“If I asked for a show of hands on impeachment, I know what I’d get,” Congressman Xavier Becerra told the jubilant crowd of 100 or more packed into the new local Democratic Party headquarters in Highland Park this past Wednesday night. “You’re a bunch of liberals—progressives. There would be 150 hands in the air saying, ‘put impeachment back on the table.’”
The meeting site—officially the Northeast Democratic Community Headquarters—is a collaborative effort between the LA’s Northeast Democratic Club, Stonewall Democratic Club, and Urban Democratic Action Council. It occupies what was until very recently a hair salon in a strip mall next to the Gold Line Metrorail tracks on North Figueroa Boulevard.
“And if I asked you about the war in Iraq,” said Becerra, who since 1992 has represented the 31st Congressional District, which includes the new headquarters site. “There’d be 250 hands in the air saying the troops should have been brought home last year.”
The headquarters team, led by NEDC President Bill Rumble, Stonewall President John Cleary, Carol Jacques, Colleen Colson, and Tony Scudellari, among others, indicates that the office will serve especially for voter registration and get out the vote efforts in Highland Park and surrounding communities where voter turnout is often quite low.
“But many of you are old hands in politics. You’ve been in the trenches for years,” continued Becerra, who is a close confidante and assistant to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has come under intense heat lately for her decision to keep impeachment off the table. “You know that we’ve got a big ship there in Washington—the Titanic—with a lot of right-wing momentum pushing it forward. It isn’t easy to stop that ship and turn it.”
Indeed, the people crowding the room, young and old, were political worker bees—the kind of people who set up tables at farmers markets, who go door to door to elect this year’s crop of Democrats, who put on fund-raisers in their homes, who staff campaign headquarters.
“But if you can stop that ship, if you can start to turn it,” said Becerra. “You can get the momentum going in your direction and really get something done—with healthcare, with jobs, with ending the war, with all the things Democrats care about—and that’s what we’re doing with this election.”
Against the back wall, you had long-time union leaders Paul Ahrens and Ralph Miller. Next to them were gay rights leaders John Cleary and Carl Matthes. Closer in was newcomer Ana Mascarenas pushing for cityhood for East Los Angeles standing next to Carol Jacques and Sandra Figueroa who have worked with the Chicano rights movement for decades. And up front were veterans rights advocates Thom O’Shaunnessy and, well, me.
“Now, Barack has taken some positions lately that I don’t support myself,” said Becerra, perhaps referring to the FISA vote or the equivocal stance on gay marriage. Xavier came out early for Obama, joining a fellow Angelinos Yolie Flores Aguilar, Gil Cedillo, Gloria Romero, and Maria Elena Durazo in bucking the more general LA Latino rush to Hillary Clinton. “But we need to put that aside and get behind him in this very special year.”
A genuine affection for Becerra was evident among the political ground troops in that room, as there was for Councilmembers Ed Reyes and Jose Huizar, who spoke earlier that evening—Huizar briefly before ducking out with his wife Richelle for a long-promised date night. Perhaps they earn that affection for showing up for events like this one on a hot night in a gritty part of town when the Olympics is on TV.
Rep. Xavier Becerra and NEDC member Elliot Sekular at top
Councilmember Jose Huizar, second
Councilmember Reyes and Tony Scudellari, third
Eric Bauman, fourth
Portantino staff member Elizabeth Garcia, Sharon Kyle, Proposition 8 leader Amy Yeager, fifth
Robert Nakahiro, Tony Scudellari, and Ana Mascarenas, sixth
Xavier Becerra and Rudy at bottom
“And it is a special year,” said Becerra, who spent 15 minutes after his talk educating a political newcomer named Rudy who my wife Sharon had enticed to the meeting from the Smart & Final next door where we had been sent on a run for ice, bug spray—don’t ask—and coffee cups. “We won’t have this opportunity in four years or eight years; I didn’t think we’d elect a person of color president for another 20 years at least.”
Complementing Xavier’s “Turn the Ship” pitch, LA County Central Committee Chair Eric Bauman ticked off the formerly Republican strongholds throughout California that are falling this year in the Democratic column—Ventura, Stanislaus, Alpine counties, and now Del Norte and maybe even San Bernardino—in his rousing “Big Blue Wave” speech. Bauman also talked about the assembly race in LA’s 36th Assembly District where Democrat Linda K. Jones could turn the red assembly district blue.
“You know it’s going to be a tough race. The Republicans are good at dirty campaigning. They’re going to remind you that Obama is black. They’re going to tell you about the years he spent living outside the U.S. when he was young,” Becerra said, surveying a crowd heavily sprinkled with the faces of first- and second-generation Latinos. “They’re going to tell you he’s not a real American, not one of “us”—without exactly saying it.”
Becerra, Reyes, Huizar—along with Assemblymembers Antonio Portantino and Kevin de Leon, who were tied up in Sacramento arm-wrestling Arnold and the Republicans on the budget—together contributed $12,000 to support the new headquarters. Members for the three sponsoring groups will pony up the rest by putting on fundraisers in their homes.
“The last time I felt this kind of excitement with a candidate was in 1968 with Bobby Kennedy. That ended here in the Ambassador Hotel on June 5th, 1968,” Becerra concluded. “This is our chance to make the kind of changes we might have made then.”
by Dick Price
Editor, LA Progressive
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