At ‘Feet to the Fire,’ the Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

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The political forum last week was called “Feet to the Fire,” the idea being that the three candidates for the 74th Assembly District – Leslie Daigle (R), incumbent Allan Mansoor (R), and Bob Rush (D) – would be quizzed by representatives of the local media, with Barbara Venezia, a columnist for the Orange County Register, moderating.

Great idea, but how would it work?

As Evelyn Hart, a former mayor of Newport Beach, led the pledge of allegiance, I reflected on the words we spoke: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. These days I go silent during the phrase “under God,” coming as it does so close to those poignant words, “…indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

I’ve seen this country grow increasingly and angrily divided between red and blue. I’ve watched the ideal of “liberty and justice for all” fade toward darkness, like the moments just after a Catalina sunset. And given the Far Right’s appalling co-option of God in our political discourse, I’ve been leaving His name out of public declarations of my allegiance to this country.

But I digress.

I attended the forum looking for a dose of grassroots democracy in action. What I saw was a shoddy presentation. By now you’ve probably read accounts about the forum and the issues debated — the 19th Street bridge and the development of the Banning Ranch, as well as the attacks upon one candidate or another’s perceived personal shortcomings.

OK, I get that politics is a blood sport, but let’s have some accuracy when challenging an opponent and some discipline in the response.

Some on the media panel let us down, too: Jack Wu has a right-wing agenda, and it’s well known. That’s fine for his work as a self-described “opinion columnist” in the Daily Pilot, but not so cool for a public forum.

Barbara Venezia’s failed 2006 campaign against Leslie Daigle for the Newport Beach City Council colored her attitude as moderator several times. And the quip by The Current general manager Tom Johnson, “Is there anything in Newport Beach besides a conservative?” was inaccurate – and an insult to the numerous Democrats and Independents of this town.

The candidates themselves sometimes behaved in a manner that was curious.  Maybe in Politics 101 they learn to how to field questions in ways unfamiliar to the rest of us, but it results in an unfortunate lack of authenticity.

Allan Mansoor, for example, asked about his personal pension, stopped short of full disclosure. Mansoor took early retirement as an Orange County deputy sheriff – he left with 16 years in rather than 20, so he won’t receive his full pension, according to his campaign staff. But he’s been a fierce advocate for public pension reform, and I’d have liked to hear more about what his pension will be and what percentage he contributed over those 16 years.

Regarding his sudden emergence as a Democrat prior to filing for the assembly race, Bob Rush was asked whom he voted for in the 2008 presidential election. This would seem easy enough to recall, but Rush appeared uncertain and hesitated. (Turned out it was McCain.)

Leslie Daigle, asked for yes-ro-no answers, equivocated on several occasions, to the glee of some of the media panelists. In her defense, though, a more detailed answer was indeed the most intelligent response. Too often the media panel’s questions were poorly framed.

When the snarking and hollering were over, I felt disappointment in the prospects for local grassroots democracy. The forum had been a Babel of opinionated dissent that did little to educate the voters of the 74th Assembly District.

(Ironically, had anyone thought to ask her, the woman who led the Pledge of Allegiance could have done much to explain just how local politics has grown so bitter. Evelyn Hart logged decades in Republican politics before she was marginalized.)

We deserve better.

To this end, I’ve requested interviews with Daigle, Mansoor, and Rush. I want to sit with each of them for an hour – no other candidates, nor other media around – and get to know them. Each will get a full column.


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