Archive for the ‘California Politics’ Category

Kamala’s First Senate Foe: Rocky Chavez on Issues

Monday, March 16th, 2015

rockyNow that Republican Assemblyman Rocky (his actual name — we asked) Chavez of Oceanside has officially joined the race for U.S. Senate from California, becoming Democratic Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris’s No. 1 and, so far, only opponent, Calbuzz spent some time the other day chatting with him about actual, you know, issues. Our motto: We do this so you don’t have to.

Turns out that while Chavez, 63, is at odds with the mainstream of California political sentiment on some key issues – abortion rights, health care, minimum wage, offshore oil drilling, for example — he is more thoughtful and not nearly as rabid nor strident as your hardcore, right-wing, Tea Party type Republicans. Talking issues with Rocky Balboa, you have to admire his openness and easy candor.

Pro-Cuomo on Abortion: Take abortion rights, for example, a position overwhelmingly favored by California voters. As a practicing Catholic, Chavez is pro-life. Importantly, however, he says he would not support an attempt to overturn Roe v Wade’s protection of a woman’s right to choose because “that’s been settled in the courts.” Nor, he said, would he vote for measures to further restrict abortion rights, like requiring parental consent for minors.

And it infuriates him when people from the anti-abortion right wing accuse him of being a “weak Catholic.” Basically, his position is similar to the one laid out at Notre Dame in September 1984 by former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.

cuomoHere’s what the late great Cuomo said, in part:

The Catholic who holds political office in a pluralistic democracy — who is elected to serve Jews and Muslims, atheists and Protestants, as well as Catholics — bears special responsibility. He or she undertakes to help create conditions under which all can live with a maximum of dignity and with a reasonable degree of freedom; where everyone who chooses may hold beliefs different from specifically Catholic ones — sometimes contradictory to them; where the laws protect people’s right to divorce, to use birth control and even to choose abortion.

That’s pretty much the position Gov. Jerry Brown also holds on the issue. So Rocky’s in good company.

For the record, he believes the big choice vs. life issue in California is not abortion, but assisted suicide and he’s absolutely opposed to allowing it. “I’m not going to vote for anything that doesn’t see the sanctity of life,” he said. It’s a personal issue for him. His 37-year-old son was diagnosed and hospitalized with schizophrenia years ago and at a point of unbearable misery wanted his father to help him end his life – a plea Chavez said he refused. He son is doing well today, he added.

obama_doctorWould Allow Obamacare to Crash While the Field Poll says California voters favor the Affordable Health Care Act by a margin of 56-35%, Chavez says he would “vote to change Obamacare because it doesn’t work.” (This is not what you might call an actual fact, but it is his belief.)

We’re spending a lot of money processing insurance, he argues. “It would have been cheaper to buy everybody a Blue Cross policy.”

Given the chance, he’d vote in the Senate to eliminate the individual mandate that requires people to have health insurance. He acknowledged that if the individual mandate is eliminated, the health care system as now constructed in California would collapse, but is willing for that to happen to eliminate what he believes is a terrible public policy.

Minimum Wage Chavez told us he’s opposed to increasing the minimum wage – another position that many California voters may not like much. His reason: he believes it freezes many teenagers out of the employment  market. “I don’t think the issue is minimum wage…I think it prevents kids from having a job,” he said, recalling his own first jobs “clean(ing) toilets and bus(ing) tables.”

Offshore Oil.  He said he would vote for renewed offshore oil drilling in federal waters “if it meets all the requirements for science and safety of the Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources.”

Fighting ISIS. As for fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), he’d vote to give President Obama whatever powers he needs. He said he believes Obama’s foreign policy is “a total disaster in the Middle East.” But would not have signed the letter that 47 Republican senators recently sent to Iran seeking to undermine Obama’s negotiations to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

“Partisanship ends at our borders,” he said. “He is the Commander in Chief,” he added, sounding very much like the retired Marine colonel that he is.

abetterlife2Pathway to Something.  On immigration, Chavez offers a position much closer to the California mainstream than most Republican politicians – a pathway to legal residency. It’s not a pathway to citizenship, but a compromise position, that might not be as expansive as most Latino voters would prefer, but a lot less off-putting than the round-‘em-up-and-send-‘em-home stand so popular within the GOP.

Chavez says he approaches the issue using three principles:

1) Family – “The Republican Party has always valued marriage and children,” he said, “but we’re sending mothers and fathers away from their kids. That’s not good.”

2) Security – He wants better security at the border, but that shouldn’t be the first thing out of a Republican candidate’s mouth, he said. That just causes Latino voters to shut down. “They say, ‘Why would I vote for you if I felt you’d never want me over for dinner?’”

3) Citizenship: No – We have laws governing how people become citizens (which he’s still researching, he said) but he favors “what I call residency,” with which immigrants could register, get a driver’s license, pay taxes and follow procedures to obtain their citizenship over time.

Unlike a lot of politicians, Chavez — Chico State and USMC — is refreshingly straight-forward. He’s not the most articulate candidate we’ve encountered, be he’s a bright guy who’s willing to risk a seat in the California Assembly to give Queen Kamala a challenge.

In his big underdog willingness to take on a candidate who’s backed by California’s powerful Democratic establishment and Washington’s liberal elite, we’re reminded of the words of another Rocky, namely the underdog  boxer played by Sylvester Stallone in “Rocky.”

The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows… You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.

 PS. After our post about the California Republican Party Convention, at which our attempt to interview Rocky was interrupted by a junior woodchuck press aide, one Captain Mr. Chistopher Pickard, we received a heartfelt apology and help setting up a phone conversation with the assemblyman. Calbuzz appreciates his apology and  good grace.

Press Clips: 6 Takeaways on Hillary’s Email ‘Scandal’

Friday, March 13th, 2015


Pop quiz: Who of the following is the biggest dunce of the week?

a) The Indiana state legislator who pursued a sexting relationship with the infamous Sydney Leathers, the same semi-pro porn actress pictured here who ratted out Anthony Weiner to the media, and who predictably ratted out the randy Hoosier to the New York Post.

b) The Ohio man who called 911 to report that his wife had stolen his cocaine and was quickly arrested by police for possession of coke.

c) Mark Halperin, the clueless but reliably self-important cable bloviator, who retracted his two-week old prediction that Hillary Clinton was “easily the next president” to now assert, “I don’t think she’ll be president.”

Answer: c)

Dog-catches-own-tail_1Dogs, snakes and cars: Halperin, of course, is just one of countless Beltway bubble brains frantically contriving a new “narrative” about the presidential race based on the self-delusional assumption that up-for-grabs voters will reject Clinton based on perfectly legal use of a personal e-mail account while serving as Secretary of State.

At one point on Wednesday, Politico, the Capitol’s greatest fount of Halperin-style dog-chasing-tail punditry (Dog chasing cars? Snake eating its tail? Snakes chasing cars? –ed.) had no less than 12 stories – twelve, count ‘em, twelve — on its home page about the email flapdoodle, almost all devoid of original reporting. Politico Editorial Supreme Leader John Harris presumably ordered up all those yarns but, perhaps unwittingly, found a way to undercut his own leadership and judgment in his own piece.

Unspoken publicly in this latest controversy, but clearly understood among veterans of Hillary Clinton’s circle, is her belief that the pious clamor for more disclosure and more revelation is fundamentally insincere. The media-political complex is not seeking a window into matters of public interest; it is looking for a weapon, one that will be brandished to produce still more stories or start still more investigations.

begalaA soft-spoken analysis: To be sure, Hillary’s inept response to the story, first reported in a faulty New York Times story that suggested she broke the law, fueled the frenzy. But the notion that it could somehow represent a candidacy killer – a storyline pushed by Republicans, bed-wetting Democrats and a press corps disingenuously portraying themselves as high-minded guardians of transparency in government — while actually just trying to conjure a better 2016 race to cover – is simply silly.

As professional Democratic spinner Paul Begala put it in a mild and measured quote:

Voters do not give a shit. They do not even give a fart…Find me one persuadable voter who agrees with HRC on the issues but will vote against her because she has a non-archival-compliant email system and I’ll kiss your ass in Macy’s window and say it smells like roses.

Not to put too fine a point on it.

Sure, Begala has been a media spear-carrier for the Clinton family for decades; that doesn’t mean he’s wrong, and his argument was embraced by some widely-respected, and cooler headed, professionals less invested than the Halperins and the Politicos of the world in inventing faux journalism to justify their seven-figure salaries.

Six takeaways on the story:

charliecookIt’s not going to matter. Charlie Cook, perhaps the Beltway’s most consistently correct media analyst, who has managed to maintain his perspective on the real world despite working in Washington since the Millard Fillmore era, put it best:

This is the classic kind of inside the Beltway, process story that politicos and reporters get in a lather over but that resonates very little with average voters. Most Americans don’t know or care what happens to the old emails of public officials. But chasing shiny objects is an occupational hazard for political journalists during odd-numbered years, because of the infrequent developments of real significance.

No, Hillary Clinton’s challenge will be determined by how she performs, what image she projects, how she is perceived—whether she comes across as likable and relevant to the future, someone who can plausibly address the challenges facing the country.

Oh, that.

hillaryclintonHillary screwed up her response. Clinton’s attempt to delay her formal announcement of candidacy has been insufferably coy and too clever by way more than half. She was days late in publicly responding to the original Times story, apparently because she didn’t want to step on coverage of a couple of staged media events trumpeting the 20th anniversary of her speech in China on behalf of women of the world. Instead that story was not just stepped on, but totally stomped, leading even some of her biggest cheerleaders in the MSM, including Gail Collins, to fret:

There won’t be a new Hillary. What voters can hope for is the best possible version of her flawed self. That while there will be messes, she will force herself to be open during the cleanup. That while she might not be a transformative speaker, she will be able to explain how she can take the issues she’s been pursuing for decades and turn them into a plan for serious change.

Also, she should keep building on her talent for holding firm during crises. But it’d be nice to have a little peace in between.

It’s all about Dianne: In fact, it wasn’t until the Senior Senator from California publicly declared that Clinton needed to “step up” and explain why she’d chosen to use her personal email instead of a government account, that Hillary seemed to realize how much the story was spinning out of her control. After Difi delivered a needed slap in the face and a bucket of ice water on her head, Clinton quickly came to her senses and consented to joust with reporters over the issue at the U.N.

Look for Republicans to overplay their hand. By week’s end, three GOP House committee chairmen had launched their own, separate investigations of Hillary’s email. That all but guarantees that undecided people in the rest of the country will quickly see the story for exactly what it is – a Republican effort to attack and embarrass Clinton – not some serious-minded effort to give the public more access to records about the workings of government, upon which the GOP’s phony cluck-clucking purports to focus.

No fewer than three House committees have launched or are considering probes into Clinton’s email practices, a feeding frenzy that could allow the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee to cast the investigations as yet another partisan witch-hunt.

It could also become a problem for Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team, which has made a point of trying to prevent multiple committees from tripping over themselves investigating the same topic.

bill-clintonGreat days for IT:  At least Bill Clinton’s cringe worthy big cigar trysting with Monica Lewinsky was something people could actually understand, if not relate to. The big fuss over Hillary’s spam files has generated reams of in-the-weeds reporting about servers, IP addresses and the ways and means of murdering a hard drive that read about interestingly as Pilgrim’s Progress:

It’s not clear from the report whether officials with whom Clinton traded emails were covered by the SMART system, which required message-by-message selection for archiving, or by other email systems, which may have taken a more automated approach. The IG review says in a footnote that the SMART system was not used by State’s “high-level principals, the Secretary, the Deputy Secretaries, the Under Secretaries, and their immediate staffs, which maintain separate systems.

Got it.

nyposthillaryThe meaning of the word “is.” As clumsy as her reaction to the story was, Hillary still displayed some of that good ole’ Clinton obfuscatory and dodgy language that all fans of cynicism have missed since the Big Dog exited the White House. Media critic Jack Shafer offered a fine take on the topic:

The press scrutinizes every utterance from the House of Clinton, parsing the couple’s words for new or hidden meanings—and for good reason. The two have a devious way with words. Bill Clinton, whose verbal cunning dwarfs that of almost anyone on the public stage, cemented his trickster reputation in 1998 when he claimed he did “not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” and offered, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” In some universe, Bill was on the level in his remarks. Unfortunately for him, it was not this one.

 So when Hillary Clinton, a veteran crisis manager in her own right, spoke twice about “not saving” her personal emails at her press conference Tuesday instead of picking the more direct and active “deleted,” newsroom ears pricked up, scanning for the lie or the omission or the message manipulation.

nydailynewstraitors“Not saving” sounds like the sensible and casual abandonment of something that has lost its value, like the gray water that gushes from your washer during a rinse cycle. “Deleted,” on the other hand, sounds purposeful, almost sinister, if you have reason to suspect that the speaker is not being candid with you—and who among us, even her fans, thinks that Hillary Clinton is ever candid?

So there’s that.

Why we love the tabloids In addition to the priceless NY Post “Deleter” cover, we offer, with no further comment necessary, the NY Daily News’s succinct observation on the 47 senators who signed the letter to Iran, seeking to scuttle President Obama’s negotiations to end their nuclear development program:


GOP Senate Wannabes: A Vicious Attack on Calbuzz

Monday, March 9th, 2015

asshatIf Rocky Chavez confounds conventional wisdom to run a stronger-than-expected race for U.S. Senate, it most certainly will not be due to the efforts of his asshat press secretary, Christopher Pickard.

In a stunning display of unprofessional oafishness, the twit Pickard physically broke up a conversation that several reporters, including your Calbuzzards, were conducting at the recent GOP convention with Assemblyman Chavez.

Now the only declared Republican candidate for the retiring Barbara Boxer’s seat, Rocky Balboa on the first night of the convention was making a nice first impression at his reception suite, during an amicable and interesting informal interview. Suddenly, and without warning, his bush-league Assembly lackey thrust his arm, legs and beefy ass in between reporters and the candidate, nearly toppling one of our aging Founders, who makes his way through life with the aid of a cane.

Chavez, likely chagrined by such a public show of incompetence, turned to greet several well-wishers, while his toady continued playing the fool, obnoxiously insisting all communications with the candidate should go through him.

Full disclosure: 1) we briefly considered finding a cop to file battery charges against the dunce, but dismissed the notion in favor of getting in his face (some witnesses reported the word “motherfucker” was used in both its noun and adjectival forms, but this could not be independently verified);  2) we felt instant, deep and seething antagonism towards Chavez’s media operation, something it took Meg Whitman’s GOP press team at least six months to accomplish in the 2010 governor’s race.

Ask eMeg how that clever bit of strategy worked out, Captain Pickard.

kamalaharris2Have we mentioned we need a race? We recount this unfortunate incident (what is it that triggers Republican aggression against Calbuzz at their conventions anyway?) by way of reporting that we actually performed our due diligence at the GOP confab, touching base with all three of the party’s allegedly serious candidates for the 2016 Senate campaign. We do these things so you don’t have to.

We confess, however, that we remain in deepest despair at the likelihood that Democrat-anointed Kamala Harris simply will be handed a U.S. Senate seat (think about that for a moment) without mussing her tresses. Still, somebody has to finish second in the primary, so we did our First Amendment duty, chasing down and interviewing Chavez, Duf Sundheim and Tom Del Beccaro, all while struggling to stave off a diabetic coma triggered by wolfed-down ice cream sundaes via the hospitality of party Secretary Deborah Wilder and gobbled seconds of a decadent chocolate dessert sampler at Jim Brulte’s karaoke bash.

Here’s how we rank their field today:

rockyChavez: The 63-year old Oceanside Republican has the build of a varsity wrestler and the no-nonsense manner of a career Marine who made colonel, both of which he used to be. On the David vs. Goliath question of how he intends seriously to challenge Queen Kamala with an “R” behind his name, Chavez said his work with military veterans around the state positions him with a campaign infrastructure of non-partisan vets organizations in all 58 counties.

On the key issue of immigration policy, Chavez said he supports “a pathway to legal residency,” if not citizenship for undocumented immigrants: “Why would a party who talks about family values be for a program that divides families,” he told Calbuzz. The idea of rounding them up and sending them back? “That’s crazy.”

(Sadly, we couldn’t follow up because of the amateur-night antics by his aforementioned staff imbecile, whose name we avoid repeating in order to spare his family’s feelings. However, you may register your displeasure about Christopher Pickard’s adolescent behavior by calling him in the Capitol at 916-319-2076 or in the district at 760-929-7998. Plenty of free parking).

sundheimGeorge “Duf” Sundheim: The former state party chair, 62, has everything Calbuzz looks for in a viable California Republican: a Stanford man, he’s smart, thoughtful, earnest, open-minded and non-ideological. Dispassionate about social issues, he’s an actual political reformer, who helped lead the redistricting and open primary initiatives. He’s also tall, unlike Rocky, over whom Boxer would tower.

To our deep disappointment, however, Sundheim refused to be coaxed into a discussion of crucial policy matters, most especially immigration and abortion rights, two threshold issues that long have thwarted statewide GOP wannabes. Apologetic about it, Sundheim insisted he truly is just “exploring” a campaign, i.e. talking to moneybags to see if he can raise enough scratch to run a serious race, and doesn’t want to deal with controversy and conflict until he’s decided if it’s worth it. He said that if he runs he wants to focus on ways to improve stagnant wages and cut the cost of living for middle class and working-class people, while boosting public schools.

delbeccaro2Tom Del Beccaro: Another former Republican state chair, who left behind a huge pile of debt (and losses in the state Assembly and Senate) when his term ended, the 53-year old wannabe journalist and low-rent lawyer seemed more interested in selling his new book, with the characteristically pompous title, “The Divided Era,” than in seriously running for Senate.

At least that was the impression we got after doing a good-cop bad-cop interview with him for an hour late Friday night, during which he refused to offer a single answer that wasn’t packed with obfuscation, gibberish and wiggle words.

Example of BS: on immigration he wants an “effective border policy” before he’ll even discuss what to do about the 11 million folks already here illegally; however, he refuses to define seriously what such “an effective border policy” is, other than to say it’s one that “sends a strong enough message so that their desire to come here illegally dwindles.” Whatever that means. Also: he claims Obama “grew up in Indonesia,” allying himself with Donald Trump, and he spent Saturday morning totally pandering to the Tea Party caucus. Puh-leeze.

Phil Wyman. Seriously?

condoleezza_rice_605_nflWeb gems: The indestructible Tony Quinn churns out a must-read piece explaining why there’s simply no-way no-how for a Republican Senate candidate here.

Josh Richman asserts that the clear-the-field early strategy by Kamala and Prince Gavin Newsom is not such a great idea.

Don’t miss: Why Dems should win back the Senate in 2016.

Please Condi, oh please, please, please.

Face plant in the guacamole: Word reached here by Pony Express today of the final results of the Condoleeza Rice Drinking Game.

As loyal readers know, the greatest excitement of the GOP convention was to be the competition among Calbuzzers who swallowed a drink each time anyone said, “I wish Condi would run.”  Early favorite Sherri Bebitch Jeffe of KNBC failed to hold off aggressive challenger and former state party chair Bob Naylor, and the two finished in a tie, both trashed well before midnight Friday. There were no injuries.

Obama at Selma: “Our March Is Not Yet Finished”

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

obamaselmaPresident Obama delivered a bravura speech in Selma, Alabama on Saturday, at ceremonies honoring the 50th anniversary of the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, a landmark in the civil right struggle. Here is the text of his address.

It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes.  And John Lewis is one of my heroes.

Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning fifty years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind.  A day like this was not on his mind.  Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about.  Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect yourself when attacked.  A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones.  The air was thick with doubt, anticipation, and fear.  They comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung:

No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;

Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.

Then, his knapsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, a book on government – all you need for a night behind bars – John Lewis led them out of the church on a mission to change America.

“A clash of wills.” President Bush and Mrs. Bush, Governor Bentley, Members of Congress, Mayor Evans, Reverend Strong, friends and fellow Americans:

There are places, and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided.  Many are sites of war – Concord and Lexington, Appomattox and Gettysburg.  Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character – Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.

Selma is such a place.

In one afternoon fifty years ago, so much of our turbulent history – the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham, and the dream of a Baptist preacher – met on this bridge.

It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the meaning of America.

obamalewis2And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. King, and so many more, the idea of a just America, a fair America, an inclusive America, a generous America – that idea ultimately triumphed.

“Rejoice in hope.” As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation.  The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.

We gather here to celebrate them.  We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice.

They did as Scripture instructed: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”  And in the days to come, they went back again and again.  When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came – black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope.  A white newsman, Bill Plante, who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of white people lowered the quality of the singing.  To those who marched, though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet.

In time, their chorus would reach President Johnson.  And he would send them protection, echoing their call for the nation and the world to hear:

“We shall overcome.”

What enormous faith these men and women had.  Faith in God – but also faith in America.

john-lewis-selma-march“Courage to millions.” The Americans who crossed this bridge were not physically imposing.  But they gave courage to millions.  They held no elected office.  But they led a nation.  They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, and countless daily indignities – but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.

What they did here will reverberate through the ages.  Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible; that love and hope can conquer hate.

As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them.  Back then, they were called Communists, half-breeds, outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse – everything but the name their parents gave them.  Their faith was questioned.  Their lives were threatened.  Their patriotism was challenged.

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?

Selma Bridge KKK Leader-2What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people – the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many – coming together to shape their country’s course?

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience.  That’s why it’s not a museum or static monument to behold from a distance.  It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:

“We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

These are not just words.  They are a living thing, a call to action, a road map for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny.  For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all our citizens in this work.  That’s what we celebrate here in Selma.  That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom.

AP_selma_50th_anniversary_8_obama_boynton_jt_150307_4x3_992“Beacon of opportunity.” The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge is the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny.  It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot and workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon.

It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths.  It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo.

That’s what makes us unique, and cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity.  Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down a wall.  Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid.  Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule.  From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world’s greatest superpower, and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom.

They saw that idea made real in Selma, Alabama.  They saw it made real in America.

Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed.  Political, economic, and social barriers came down, and the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African-Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus to the Oval Office.

Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for African-Americans, but for every American.  Women marched through those doors.  Latinos marched through those doors.  Asian-Americans, gay Americans, and Americans with disabilities came through those doors.  Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.

dr-martin-luther-king-jr-5What a glorious thing, Dr. King might say.

What a solemn debt we owe.

“Neither complacency nor despair.” Which leads us to ask, just how might we repay that debt?

First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough.  If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done – the American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation.

Selma teaches us, too, that action requires that we shed our cynicism.  For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair.

Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report shows that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country.  I understand the question, for the report’s narrative was woefully familiar.  It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement.  But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed.  What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic, or sanctioned by law and custom; and before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.

We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America.  If you think nothing’s changed in the past fifty years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties.  Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed.  Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago.  To deny this progress – our progress – would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.

Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes.  We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true.  We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.  We know the march is not yet over, the race is not yet won, and that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character – requires admitting as much.

jamesbaldwin“We are capable of bearing a great burden,” James Baldwin wrote, “once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”

“The right to vote.” This is work for all Americans, and not just some.  Not just whites.  Not just blacks.  If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination.  All of us will need to feel, as they did, the fierce urgency of now.  All of us need to recognize, as they did, that change depends on our actions, our attitudes, the things we teach our children.  And if we make such effort, no matter how hard it may seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.

With such effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some.  Together, we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on – the idea that police officers are members of the communities they risk their lives to protect, and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland just want the same thing young people here marched for – the protection of the law.  Together, we can address unfair sentencing, and overcrowded prisons, and the stunted circumstances that rob too many boys of the chance to become men, and rob the nation of too many men who could be good dads, and workers, and neighbors.

With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity.  Americans don’t accept a free ride for anyone, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes.  But we do expect equal opportunity, and if we really mean it, if we’re willing to sacrifice for it, then we can make sure every child gets an education suitable to this new century, one that expands imaginations and lifts their sights and gives them skills. We can make sure every person willing to work has the dignity of a job, and a fair wage, and a real voice, and sturdier rungs on that ladder into the middle class.

And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge – and that is the right to vote.  Right now, in 2015, fifty years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote.  As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed.  Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood and sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, stands weakened, its future subject to partisan rancor.

lyndonjohnsonHow can that be?  The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic effort.  President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office.  President Bush signed its renewal when he was in office.  One hundred Members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right it protects.  If we want to honor this day, let these hundred go back to Washington, and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore the law this year.

“The imperative of citizenship.” Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or the President alone.  If every new voter suppression law was struck down today, we’d still have one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples.  Fifty years ago, registering to vote here in Selma and much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar or bubbles on a bar of soap.  It meant risking your dignity, and sometimes, your life.  What is our excuse today for not voting?  How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought?  How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future?

Fellow marchers, so much has changed in fifty years.  We’ve endured war, and fashioned peace.  We’ve seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives, and take for granted convenience our parents might scarcely imagine.  But what has not changed is the imperative of citizenship, that willingness of a 26 year-old deacon, or a Unitarian minister, or a young mother of five, to decide they loved this country so much that they’d risk everything to realize its promise.

That’s what it means to love America.  That’s what it means to believe in America.  That’s what it means when we say America is exceptional.

For we were born of change.  We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights.  We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people.  That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction, because we know our efforts matter.  We know America is what we make of it.

“That’s what America is.” We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea – pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, entrepreneurs and hucksters.  That’s our spirit.

Sojourner-Truth-2173036xWe are Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, women who could do as much as any man and then some; and we’re Susan B. Anthony, who shook the system until the law reflected that truth.  That’s our character.

We’re the immigrants who stowed away on ships to reach these shores, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free – Holocaust survivors, Soviet defectors, the Lost Boys of Sudan.  We are the hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande because they want their kids to know a better life.  That’s how we came to be.

We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South.  We’re the ranch hands and cowboys who opened the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers’ rights.

We’re the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent, and we’re the Tuskeegee Airmen, Navajo code-talkers, and Japanese-Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied.  We’re the firefighters who rushed into those buildings on 9/11, and the volunteers who signed up to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We are the gay Americans whose blood ran on the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge.

We are storytellers, writers, poets, and artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told.

We are the inventors of gospel and jazz and the blues, bluegrass and country, hip-hop and rock and roll, our very own sounds with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.

We are Jackie Robinson, enduring scorn and spiked cleats and pitches coming straight to his head, and stealing home in the World Series anyway.

We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of, who “build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.”

We are the people Emerson wrote of, “who for truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long;” who are “never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”

That’s what America is.  Not stock photos or airbrushed history or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American as others.  We respect the past, but we don’t pine for it.  We don’t fear the future; we grab for it.  America is not some fragile thing; we are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes.  We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit.  That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe age of 25 could lead a mighty march.

“The single most powerful word.” And that’s what the young people here today and listening all across the country must take away from this day.  You are America.  Unconstrained by habits and convention.  Unencumbered by what is, and ready to seize what ought to be.  For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, and new ground to cover, and bridges to be crossed.  And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.

Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person.

Because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.”  We The People.  We Shall Overcome.  Yes We Can.  It is owned by no one.  It belongs to everyone.  Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.

pettus2Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished.  But we are getting closer.  Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding, our union is not yet perfect.  But we are getting closer.  Our job’s easier because somebody already got us through that first mile.  Somebody already got us over that bridge.  When it feels the road’s too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not be faint.”

We honor those who walked so we could run.  We must run so our children soar.  And we will not grow weary.  For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.

May He bless those warriors of justice no longer with us, and bless the United States of America.

Gay Old Party: Reflections on the Log Cabin Vote

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

republicanBy Hank Plante
Special to Calbuzz

Suddenly, the California Republican Party is as gay as IKEA on Super Bowl Sunday. Okay, not exactly.

Still, it was a momentous vote, when the California Republican Convention last weekend officially recognized its gay wing, the Log Cabin Republicans with “charter status.”

It’s a huge victory for conservative gay activists like state Log Cabin President Charles T. Moran, who told me after the vote, “I’m excited.  Really, more than anything what this means is the Republican Party realizes and has affirmed the work we do to take our conservative message to disaffected Independents and Democrats to let them know they have a home in the Republican Party.”

Acceptance by the party’s base of activists comes after years of work by people like Ritch Colbert, former head of the Los Angeles Log Cabin chapter, who remembers how tough it was:

“People were always very curious about Log Cabin, but invariably we would encounter resistance — people who thought we weren’t really Republicans or that we didn’t belong,” Colbert says. “But it’s also fair to say there were supporters and people who encouraged us. . . It’s just that we never had supporters in sufficient numbers to become sanctioned and chartered.”

frankHow GOP-gay marriage went bad: The Republican alienation of gays and lesbians never had to happen, says Frank Ricchiazzi, who co-founded the national Log Cabin Republicans in 1977*. Speaking from his Laguna Beach home, Ricchiazzi recalls that at one time in California, “gays and lesbians were registering Republican” at the same percentage as the population.

Ricchiazzi blames the conservative activist group, the California Republican Assembly, for alienating gays. “We watched the state Republican party diminish in Republican registered voters because of the intolerance of the CRA and poison in the state Republican Party,” Ricchiazzi says.

But the weekend vote puts the state party in line with what many have known for decades: there always have been gays and lesbians involved in Republican politics, both as organizers and as voters. The party’s vote for inclusion removes much of the hypocrisy that pretends gays don’t exist in big numbers in the Republican world.

Consider that George W. Bush got 25 percent of the gay and lesbian vote in 2000, according to exit polls compiled by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research.

And even in 2004, when Karl Rove led the way in putting anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballots of 11 states, Bush still got 23% of the gay vote. Four years later, when nominee John McCain came out against same-sex marriage, it was despite his own Senate chief-of-staff being a gay man.

Fast forward another four years to Mitt Romney, who also opposed marriage equality, without mentioning that he ran for Senate against Ted Kennedy saying, “I’ll be better than Ted for gay rights.”

Grindr_CPACGrindr conservatives: Times have changed.  At last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference annual convention,  any talk about gay marriage was “a non-starter,” reported Time Magazine. Much more interesting at CPAC were all the people who were using the app for Grindr, the gay hook-up and dating site.

Reporter Paul Detrick of Reason TV tracked Grindr usage at the convention, and he even managed to interview a few of the many Grindr Republicans on camera.

When Jeb Bush was asked about same-sex marriage at CPAC, he would only say, “I believe in traditional marriage.” He didn’t mention that he had just appointed an openly gay GOP operative as communications director for his upcoming campaign.

Bush has also called for “respect for the good people on all sides of the gay marriage issue.” The fact is, Bush and every other Republican knows what the future looks like – that future being as close as 2016.

The Washington Post reported last week on “The most surprising gay marriage poll we’ve seen in a long while.”  That’s the poll from NBC News and Marist College that shows half the voters in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina say opposition to gay marriage is “unacceptable” in a candidate.


Still a wedge issue? All of this theoretically might mean more LGBT voters could go Republican, especially since gay rights groups are clearly willing to support GOP allies.  Equality California, the state’s most powerful LGBT political organization, gave a 100% score on gay rights to Republican Assemblyman Brian Mainschein and State Senator Anthony Cannella in 2014.

EQCA’s executive director, Rick Zbur warns, however, that with “Other members of the Republican Party using antiquated, offensive terms like ‘gay lifestyle and agenda’ to describe their party’s embrace of LGBT people, clearly we must continue education about equality across California and beyond.”

Zbur adds, “We’ve also seen Republican candidates continue to use our community as a wedge issue in campaigns just last year, so our work at EQCA is far from over.”

HankPlante2That’s a good note of caution, given the Republicans’ history, as the state party comes out of the closet to court its gay and lesbian members.

Hank Plante is an Emmy and Peabody-winning reporter who has covered California politics for three decades.  He is also the Palm Springs Bureau Chief of Calbuzz.

* Calbuzz is informed by Christopher Bowman that Concerned Republicans for Individual Rights was founded Aug. 2, 1977 in San Francisco and Log Cabin Republicans in Los Angeles was founded later that month. These groups and CRIR chapters in San Diego and Orange County merged in 1987 to form what became known as the Log Cabin Republicans of California. In 1992 the Log Cabin Federation was formed, followed by the National Log Cabin office in 1994.