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Is there anything sadder than these final desperate flailings of former Republican Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman, these flailings for relevance in the twilight of his career? (Sadly, the answer is certainly “yes” – a reflection of the general sorrowful state of Life, the World, and Man – but let’s keep our eye on the ball.)
Seventy-one years old – a few months the senior of our ancient and useless DA Tony Rackauckas – old Dick is a relic of (dare to dream) a gradually vanishing past – a time when
- it was taken for granted that political “service” was mainly about granting ACCESS to favored business interests;
- nobody saw anything wrong with a “revolving door” between political office and lobbying;
- Republican politicians by definition worked hand in glove with public safety unions to get them whatever consideration and lucre their ravenous hearts desired;
- public funds including Redevelopment monies were a bottomless trough to share with and steer toward your friends; and
- the right combination of connections, a wink and a grin would keep you from having to follow any silly law created for so-called “honest governance.”
It’s sad or funny or both that Dick assumed he could gladhand his way from that world, which he’s incapable of leaving at his age, into 1) appointment by old Supervisor friends to a Clerk-Recorder post he knew nothing about; or 2) now into leadership of the OC GOP, which, in the midst of its extended identity crisis, does have a critical mass of members who are trying to be serious about certain “conservative values” antithetical to everything listed above that Old Dick stands for. As witness their vast preference for straight-arrow Anaheim mayor Tom Tait over the gallery of kleptocratic puppets answering to former mayor Curt Pringle.
Judas of the Fairgrounds.
Did I say “silly laws created for so-called ‘honest governance'”? Yes, I seem to remember one of those, the Milton Marks Post Government Employment Restrictions Act of 1990. Technically I believe it’s still on the books, not that anybody takes it seriously any more, now that Old Dick has shown that it’s nothing but a paper tiger. Intended to reduce our state government’s endemic influence-peddling, the statute purports to stop lawmakers from working as lobbyists for the first year after they leave office.
This didn’t stop the Dave Ellis clique on and off the OC Fair Board when they fingered Old Dick, a mere seven months after leaving the Senate, as being the most likely guy to be able to talk his old Sacramento colleagues into voting to auction off the county’s crown jewels for a quick budget fix – an unlikely vote reminiscent of the apocryphal story of beavers biting off their own testicles to appease their attackers. And Dave and Dick were certainly aware of the law they were breaking, as well as the unpopularity of their cause – why else was Dick paid in such a convoluted secretive way, through a series of parking lot contractors?
And Old Dick was ready with a quiver of euphemisms – he was only “consulting,” “acting as a liaison,” “gathering information.” But we have the records of him being paid, and we have the phone records of him calling lawmakers right before the unlikely yes vote, and right after. He still made it through two investigations – a Tony Rackauckas one which is nothing to boast of, and also (apparently) an FPPC one: It seems none of his “collegial” former colleagues felt like telling the lawmen, “Yes, Old Dick lobbied me illegally.” (Although some of them have told me off the record, “We were under a lot of pressure to vote that way.”)
So, to this day, Old Dick goes around saying, “I was cleared of that charge, I was exonerated.” But still, everyone knows what he did – not only was it clearly against the spirit if not the letter of the law, but it was in the mercenary service of a cause that proved poisonously unpopular - the transfer of OC’s greatest public property, at the bottom of the real estate market, to profiteering developers to be named later. Dick cannot shake the nickname we gave him back then, “Judas Of The Fairgrounds,” and I’m told that this was one big nail in his coffin when it came to both the clerk-recorder gig AND his current effort to lead the OC GOP.
AND this Fairgrounds Swindle involvement is a prime example of what seems to be Dick’s main theme these last few years, up to and including “Irvine Cares” – greasing the wheels for private developers to profit off our public property.
The Troubling Case of the Ackerwoman
Did I say “silly laws created for so-called ‘honest governance'”? Yes, I seem to remember another one of those which Old Dick treated as an inconvenience to be skirted (although it took Mimi Walters to really defy it into meaninglessness) – the law that says that California assemblymen and state senators must live in the districts they aim to represent, or alternatively, that they may not lie under oath that they live there.
Another thing that’s sad and/or funny – no, I should say pathetic and/or hilarious – is when a politician is so self-enamored that, not only do they project their deep self-love onto the voting public, but they tell themselves, “My voters love them some Ackerman (Harman/Galloway/Lopez-Maddox) SO much that, deprived of me as they are by the cruelty of term limits, they’ll JUMP at the chance to get the next best thing in office – my SPOUSE!”
Didn’t work, LOL, almost never does. Linda Ackerwoman was TROUNCED by the nonconformist Chris Norby in the 2009 special election (although nearly all powerful GOP politicians, to their everlasting shame, endorsed and contributed to the unqualified Linda.) For one thing, nobody believed the Ackerpersons that they really lived in a rented room in a Fullerton friend’s house – everyone knew about the fancy Irvine place they’d already lived in for years (which you’ll see in the classic video at the bottom of this story.)
Which makes it epically unselfconscious of Old Dick when he begins his Irvine Cares website intro: “Almost ten years ago my wife Linda and I made the decision to move from our home of 29 years in Fullerton to Irvine.” You were lying when, Dick? Never mind, we know.
[Now at least they enjoy the coziness of OC’s (unnecessary, redundant) Metropolitan Water District or “MWDOC,” for whom Dick works as a paid “consultant” while Linda, never accused of having any qualifications, functions as appointed representative from THAT board to the larger, Southern-California-wide MWD. Some consider this a conflict of interest, me it just makes my head hurt.]
I know you’re all wanting to hear about Irvine Cares, but first it’s still worthwhile to point out how long Dick remained (and tries to remain) a behind-the-scenes power broker in his old town of Fullerton. For again, this continues the theme of his bending politics to the desires of his developer clients: Dick’s tireless, indeed ruthless defense of the useless callous Council trio of Jones, Bankhead and McKinley against the Bushala-funded 2012 recall had less to do with defending police brutality and the Kelly Thomas murder than the fact that those three gave in to every whim of his developer client St. Anton’s Partnership.
But it did consolidate Dick on the same side as the murderous, unreformed Fullerton Police Department as he and his puppets went to the mat against both citizen oversight and the worthy idea of dissolving the department and contracting out with the county Sheriff instead. Corporate welfare enthusiast, best friend of police unions … and he wonders sadly why so many conservatives and Republicans have turned against him.
Old Dick’s Fullerton juice has shrunk now to controlling only ONE councilperson, the pliant Jennifer Fitzgerald, but he’s attempting to double that influence this year by backing the remarkably brainless and value-free Rick Alvarez.
“Irvine Cares” … about What?
So. If YOU were Dick Ackerman, with his history and his bit of cachet, and trying to make a name for yourself in Irvine, and the main thing you believed in was smoothing the way for wealthy developers to make as much profit as possible off public lands, you would end up exactly where Old Dick has ended up: as “chairman” of “Irvine Cares.”
But, what IS this “Irvine Cares”? Is it anything more than a cheap and cheesy astroturf website, rife with typos and reposted Register articles? Clicking on the home page, we learn that it is a “project of the Committee That Cares.” (LOL, IKR?)
You will also see – and this might become a problem for them – that the page is “liked” on Facebook by several people YOU know! If your experience is anything like mine and others’, this is a possibly illegal use of the program “Facepile,” and these friends of yours NEVER liked “Irvine Cares.” Personally, it tells ME that four of my Facebook friends have liked the page, and I know for a fact that at least TWO of those – Katherine Daigle and Michael Moon – NEVER liked it and were unaware of it. Katherine in particular finds “Irvine Cares” offensive and wants her name removed posthaste, HELLO?!?
Let’s not kid ourselves – for all its talk of being a “cheerleader” for “good news in Irvine,” this is a partisan website, with a particular, partisan point of view. And only SECONDARILY does that mean cheering the new Republican council majority over Agran’s Democratic minority – more immediately it’s about pushing the interests of Great Park developers FivePoint (a gang so dirty they make the Irvine Company look like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.)
See how they have an entire section celebrating the $1.1 million audit of the Agran team? Whether that audit is necessary or not, overpriced or not, in what way is it “good news” or “cheerleading?”
See their choice of Register articles to reprint (or indeed their choice of ONLY articles from the Register, which seems to be the only paper they read!) See how they have a position on the Orange County Veterans’ Cemetery, which, identically to the position of FivePoint, is “ANYWHERE BUT THE GREAT PARK!” One of the first articles they reprinted approvingly was on the possibility of sticking that cemetery into an inaccessible San Juan location, and when they featured the article on Supervisor Spitzer’s entrance into the fray, they took the liberty to editorialize:
“We hope he looks at the 125,000-acre Camp Pendleton as a possible site. There is a beautiful valley at Basilone Road & I-5 overlooking the Pacific that would be a fitting resting place for our nation’s heroes.”
In other words, anywhere but the perfect, centrally located, easily accessible and formerly-military-base Great Park – which we know FivePoint wants to sell off to mainland Chinese citizens who want to get their money out of their own communist country and who cringe at the “feng shui” of dwelling places near a cemetery. Never mind how the American troops who would be buried there fought for freedom in China and elsewhere. Shameful FivePoint, shameful “Irvine Cares.”
This week KUCI journalist Claudia Shambaugh conducted an expert, subtly devastating interview with Old Dick on her “Ask A Leader” show, grilling him on “Irvine Cares.” You can hear the podcast here, the Dick interview begins halfway through at 27:24. The main takeaways:
- Old Dick absolutely refuses to name ANYBODY else who is involved in this “Committee That Cares.” [29:06 to 31:52 where Claudia gives up.] No matter. We’ve looked it up and the website is registered to Scott W. Graves (right) - former owner of the Red County blog, longtime shill for developers, and notably a resident not of Irvine but Yorba Linda. (Shades of Matt Cunningham, shilling for the power structure of Anaheim on his “AnaheimBlog.net” and opining grandly on how Anaheim taxpayers’ money should be spent… from his vantage point in the city of Orange.)
- Claudia questions Dick as to why Irvine Cares chose to be classified as a 501C4 rather than 501C3 – after a minute of his babble she points out that the C4, unlike the C3, is not obligated to reveal its funding. “I think, I think that is true too also.” “Okay.” [35:38 to 36:33]
- They’ve been using their big e-mail list, swiped from the Voter Registrar, to conduct what is obviously a push-poll, asking respondents to rate in order of importance five different policies the group favors. (No option to register disagreement with any of them, just rate them! 36:40 to 42:35.) The most revealing of these policies is “accelerate the development of Heritage Fields and the Great Park, creating thousands of high-paying jobs and expanding our recreational opportunities,” and judging by the content of their site so far, that’s the group’s priority. Emphasis on the word “development.”
- Funniest of all is when Claudia, feigning to believe Dick’s overriding mission of “sharing good news about Irvine,” lists numerous big, successful features and events taking place at the Great Park [42:38 on] culminating in last fall’s Solar Decathlon - and it turns out that Old Dick has not been to any of them. Over and over he says “I follow these things in the paper.” Great cheerleader here, a real Chris Epting, a real Huell Howser, eh? Claudia wrings out of Dick a promise to go with her to next year’s Solar Decathlon as her date. (After which she segues subtly into what a treasure the OC Fairgrounds are – which of course he also tried to hand over to developers.)
These folks – Irvine’s leading Republican clique, FivePoint, now Irvine Cares – detest any mention of the Solar Decathlon, it really pollutes their Cheerios. The hugely prestigious and successful event (which would have been MORE successful had the Republican majority not sabotaged it at the last minute) is exhibit one for the Agranistas’ work on the Great Park not having been a total waste. And things have just got to be black and white with these people – they can’t say the previous group’s efforts were even partially successful. They want to develop ALL of it for private profit.
While I try to avoid being an apologist for any of Agran’s autocratic or wasteful excesses, if the choice is between keeping the vision of a great public institution versus signing it all off to unscrupulous profiteers, you know where I’ll come down – the opposite side of Old Dick. (Though I prefer figures like Melissa Fox and Katherine Daigle, who are aligned with neither Irvine clique. And I hope that Councilman Jeff Lalloway keeps his promise to break with his Republican colleagues and do the right thing for the Veterans’ Cemetery.)
Let’s end with this nostalgic blast from the past, a past where a guy like Old Dick – in fact Old Dick himself! – was still treated with awestruck reverence by GOP movers and shakers. This cringe-inducing video from blogger Jon Fleischman circa 2007 or so (which I treated satirically here) backfired on Dick when it clearly showed his Irvine digs in the midst of his wife’s Fullerton candidacy. OC GOP chairman? Hah. Even Fleischman, the worshipful protagonist of this film, has discovered a conservative value or two over the intervening years. [Warning – watch on an empty stomach!]