After Nancy Pelosi accused the right-wing mobs who’ve disrupted health care town halls for being “un-American,” Mayor Gavin Newsom publicly disagreed
with the House Speaker. “It is part of the democratic process,” said Newsom. “I think it’s healthy. I’ve always said that healthy controversy is the hallmark of healthy change.” To excuse the sometime violent protesters who have shown up to torpedo health care discussions across the country as “healthy” debate will not endear the Mayor to California Democrats in his run for Gvoernor. But it was Newsom’s comparison of the “teabag protesters” with his own San Francisco experience that was particularly telling. “I’m used to people being aggressive and forthright,” said the Mayor – noting he has more often been the target of the “far left” than the “far right” in his career. Was Newsom referring to the time he got heckled
in 2007 by Mission progressives at a Town Hall session on health care? Because if so, it will only bring up the Mayor’s own problems with participatory democracy.
In 2006, San Francisco voters passed a non-binding measure calling on the Mayor to attend a Board of Supervisors meeting once a month to engage in policy discussions – modeled after “Question Time” in the British Parliament. Newsom simply refused to attend
, and instead set up a series of monthly “town hall” forums in different parts of the City.
Billed as an opportunity to engage in policy discussions “with the people,” we soon learned at the first one
that it wasn’t just a Q&A session with the Mayor. Attendees were told to write down their question on an index card, Newsom would unilaterally select which question was asked – and then a panel of City department heads would provide a wonkish answer.
Never mind that the voters made it official policy – the Mayor would not be meeting with the Board of Supervisors. After two of these Town Halls, I asked Newsom why he was not attending Question Time. He said that it was unnecessary, and then – with no reason for doing so – lied to me
that he was having weekly meetings with Board President Aaron Peskin.
By the third of these scheduled filibusters, Newsom’s critics were getting restless. On March 26th, one of these forums
was at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in the Mission District – San Francisco’s most left-wing neighborhood. The topic (ironically) was universal health care, and again Newsom took questions from index cards, chose which questions were asked and had Health Director Mitch Katz give a short answer. But immigrant activists from PODER were ready to heckle him on other issues – and be disruptive if necessary.
I’m sure Gavin Newsom sees the right-wing protesters hounding Democratic members of Congress today at health care forums – one of whom hung a likeness of a Congressman in effigy
– and it reminds him of that fateful night in March 2007. It’s just more of the “healthy” discourse he had come to accept in a city like San Francisco. But while the protesters at the Mission Town Hall may have been rude and obnoxious, they were not trying to shut down discourse. In fact, their chants were “Let the People Speak!” while the Mayor was simply snubbing the will of the voters.
For a while, the left-wing activists at the Mission protest were losing respect in the room – as their chants grew tired and repetitive. But then neighborhood resident Valerie Tulier grabbed the mike
and said, “the problem here is that this is not a Town Hall meeting. It’s a Town Hall lecture. We need to have a Town Hall discussion, not a Town Hall lecture – that’s why there’s a lot of criticism. The problem is the format – people need to speak, and people need to be heard.” The crowd applauded – as Newsom’s Town Hall was finally exposed as a sham.
Newsom may equate that night’s protesters as left-wing teabaggers, but no one who protested the Mayor’s Town Hall lecture on health care brought a gun
, there were no dummies of Newsom hung in effigy
and nobody tried to compare him
with Adolph Hitler. The left-wing protesters had no choice but to heckle the Mayor, because – unlike members of Congress
– Newsom did not give attendees the opportunity to ask a direct question.
About a month ago, Newsom told the SF Examiner
that he “can’t wait” to deal with Republicans if he gets elected Governor – after enduring criticism from the San Francisco left for years. But if Gavin makes it to Sacramento, he will soon find out what Markos Moulitsas noted a long time ago
– our left-wing crazies are far less scary than the right-wing crazies. And if that happens, will he still consider those tea-bagger protests a part of “healthy” democracy?
Maybe, by then he will understand where Nancy Pelosi was coming from.