Scenes from the “Labor” Flag Day: SQS, RINO’s, Teamsters and Toll Lanes!


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Remember that Flag Day event I played piano for on Saturday? I used to think of it as a Democrat, or as THE OC Democrat Flag Day event. I guess it’s still what passes for one. And there were some good Democrat friends of mine there, but more good OC Democrats were notable for their absence (some at Jeff Le Tourneau’s wedding for example) and several RINO’s (Republicans in name only) fit right in! We’ll meet them later.

I used to also think of it as a Labor, or union Flag Day event. But I realized, as Greg has been telling me for a while, that it’s really just a fragment – the more reactionary fragment – of OC labor – that puts the thing on. The Teamsters and the Building Trades. There’s no OCEA and Berardino, no Unite Here or Altman, no Julio Perez.  Just the few unions who fight for the crooked and destructive projects many of us oppose, and the Democrats and Republicans who back those projects.

Well though… let’s start with the Democrats that I still get along with.  I finally met Dr. Sue Savary, who is now Dana Rohrabacher’s Democratic opponent for Congress;  she tells me that her Republican open primary opponent Wendy Leece has endorsed her against Dana and is encouraging everyone who voted for her to vote for Sue.  That deserves its own story, when I interview Sue.  Wendy’s votes would theoretically get Sue up to a healthy 46%, and maybe even higher with better Dem turnout in November!

On the other hand, my pal Jim Moreno, having barely missed making second place against Michelle Steel and Allan Mansoor, told the story of Allan calling him recently and asking for his endorsement, and Jim responding that “votes are still being counted.” (Hmmm.) I had promised to back whoever made it against the out-of-touch, carpetbagging Steel, but I can see how that would be difficult for Jim if the main policy difference between the two Republicans is that Allan’s more of a labor-bashing pension slasher.

Jose Solorio is still trying to put lipstick on his poor June 3 showing against Janet Nguyen.   One doesn’t get the impression he grasps how important this race is to many of us.  It’s not just the Dem’s Senate super-majority;  we also want to neutralize one of our county’s most tirelessly corrupt politicos, and a lot of Republicans would be on board with that if they knew all the facts.  He’s got four months to make up at least 20%.  He’s promised to meet with me and other folks I know who have ideas about making inroads into the communities around here that don’t know him, things that wouldn’t occur to his LA-based campaign manager Ricky Ross.  Come on, Jose, there’s a lot of us who want to help, but you can’t fight Janet passively!

Then there was Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who at first seemed to be snubbing me.  (A lot of other Democrats were DEFINITELY snubbing me, but Sharon was just a little pissed.)  Finally she grinned, “No matter what I do, Vern, I’m just not strong enough or brave enough or bold enough for you!  You have no idea how many different interests and arguments I have to take into account in the assembly!  And you call Chris Norby a bold ‘maverick’, and me, I’m just ‘no use on the Drug War and police reform.’”

“Hey, I was careful to be nice to you in that Norby piece.  I did say good things about you! I do want you to beat Young Kim, and THEN be a braver, better assemblywoman.”  She told me why she didn’t agree to those last-minute debate requests from Chris in 2012;  Greg’s already printed that here.  We agreed that it would be SU-WEET if she could get the lightweight and snotty Young Kim to debate her.  Hey – isn’t this getting a little backwards?  It’s usually the challenger that’s begging for that kind of spotlight – ever since Lincoln chased down Steven Douglas.

Then I said,  “Hey, remember how Chris told me that his biggest regret in the assembly was not coming out for immigration reform, and how he’d planned to do that in his third year, but he never got a third year?  What would YOU want to do in your third year that you didn’t feel able to do in your first two?”

“You know, Vern… that’s a really good question.  I’ll have think about that and get back to you.”  Allright, assemblywoman.  The Orange Juice will take you up on that.  And we should talk each month, because we still have high hopes for you!

But the remarkable thing was that how more and more Democrats who used to smile and be friendly now avoid looking at me and walk right past me. I’m now persona non grata – to chairman Vandemeir, to “Martie from the Party,” to Ernesto Medrano who once promised we’d talk about 405 toll lanes again when he had more time. The same folks who chased Greg Diamond and Jeff Le Tourneau out of their leadership postions – good company! Our offense is opposing SOME crooked and destructive projects that SOME unions favor – the unions putting on THIS shindig.

IF they say our offense is working with SOME Republicans (basically honest good-government fiscal conservatives like Tom Tait, Bruce Whitaker, Sandy Genis) and criticizing SOME Democrats (like Jordan Brandman) … then they don’t have a leg to stand on.  I mean, look at THEIR Republicans:

The Teamsters’ Pet RINOs

Teamster leader Patrick Kelly plainly said in his partly inspiring speech, “We don’t care what party politicians are in, we’ll work with whoever will work with us!”  That sort of makes good sense, but what do they want to be “worked with” on?  One guy who got a big shout-out from the dais was Huntington Beach council candidate Billy O’Connell, a Republican who tells me that he’s now independent.  And what did he do to get this union support?  He BACKS POSEIDON.   He is the Poseidon candidate, and the Building Trades want Poseidon, they don’t care about how much it costs ratepayers, how crooked the company is, or what it does to Huntington Beach’s ocean.  Joe Shaw (who wasn’t there) already told me about O’Connell, and how these unions told him and Connie Boardman that – even though Joe and Connie have been very fair with their city employees – they’re going to back O’Connell over them because the 2000 TEMPORARY jobs (only 25 permanent) are that important to them.   I don’t know though – Billy didn’t really seem too smart or charismatic.  And the real right-wingers in HB are backing other folks.  I would still have my money on Joe, Connie, and a continuing anti-Poseidon council.

Then there’s Fullerton’s perennial council candidate Rick Alvarez, who I think will finally remember who I am.  He showed up to this labor/Dem confab soon after being humiliatingly turned down for an OCGOP endorsement because of his bottomless hunger for union money (and was gladhanding with Sharon and her husband, which I found disquieting.)  This guy is the most valueless politician around, he stands for nothing, or at least nothing proudly.  I asked him, “So are you a Republican or Democrat now?”  and he shot back, “I’m an American!”  And I responded, “That answer reminds me of the time I tried to get an answer from you about whether you support Chevron’s development of Coyote Hills!”  Then he looked closer at me … and I think his memory started to come back.

Do you remember that?  It was that 2012 forum at my church in Fullerton, and Rick was running along with Dems Jan Flory and Kitty Jaramillo as a “Golden Ticket” – basically to help save the Fullerton PD from the Bushala crowd’s threats of reform.  And I knew that both Jan and Rick backed Chevron’s plan to develop Coyote Hills, the town’s last large open space, and I knew that position would be pretty unpopular with most of the crowd there, so I broke protocol to demand an explanation.  And Rick was actually RIGHTEOUSLY PISSED at me for asking such a question.  “It doesn’t MATTER what MY position is on that, the PEOPLE are going to vote on it.”  I think nobody there found that dodge convincing, and my pal Jane Rands piped up, “Rick, you told the Chamber of Commerce that you support Chevron’s plan, why can’t you tell the rest of us?”  (Flory to her credit gave a sad-eyed, resigned, and wrong-headed lecture on why she thought Chevron’s plan was the best Fullerton and environmentalists could get.)

Then some time last year, Rick showed up to one of my shows at that same church, and didn’t remember me.  I asked, “Are you going to run for council again?”  He answered, “If people want me to!”  I responded, “People like Dick Ackerman?”  And he smiled, “Exactly!”  (Ackerman is the crooked old RINO power broker in the area;  former Senate minority leader and lawbreaking Judas of the Fairgrounds.)

But why is Rick running for council now, and why is he being feted by the Teamsters and Building Trades?  Is he just running for personal ambition?  It’s not like there’s a looming danger of police reform in Fullerton right now, for Rick to protect the FPD from.  Still to be figured out…

Why Teamster Chief Patrick Kelly wants Toll Lanes on OC “Freeways”

So, here’s what we’re dealing with.  I’m grateful to Jim Moreno for introducing me to Patrick Kelly, whom I’ve watched with confusion and trepidation for years.  He gives fiery speeches on behalf of the most bone-headed schemes, giving them a working-class authority.  What could I say to him, in a short amount of time, while I was busy playing Malaguena?  His passionate support for Alternative 3 – toll lanes on the 405 freeway – instead of the Alternative 2 (two new FREE lanes) is one of his crusades that made the LEAST sense to me, so I asked him:

“Hey, let’s not get mad at each other, I just want to ask you – why do you guys want Toll Lanes on the 405 instead of new free lanes?  I mean, it’d basically be about the same amount of work either way as far as I can tell, wouldn’t it?  And you’d probably get to work a lot quicker with Alternative 2, because people wouldn’t be trying to stop that with lawsuits!”

“Well, Vern.  My main concern is with my truck drivers.  We want the alternative that will provide the best ‘throughput’ for everybody, the traffic is just so slow, it’s eating up the drivers’ day, and their paychecks.”

That did not make any sense.  “That doesn’t make sense.  You realize your truckdrivers are not going to get to use the toll lanes, don’t you?  They’ll be stuck in the general purpose lanes with the rest of us.  It’s Alternative 2, the free lanes, that will speed things up for them the most.  OCTA’s own studies say so!”

“Well, Vern, sometimes you gotta take the long view, the larger view.”  (Funny how when people say that, it’s often because their other arguments aren’t standing up.  Often.)  “If you defeat toll lanes now, they’ll just be back in a few years wanting toll lanes again.”

“And so we give up and give it to them?  I know they want the revenue, but we’re paying our M-2 sales taxes already!”

“YES, they need the revenue.  Otherwise they’re not going to be able to keep paying busdrivers.”  This was a LITTLE similar to the late Gus Ayer’s theory, which was “There’s probably a secret deal between (OCTA CEO) Will Kempton and Patrick Kelly that if the Teamsters back Toll Lanes, the OCTA will hire ten new union busdrivers or something.”

Anyway, THIS is the kind of nonsense that half of the Democratic party is ostracizing the other half of the Democratic party over – Greg’s opposition to 405 toll lanes was on the unions’ list of complaints about him when they demanded his ouster, and they can’t formulate a sensible defense for them.

Nicest guy there was Souhail Toubia, M.D., the Lebanese-American doctor, businessman and activist [shoulda taken a pic] who was given a social justice award, after a nice talk by “Godfather” Ray Cordova about all the racism and oppression OC Muslims face.  Dr. Toubia and his wife sat in the front while I was playing, clapped and made requests, while many of the Democrats there were just asking me to turn it down.  And then when he got up to give his speech, he started “First of all I want to thank Vern Nelson for playing my favorite song, Imagine, which I would like to quote:

“You may say we’re just dreamers
But we’re not the only ones.
We hope some day you’ll join us,
and the world will live as one!”

Okay.  That was a decent way to finish things off…


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County. Performs regularly with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem, and at regular concerts at the Huntington Beach Central Library.