On Deportation Resolution, Why Did Jordan Brandman Kick the Ball into His Own Goal?

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1. The News Vans Showed Up in Anaheim This Tuesday and It Wasn’t Obvious Why

Channel 4 and Channel 52 were in attendance at Tuesday’s Anaheim City Council meeting, so it was clear that something was up.  Nothing on the agenda seemed to scream out for such treatment.  Judging from Public Comments, most people in the audience who weren’t regulars or being specially honored seemed to be interested in Agenda Item 21.  That item dealt with the city’s interminable parking issues — largely a scar of previous Councils underregulating building and thus allowing more residents per street than there was street for their cars.  (“Oops.”)

A smattering of people spoke about Item 22, an unheralded resolution not only

“expressing support for comprehensive federal immigration reform and urging the 113th Congress to enact reforms that secure our borders, ensure economic strength and promote stronger communities”

something that the Council had, what’s the proper term for it?, already done last year, but also

“now further urging President Obama and the Federal Government to protect our families from destructive and needless immigration deportations by suspending further deportations and expanding the successful deferred action program to individuals with no serious criminal history.”

That Channel 52 is Telemundo should have been a hint that this was the item about which someone had alerted the media.  But this struck me, innocently unaware in the audience, as surprising; after all, it was on the consent calendar.

Many of you probably don’t know what that means, right?  Let’s start there.

2. The Consent Calendar is Like a Large Hunk of Meat Being Eaten by a Hungry Dog

On a City Council Agenda — and the agendas of many other deliberative bodies — a Consent Calendar is there to save time.  Many items that to be approved are uncontroversial; they don’t necessarily require a separate vote.  So the Consent Calendar is where the City Manager puts items that don’t necessarily seem to require discussion or a separate vote.  Sometimes things make it onto the calendar that seem to be sneaking their way through, though usually City Manager Marcie Edwards has been pretty good about not doing that.  If there’s anything that anyone on the Council — or in other bodies — want to discuss or vote upon, they can ask that it be pulled from the Consent Calendar, subjected to discussion, and voted on separately.

Getting something onto the consent calendar is usually a treat.  Everything not taken off of it is wolfed down in one big gite.  But, so long as one is confident that an agenda item is going to pass, sometimes people take it off simply because they want to honor someone by, for example recognizing their hard work; it’s only there as a time-saver, after all, and some things a worth taking a little time.  (A few meetings ago we had a spectacularly weird blow-up at Democratic Party of Orange County meeting where we spent something like 20 minutes arguing about whether to take three items off of a Consent Calendar when those items would have taken five minutes total combined.  Parliamentary procedure is a harsh mistress.)

One thing you generally don’t want to do, if you have an item on the Consent Calendar, is to pull it off yourself — because it’s literally a few seconds from being approved if you don’t do anything, unless someone else decides to get their hands dirty and object to it.

And yet that is exactly what Jordan Brandman did.  And upon being debated, his resolution failed — by a vote of 4-1.  (He may have known that someone was going to bring up her amendment — but if so, he didn’t let on, and he somehow forgot to even move for the approval of his own motion before she did so, setting off the clunky parliamentary dance.)

In soccer, playing in a way that gets the ball knocked into your own net is called an “own goal.”  In soccer, though, the goal is to outscore the other team.  Politics can be a bit more complicated than that.  Sometimes — and I’m not saying that this is one of them — people score own goals for a reason.  Sometimes they think that they can win by losing.

Whatever the reason, Brandman’s pulling his item off of the Consent Calendar seemed to represent an “own goal.”  As in: “It didn’t pass?  Oops!”  And no one — not even his best friend on Council, who came armed with an amendment to sabotage his proposed resolution — had to pay the political price for it, because he’s the one who didn’t didn’t let it pass.

Own Goal

3.  Feverish

Jordan Brandman had a fever last Tuesday night, something that he mentioned repeatedly from the dais.  (If whatever he had was communicable, then Michael Houston probably has one today, because Brandman repeatedly loped over to the City Attorney’s side, cheek by jowl, animatedly asking Houston a series of questions about something or other.  If Houston needs help with a Workers’ Comp claim, I know someone good.)

His fever might plausibly explain why he pulled the item off the consent calendar himself instead of daring anyone else to do it.  (Some questionable things that one member really wants can sometimes make it past the rest of a Council if they can politely and plausibly pretend that they weren’t paying close enough attention; this item initially had the look of that.)  But there was another possible reason other than a large public brain burp — something that I really wanted to believe was not the motivation.  I had myself convinced, in fact, that Jordan was just slightly brain-fried for a while — until I saw an article on the meeting by — yes, yet again — Dan Chmielewski in “the Once-Liberal OC.”  (I’m not going to link to it; I’ll refer to the relevant portions.)

More on that in a moment, though.

What happened directly in the wake of Brandman’s pulling the item was this: (1) Brandman gave what had he not been feverish might have been a stirring speech about the problems with deportations, (2) Kris Murray — who had not pulled the item despite what I’m going to about to tell you about what she did do — introduced an amendment that for some reason people didn’t recognize as a “substitute motion” (one amending the bill in whole or large part rather than in a limited way), leading to a clumsy dance of parliamentary procedure between the Council and City Attorney-cum-Parliamentarian that looked like orangutans playing shuffleboard on ice, and (3) all three of Brandman’s fellow members of the Republican Party and the sole dissenter from that majority (Mayor Tom Tait) said — without enthusiasm, and often with some halting confusion — that while they were sympathetic to immigration reform, they didn’t think that the Council should tell the President to break the law, so they would vote “no.”

This was one of the moments that one might justifiably have wished that Brown Act could be suspended in some sort of “mercy rule” circumstances, because if a group was going to choreograph a charade, at least they should be able to practice it to the point where it didn’t look like a bunch of third-graders trying to perform a play by Tom Stoppard.

Own Goal - Hands on Head

Raising one’s hands to the top of one’s head or to cover a portion of one’s face is the universal sign that a teammate has committed an “own goal.” This the the gesture that I may have involuntarily made from the gallery when Brandman pulled his resolution from the Consent Calendar.

4. Were the Naysayers Right?

Were the Republicans on the City Council right?  Well, yes and no.  ”Yes” because, as written, the resolution had a couple of problems.  ”No” because those problems could have been easily addressed with an amendment less dire than what finally happened: chopping the second part out and voting to redo what they had already done.  (Murray’s proposal, as is her wont, was actually much more convoluted than that, and eventually City Manager Houston convinced them that convolution was not ideal.

Let’s pick apart the controversial (and ultimately doomed) portion of the resolution and see if we can spot the problem.

“now further urging President Obama and the Federal Government to protect our families from destructive and needless immigration deportations by suspending further deportations and expanding the successful deferred action program to individuals with no serious criminal history.”

(1) “urging President Obama and the Federal Government”:  this was good,  because it made it clear that the resolution was not addressed only at President Obama (and thus at telling him to break the law), but also at the rest of the Federal Government, part of which is Congress, which makes laws and therefore could pass a law that could do good things rather than requiring the President to, arguably, break the law.  Brandman did not make this argument, though.  (He had a fever, you know.)

To really make this work, the resolution should have called for “Congress to enact legislation, and the President to sign such legislation and, in the interim, to exercise his executive discretion to the fullest extent permitted by law.”  That would have taken away the entire “we don’t want the President to break the law” argument.  The main question is: should he do all that he can do.  A subordinate question is: should he be as bold as possible — George W. Bush-level bold — in asserting his right to act, but there you’re getting into some pretty murky territory for a mere resolution.  I’d have settled happily for the language I suggest above.  (Maybe one or more Council members would have too.)

(2) “protect our families from destructive and needless immigration deportations”:  this is where some of us will disagree.  I think that “destructive and needless immigration deportations” are bad, because … well, because (a) they’re destructive and (b) they’re needless.  Some people may favor them despite their being destructive and needless, for example because they think that being destructive is constructive and needless destruction is the most constructive at all.  (In other contexts, we call this “terrorism.”)  But I don’t think that this is the part that gave the majority pause.

(3) “suspending further deportations”:  this part is probably bad, because it is overbroad.  Not many people, including most immigration activists, seriously think that our country should suspend ALL deportations.  That’s extreme.  I don’t know whether Brandman intended this — I highly doubt that he personally favors it, but he may have thought that it would appeal to Anaheim’s Latinos — but it seems probable that he meant to refer only to “destructive and needless” immigration deportations.  Unfortunately, that’s not how it reads.  (And indeed, one could call for a halt to ALL deportations for fear of deporting even a single person who didn’t deserve it, which is for example a perfectly respectable position to make regarding capital punishment.)For future reference, all Brandman would have had to do to clarify this was to include the word “such”: “suspending further such deportations.”  That would have made clear that he only had in mind a modest, and likely lawful, reform.  I’d be interested, and by “interested” I mean “slightly curious,” as to whether Brandman does hold such an absolutist position.  As I said — I doubt it.

The impact of this, though, was to allow opponents an out.  Now they could oppose the resolution because Brandman appeared to be calling for an end to deportation period, which if the President did so without the consent of Congress might well move from a lawful exercise of his discretion as Chief Executive to lawless abrogation of Congressional will.  As a result, their vote tells us almost nothing about their views on immigration, because as written is really does sort of look like it’s calling for Obama to disregard the law and put the deportation machine out of commission altogether.

By the way: all that Brandman would have had to do to clear up this ambiguity was to add a single word: “such.”  If he had wanted to refer to only “destructive and needless” ones, it should have read by suspending further SUCH deportations.”  That was a plausible construction of the sentence, but not at all a compelling one.  It was hard for me to restrain myself from screaming “SUCH, YOU JACKANAPES, ADD ‘SUCH’ AFTER ‘FURTHER’” from the gallery, but the fact that I am not currently in jail demonstrates that I did not do so.

(4) “expanding the successful deferred action program to individuals with no serious criminal history”: and here’s the real pity – this is something that I would  like to see the Council consider.  The “deferred action program” (essentially, “we may want to deport you later, but for now you’re cool”) has been successful and I think that it should apply to those without serious criminal defenses.  I’d be interested if knowing whether the four who voted “no” would agree with this.  But one can’t reasonably say that they don’t, because their vote may have been determined by the previous points.

So let’s put that all together:

“now further urging Congress to enact legislation, and President Obama to sign such legislation and in the interim, to exercise his executive discretion to the fullest extent permitted by law, to protect our families from destructive and needless immigration deportations by suspending further such deportations and expanding the successful deferred action program to individuals with no serious criminal history.”

If any member of the Anaheim City Council likes this wording, they’re welcome to take a whack at it at their next opportunity.

5. Well At Least It Wasn’t a PR Stunt — Right?

I thought — I wanted to think, and so with effort I convinced myself — that this was not just some sort of a PR stunt to get Brandman on video supporting immigration reform and the Republicans on video as unreasonably opposing it.  If any of them really did unreasonably oppose it, I’d have no problem calling them on it — and that includes Mayor Tait.  But as it stands, if any of them got flak for voting no on the proposal as worded because they said that they thought that it was calling on the President to knowingly break the law, out of fairness I’d have to defend them, and that goes for Murray, Kring, and Eastman too.

The thing that would look really bad — that would make it look like a stunt — would be if someone claimed that Brandman had done something truly noble to support Latinos — ignoring his “own goal” taking it off the Consent Calendar like some semi-sentient meatball — and quoting only his sole “enemy” on the Council, Mayor Tait, as supposedly being anti-Latino.

That would make it look like, far from failing, Brandman got almost exactly what he wanted.  He came across as the sole person on the Council who cared about Latinos — but he did so without actually getting the resolution passed and having to be considered responsible for it — and that he gave his friends a legitimate out by writing a crappy version of the resolution while still damning his enemy because the “bumper-sticker” version of what happened — “TAIT VOTED AGAINST STOPPING DEPORTATION OF NON-VIOLENT LATINOS” — takes five seconds to say and five minutes to rebut with appropriate context.

That would be so cynical that I simply didn’t want to believe — still don’t want to believe — that it’s what was going on.  I take making charges of bigotry against someone so seriously — I’ve made them against Ed Royce, and I will stand by every such allegation — that I don’t want them cheapened by mixing in bullshit allegations that make the eye-rollers think that they’re justified in thinking that we liberals are always calling wolf – which we are not.

That sort of thing would really piss me off.  It would be disrespectful of Latinos and others harmed by these policies.

(You can already see where this is going to go, can’t you?)

6. Dan the C Gives Away the Game

So Dan Chmielewski wrote an article — “Anaheim City Council Rejects Brandman’s Call to Have President End Deportations” — that did exactly what I feared.  Don’t bother reading it; I’ll recap.

There’s only one Democrat on the Anaheim City Council and last Tuesday’s City Council meeting proved it as the four Republicans on the council rejected Council member Jordan Brandman’s proposal to have to city communicate to President Obama a desire to end deportations of undocumented immigrants in the city.  The proposal Brandman offered was almost identical to one adopted in last month by the Los Angeles City Council and supported by 29 Congressional Democrats, according to the Los Angeles Times.

You know, I think that the Republican Party has a big problem nowadays with bigotry and I will call Republicans on their bigotry wherever I see it.  But not all Republicans are bigoted — and when bigotry is asserted I think that the case should be compelling.  For reasons expressed above, this case was not compelling.  If you want a compelling case, propose and have the Council vote on the language that I propose above — and I sure that others could improve on it.

Dan C then quotes from the Times:

“Brandman’s resolution called on the city to write a letter asking Obama to expand the deferred action program to include all undocumented immigrants without serious criminal histories.

The program, which was announced by Obama in June 2012, has allowed hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally.

In response to a protester calling on him to end deportations, Obama said in November he does not have the power to do so.

Brandman said he decided to push the resolution after he was approached by locallabor groups, including Teamsters Local 952, the SEIU and Justice for Janitors.”

If those groups (rather than Brandman) wrote the resolution, I’d be happy to vet the resolutions they propose in the future so that there isn’t going to be a defensible reason to oppose them.  Ditto if Brandman (or one of his friends like Dan C or Matt C) did so.

At first I thought that the following was part of the Times story — but it isn’t.  Dan C continues:

From the dais, Tait said:  “To ask a president to ignore a law, to ignore an oath that he took, I don’t think it’s good for a mayor to do that.”

Instead, the council adopted  a position to restate a resolution they passed in 2013 that supports immigration reform that includes a path to residency and/or citizenship for undocumented immigrants here today.

And, indeed, it really is a problem to ask a President to ignore his Article II, Section 3, obligation to ”take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”  Of course, if properly written, this resolution would not be asking the President to do so.  As Chief Executive, a President has to deal with problems of ambiguity within laws and contradictions between them — one of the main contradictions coming when Congress allocates too little money to allow for “faithful execution” of the laws.

I can’t recall ever discussing immigration reform with Tom Tait, but if I did I’d say that it’s reasonable to suggest to a President that, given the inherent contradiction of limited resources to enforce too many laws, it makes sense for that President to draw a line excluding those with “no serious criminal history” from deportation until, say, we’re spending enough on enforcing other laws such as meat inspections and going after corporate criminals and sexual battery and all that we really have the spare resources to get down to such a priority.

And, you know what?  I don’t know that he’d disagree with me.  (Other conservatives would agree.)  In any case, I certainly don’t know that based on this flimsy evidence.  All we know is that he and his Republican colleagues are not for an absolute moratorium on deporting anyone at all.

Dan and maybe Jordan Brandman — but I hope not Lorri Galloway — may have in mind a spot in a campaign mailer along the lines that “Tait wants to keep deporting Latinos!”  That’s “good politics,” according to the experts, but it relies on treating the Latinos at whom the pitch is directed like chumps.  As someone who has pledged to both of them that so long as I’m a DPOC Officer I will not support Tait over Galloway, I truly hope that Lorri doesn’t let herself be drawn by “PR geniuses” into this sort of cynical smarm.

If there’s a legitimate and substantive difference between Galloway and Tait on immigration – and why didn’t Dan quote Lucille Kring, by the way? — then I’m totally in favor of Galloway identifying it, nailing it down, and exploiting it.  But I would like to think that this sort of fakery would be beneath her.  It may not be beneath some of her supporters, but if she’s as wise as I hope she is she will distance herself from the worst of them.

Otherwise, she’s going to be out there some day defending the proposition — plausibly included in this resolution as written – that President Obama shouldn’t deport serial rapists in Anaheim if they happen to be Latinos residing here without authorization .  And somehow I expect that if Brandman happens to be on the stage with her when such a question gets asked, he’ll have edged off into the wings before she can turn around and stare at him.

About Greg Diamond

Prolix worker's rights and government accountability attorney and General Counsel of CATER. His anti-corruption work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, leading them to work with the Democratic Party of Orange County Chair and other co-conspirators (who had long detested the internal oversight his presence provided) to remove him from the position of DPOC North Vice Chair of in violation of party rules and any semblance of due process. He also runs for office sometimes. Unless otherwise specifically stated, none of his writings prior to that lawless putsch ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level. He tries to either suppress or openly acknowledge his partisan, issue, ideological, and "good government" biases in most of his writing here. If you have a question about any particular writing, just ask him about it and (unless you are an pseudonymous troll) he will probably answer you at painful length. He lives in Beautiful Bountiful Brea, but while he may brag about it he generally doesn't blog about it. A family member works as a campaign treasurer for candidates including Wendy Gabriella in AD-73; he doesn't directly profit from that relatively small compensation and it doesn't affect his coverage. He does advise some campaigns informally and (except where noted) without compensation.