The Tim Tom Club: the La Habra City Council’s Striking Sense of Entitlement

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From right to left: new Mayor Tim Shaw, new Mayor Pro Tem Tom Beamish, and new Neither Rose Espinoza

From right to left: new La Habra Mayor Tim Shaw, new Mayor Pro Tem Tom Beamish, and new Neither Rose Espinoza

I’ve been spoiled to an extent, I now realize, from recently attending City Council meetings in Santa Ana and Irvine .   Santa Ana, though more contentious than you might suspect of a 6-to-1 Democratic Council, handles itself with relative decorum.   Irvine does even better than that: its debates, from both sides of aisle, are reasoned and persuasive, far better than you’d see on C-SPAN.   On the left, you have the David Strathairnian calm and eloquence of Larry Agran and the homestyle commonsense observations of Beth Krom; on the right, the poised and incisive Jeff Lalloway, despite my ideological disagreements with him, has quickly become the Orange County Republican official whom, if I weren’t a wine drinker, I’d most like to have a beer with.

At Monday’s City Council meeting in La Habra, I discovered some of the Orange County Republican officials whom, if I weren’t firmly committed to principles of non-violence, I’d most like to spill a beer on.

I’m not going to try to make a case for this: the case will be made, or not made, by the video you’ll see embedded below.  (If it doesn’t work, here’s the direct link: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10100138120132942).

Given a meager measure of respect, Rose Espinoza rudely and unreasonably asks for more.
“More? Never before has a girl asked for more!”

Like a bunch of other Democrats, I came to La Habra’s City Council meeting as a gesture of respect (unbidden by her, if it matters) for Councilmember Rose Espinoza, she of helping out the children of the community with “Rosie’s Garage.”  She had been passed over last year for what she believed was her scheduled term as Mayor Pro-Tem, from which Councilmembers customarily accede to become Mayor the following year.  She still believed that becoming Mayor this year was her proper place in the rotation, so many of us came simply to show support, sit in silent reproach of the Council, eat their holiday goodies, and then leave.  It’s not much of a protest, but it’s better than nothing — worth, in my case, my putting on a coat and slacks and heading to the northwest corner of OC.

In the public comments section, former Council candidate Daren Nigsarian and Orange County Young Democrats President Nick Anas, both of La Habra, gave their earnest testimonials to the wonderful goodness of Espinoza.  Again, this was pretty much symbolic and non-accusatory — it even strains the concept to call it “protest” at all.

Then, after Anas sat down, the Council settled in for the Mayoral vote.  Young Tim Shaw, Mayor Pro-Tem and Regional Director for State Senator Bob Huff, who had been honored by the City prior to public comment, was nominated for the office as expected.  None of the four men on the council, even mild-mannered Michael Blazey, would nominate Espinoza for Mayor in the face of Shaw’s awesome Pro-Temnitude, so Espinoza nominated herself as a protest and prepared to be voted down.  No sweat; she’s a woman from a minority group and an Orange County Democrat; she’s been through worse.

And then Councilmember Tom Beamish threw what I can only describe as a maudlin and self-pitying hissy fit.

I didn’t start my video from the beginning of his speech because I did not, initially, realize that I was party to something quite so epic.  Boy, was Beamish puhhhissssssed! I paraphrase from reading his body language:

The temerity of Rose Espinoza nominating herself for Mayor!  Who does she think she is?  TEMERITY!!!

Beamish was apparently still nursing a (believe it or not) decade-old grudge from 2002 or so, when his self-described political mentor, the late Councilman Steve Anderson, had been denied the Mayor Pro-Tem-ship under circumstances surprisingly similar to those under which Young Shaw has taken it away from Espinoza.  Beamish, in one of the few gracious moments towards Espinoza, noted that perhaps she, being a new Councilmember at the time, had not understood the La Habra Council’s rules of  Mayoral Succession, by which Anderson should have become Mayor Pro-Tem.  (Espinoza, when she spoke, confirmed that yes, indeed, she had not known those rules as a new Councilmember, but she knew them now and wanted to see them enforced as usual.)  But to Beamish, it was PAYBACK TIME — although one must doubt whether it would have been payback time for a Republican, and one could even doubt whether it would be payback time for a white male Democrat — and he was going to vent his spleen until it was dry.  And that’s what you see on the video.

Conservatives like to talk about the supposed “sense of entitlement” that minorities, women, and other subaltern groups have.  It has long been my impression that this sense of entitlement is a paltry echo of the sense of entitlement held by conservative men (mostly white, but … well, Herman Cain, anyone?) that their privileges are due them, and anyone who stands in the way of the honors they want is, in moral if not legal terms, a thief.  Just get a load of Beamish’s performance and see what you think.  It wasn’t just Espinoza that brought forth his wrath, of course, but Nigsarian and Anas and every other person in the room who had come there to stay by Espinoza as she symbolically lay a claim to what, according to local custom, she believed should have been hers.

“NO!”, Beamish practically shouted, in the midst of his “finest man I have ever known”-style encomium to the sadly early departed Anderson.  To paraphrase him: such a protest has NO PLACE in polite society and Espinoza and the rest of us should be ASHAMED for showing up.

Beamish even said — he really said — that he had been planning to nominate Espinoza for Mayor Pro-Tem but given the offensive sight of her supporters in the room, he was now thinking that perhaps he would not nominate her to be Mayor Pro-Tem after all!  If you’ll pardon my paraphrase: “Get it, supporters of Espinoza!  It’s your fault if she’s not going to become Mayor Pro Tem, because you just had to show up and push for what you thought was right and now you made me angry!”

Millions of public officials throughout history would no doubt applaud the sentiment.  That doesn’t make it right.

It would be unkind to presume that Beamish’s “it’s your fault that I have to hurt you!” behavior was anything more than an uncharacteristic lapse rather than a practiced response to being challenged.  If he really was emotionally overcome at the moment by memories of his deceased and once-dissed friend, then his behavior is even almost — almost —understandable.  But from my perch in the back of the room I could see that I was not the only one present who was (1) slack-jawed at the idea that making a symbolic protest of a minor injustice would call forth this sort of Old-Testament Old-School denunciation and (2) a little doubtful that, given all this rancor bubbling inside him, Beamish had ever really planned on nominating Espinoza to be Mayor Pro Tem at all.

Because Beamish might want to count this very essay against Espinoza as well, I’d like to point out something: she and I are not close.  In the 2007-2008 cycle, she endorsed the candidate running against the person in whose campaign I was involved.  We’ve probably exchanged less than 100 words total, ever.  She appears to be very much of an “inside the system” sort, whereas I’m sometimes within the system and sometimes out shouting in the streets; in my experience, successful politicians tend to view my type of activist somewhat gingerly.  I did seek her out after the meeting to ask if she had a comment and received an Office Space-style “Hmmm, I’ll get back to you on that.”  As she says at about 3:15 in the video, her motivation in nominating herself was “At least I said my piece” — and, for her, apparently that was it.  Her reply to Beamish in the video, as you will see, is notably non-pugnacious.

I’m not nearly as well-mannered as Espinoza is — as is no doubt evident from this very essay.  When I see Councilmembers asserting not merely that they should get their way, but that they should not have to put up with the silent reproach of citizens who want to encourage them to do otherwise because it is wrong, I get a little frenzied.  (And, oh yes, I am dialing this essay down from its first draft.)  Beamish may want to hold the impertinence of this column against Espinoza, or the polite Daren Nigsarian or the earnest Nick Anas, but doing so would be unfair to them.  (It would also, obviously, feed my sudden and growing interest in the sense of entitlement of the majority on the La Habra City Council.  There must be other examples of this, after all.)  Beamish responded with what he may have considered a conciliatory rejoinder, accepting that Espinoza’s presence on the Council “adds value” and assuring her that her being denied the Mayorship was “not demeaning in any way.”  He finally acknowledged that this was, after all, all about partisan politics, and it’s natural that in politics “you support those who support you.”  Espinoza never let on that she, um, already knows how politics works, thanks.

The worst thing about Beamish’s statements, though, is that they weren’t the worst statements of the night.

To flash forward towards the end of the video, just to reinforce the sense of entitlement of the majority of the La Habra City Council, let’s take a look at the parting shot levied outgoing Mayor Jim Gomez.

Jim Gomez cultivates the “jolly guy” persona in public — I’ve been known to do the same myself at times — and has a quick wit and good sense of humor.  But having heard him speak in public several times now, I’ve always had the sense that inside the “jolly guy” is someone considerably less jolly.  And if you’ll roll ahead to about 6:46 in the video, you’ll see Gomez say this to Shaw:

If I may just say a word … I feel very badly for you because your family is over there.  It should be a special time and, unfortunately, because of a failed candidate who wants to put poison in the community, I’m sorry that [rest of statement drowned out by spontaneous moaning from audience.]

Well, now! (By the way, note that that was moaning you hear, not booing.  It was not pre-meditated; it was a reflexive reaction of collective dismay.)

This was not, I presume, a reference to Espinoza herself (as a failed candidate for Mayor), but probably to Nigsarian, who had run last year for City Council, and whose public comment I’m very sorry not to have gotten on video.  It was, to summarize: “Rose is good.”  Shaw was not criticized or even mentioned directly or implicitly.  That said, though, Gomez’s laying into him like this is clearly Nigsarian’s own fault: even if “poisoning the community” would be a winning political position in La Habra, this was not the right moment to introduce one’s platform.  (If this is not actually Nigsarian’s platform — and I admit that I have never spoken to him about the benefits or detriments of large-scale community poisonings,  then I suppose that the “poison” of which Gomez spoke is something truly heinous, like expressing the belief that Espinoza would be a better choice for mayor than Shaw, which is in fact a violation of several local ordinances, state laws, federal statutes, constitutional amendments, the Geneva Convention, and (for reasons that are obscure to me) the Law of the Sea and the Orange Juice Blog Terms of Service.

The worst thing about Gomez’s comment, though, is that it itself was not the worst action of the night.

Beamish noted in winding down his rejoinder to Espinoza that “I believe it’s customary for the Mayor to choose his new Mayor Pro-Tem,” tossing the hot potato to the soon-t0-be-elected-as-we-all-knew Tim Shaw.  As Beamish had previously noted, the horrible fate that Steve Anderson endured was to have his becoming Mayor delayed by one year.  If this was to be tit-for-tat, the resolution was obvious: Espinoza would become Mayor Pro-Tem and, if successfully re-elected, become Mayor the following year.  Right?

Wrong.  Shaw had, following Beamish’s speech, given a reasonable and measured speech explaining that he had not intended to offend Espinoza by accepting the Pro-Tem position but, again, she hadn’t supported his political advancement over the years so she shouldn’t expect anything else in return.  OK, pure power partisanship has its adherents, and let’s please keep in mind Shaw’s statement when he’s (if he gets what is probably his wish) in the State Legislature at some point getting tire tread marks left on his back by Democrats.  But still, this was not awful for him to say — admirably frank, in fact.

And then at the 7:27 mark on the video, after nominations for Mayor Pro-Tem are opened, Shaw has the chance to set things right, to put Espinoza on the track that Steve Anderson had taken, and —

“I nominate Tom Beamish.”

Yes, Shaw nominated that Tom Beamish who, minutes before, was just then purportedly making up his mind not to nominate and support Espinoza for this position.  Beamish, of course, did not demur.  Councilmember Blazey nominated Espinoza, who accepted.  Do the math and you see that it comes down to one vote, the outgoing Mayor.  Gomez milks his being the deciding vote for 13 seconds — th … ir …tee … n … se … con … d … s — before casting his vote against Espinoza.  Classy! Does anyone think that he was thinking it over — or just relishing the last small puff of power he’d be able to emanate from the Mayor’s Chair for years?

But enough about how Gomez undermined his jolly guy shtick.  Let’s focus on Shaw.  By nominating  Beamish — who provided two welcome moments of post-Gomez-poisoning-accusation  levity there at the end by voting “Tom Beamish” on the question of whether to close nominations and “yes” on the question of which candidate to choose — Shaw essentially said this, which I’ll paraphrase for the benefit of non-politicians:

You know all that complaining we’ve been doing about following proper procedure in the rotation of the Mayoral spot?  You can forget that; it’s not about proper procedure at all, or I would have done for Espinoza what was done for Steve Anderson when he was improperly passed over.  Instead it’s about raw power.  We’re Republicans and we don’t have to let a Democrat become Mayor, ever, if we don’t want to*, customs be damned.

*(This principle may be voided if the La Habra Police Department gratuitously murders a homeless man and the Council realizes that it would be better to have a Democrat as the city’s public face.  Which reminds me: congratulations to Mayor Quirk-Silva of Fullerton!)

This isn’t Shaw’s action alone, of course.  Beamish could have turned down the nomination; Gomez could have voted for the person that so many in the audience had come out to support.  But, like Beamish said: the new Mayor usually gets his or her pick for Pro Tem.  Shaw is the one who made that choice.  He said nothing boorish like Beamish or Gomez had, he spoke coolly and temperately, but his action of rejecting reconciliation was actually the nastiest moment of a fairly nasty night.

It’s up to the Democrats of La Habra to see whether they can make that cold-eyed partisanship come back to bite Mayor Shaw on the hindquarters.  (Luckily, there’s a video of that last nine minutes out there for people to enjoy.)

I’ve tried to take a light and sarcastic tone here, the better to maintain my own “jolly guy” pose, but if you’ve made it this far with me I guess I can bluntly admit that the behavior of the majority on the City Council really cheeses me off.  It was starkly and egregiously without class.  (I’m not even mentioning, except here in passing, the patronizing sexism of many of the comments; that warrants its own essay.)

What strikes me about Beamish’s and Gomez’s comments is this: they believe that, rotational system or not, this was clearly Tim Shaw’s entitlement.  He was entitled to be Mayor! He’s a rising young star of the Party!  And, being entitled to be Mayor, Shaw was also entitled to become Mayor without anyone raining on his parade — not Espinoza, who thought that the established system used in La Habra favored her; not Nigsarian and Anas, who used the occasion of Shaw’s coronation to say nice things about his rival; not the many members of the public who came out from near and far to stand with Rose Espinoza!

WE WERE RUINING TIM SHAW’S SPECIAL TIME!

And how dare we do that?  How dare Espinoza continue to press her moral case for appointment after the men on the council has told her “no”?  How dare she think that she should still be chosen as Mayor Pro-Tem, after such a sin?  Doesn’t she know her place?  And those who supported her — don’t their know their places as well?

This sense of entitlement — not just that the City Council majority should get its way, but that anyone who doesn’t like it should just shut up and let them do what they want without criticism — is not only galling, but is a major warning sign of a spoiled and entitled city government that will reject public input and brazenly serve its own interests.  I make no accusations; I haven’t the background understanding of La Habra politics to do so.  But as a witness to this nine minutes of La Habra’s Council meeting — to which you, Dear Reader, through this video can be as well — I can come to one conclusion.

If the La Habra City Council majority treats their opposition on council, the speakers who encourage them to change their minds, and the public who shows up to give its silent emotional support to those they are rolling over as vermin who are spoiling their fun, then they deserve the closest scrutiny as to how they conduct their public affairs.  Frankly, it doesn’t look like they’re the type to do a conscientious job of policing themselves.  I don’t give much credence to complaints about someone “putting poison” into the system if the person making that comment is a tumor complaining about the commencement of chemotherapy.

Do I accuse the La Habra City Council majority of being that rotten?  No I don’t; I don’t have the necessary information.  But the way they tried to squash dissent and to make people feel lousy for standing up to them even symbolically makes me very suspicious about how they treat their responsibilities.  Maybe they see ruling the city as their “special time” that no one should dare to ruin.

If anyone wants information, by the way, on how to Occupy La Habra, by the way, let me know and I can set you up.  They have this bright new young Mayor there; I’m sure that he and his supporters would be up to handling some vocal opposition, wouldn’t they?  Don’t they seem like the sorts of men that can take it?

Well, back to being jolly!

Postscript: My description of Councilmember Gomez originally contained another adjective between “jolly” and “guy,” a word that I used without deep reflection because it also applies to me.  Someone who is not exactly a friend of the council majority called me to task for it, noting that it was gratuitous.  It wasn’t intended as mean — but I recognize that  my critic was right and so I have removed it.  My apologies for Councilmember Gomez for the offense; I’ll try to learn from my mistake.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)