a resident of Santa Barbara County for more than two decades. I also serve as an elected member of the Santa Barbara County Democratic Central Committee, representing more than 13,700 local Democrats in the 3rd District, and previously served as the 2004 Democratic congressional nominee in the north county. So, for what it’s worth, my “political career” was launched long ago.

What Mr. Sarria might not have expected, however, in attacking a professional researcher, is that I would set aside a little time to research my attacker. My first suspicion was that Sarria is an archconservative Republican merely serving as a foot soldier for his fellow Republican Firestone. However, when I tried to look him up on my excel spreadsheet of 3rd District registered voters, expecting to see the word “Republican” beside his name, his name was nowhere to be found. Although Sarria is a “long-time resident of Isla Vista,” he is not a registered voter.

Since Sarria goes on to claim that “In 2002 [his] vote was against the recall of Gail Marshall,” I decided to dig a little deeper. According to the county’s Elections Division, Sarria fell off the active voter list back in 1999 and has not voted since in any election. Gee, who’s not being honest here?

Finally and most importantly, Sarria makes the wild accusation that “Wagner’s attempt to draw the UCSB community into the fray comes down to antiquated desperate rhetoric and key catchphrases.” The right-wing politicos in Santa Barbara County have long tried to shut the students at my old alma mater out of the local political process. Those attempts have failed in the past, and are bound to fail in the upcoming recall election.

I humbly ask my fellow Gauchos to please take a few moments to visit our recall website and learn for yourselves firsthand why your fellow citizens have decided to launch this effort. You’ll soon discover that I’m truly committed to being a very different kind of representative: One who will never forget who he’s sworn to represent.

Brett Wagner is a UCSB alumnus and specialist in public policy and global security issues. He can be contacted at