Feb. 26, 2004
|FROM THE PUBLISHER
by Judy Hodgson
|FROM THE EDITOR
by Keith Easthouse
Not for sale -- No on F
You've heard all the rhetoric, but when you go to the polls Tuesday, remember one thing: A defendant in a pending fraud case, Pacific Lumber, is financing a recall election against the very same district attorney who brought charges against the company.
That is as wrong as it can be. Vote no on Measure F.
The fraud charges pending against PL ultimately may be dismissed. Or the case may go to trial and PL may be found not liable. Or not. But in the meantime, the case is in litigation and financing a recall is a blatant attempt to derail an effort to enforce the law. Remember when another large corporation with deep pockets -- Wal-Mart Inc. -- rather heavy-handedly hired signature-gatherers to force Eureka to rezone a parcel of waterfront land? Voters said NO rather emphatically. They said our legal system is not for sale.
How did this recall come about?
A young defense attorney had the temerity to challenge the 20-year incumbent, something the old DA's own deputies dared not do. This attorney promised a different prosecutorial approach -- an emphasis on hard drugs over marijuana, for one thing. He said the public's physical safety was important, but he would not ignore white collar crimes. Voters responded to his message and the upset took many by surprise -- even Gallegos himself.
He took over an office of prosecutors, some of whom he had faced in court before. Those attorneys, no matter how competent and professional, were hand-picked by and loyal to their former boss, Terry Farmer. It was a rough transition for Gallegos, not only learning the ropes and managing his new staff, but switching sides from being a defense attorney to that of being a prosecutor, fulfilling a promise to actively try cases himself. Then, just weeks into his tenure, after filing a lawsuit against the county's largest private employer for alleged fraud, a recall is launched. It's been chaos ever since. Even front-line law enforcers, police and sheriff's deputies who may have been cross-examined by Gallegos in the courtroom, have piled on the recall bandwagon. This state of turmoil is not unlike a company defending itself against a major lawsuit while trying to carry on business as usual.
Gallegos' work in the courtroom and out has been under the microscope since that day he filed against PL. Did he flub a chance to add additional charges to the Ferndale child molest case? We can all try to second guess, but in the end he had to weigh the option of sending that guy away for 16 years against the flight risk of the daughter and her mother, both illegal aliens. (For another perspective in this edition, read about a strikingly similar case prosecuted in 1992 under DA Terry Farmer, page 11). Does Gallegos' medical marijuana policy (99 plants in a maximum garden of a 10-by-10-foot plot) prove he is more lenient on pot than his predecessor? Farmer's old 10-mature-plant limit would certainly exceed, under the guidance of a competent gardener, anything Gallegos was recommending.
Most of what has been reported in the local newspapers regarding this election has been pretty good journalism, accurate and factual. Unfortunately, most of what you've been reading in ads, mailers -- and most importantly the non-stop TV and radio ads -- has been a bunch of hooey. Don't fall for it.
As far as replacement candidates, we cannot recommend any of the three on this week's cover. Steve Schectman is a bulldog civil litigator who should stick to what he does best -- suing big companies on behalf of the downtrodden. Gloria Albin Sheets strongly favors the recall. If she doesn't see anything wrong with a defendant financing a DA recall, it shows a serious lapse in moral judgment. Ditto for Worth Dikeman, an able prosecutor who should wait until the next election if he is so confident he can do a better job for the citizens of Humboldt County.
Elsewhere on Tuesday's ballot ...
In the 2nd District, the Journal recommends either Roger Rodoni or Sal Steinberg. Rodoni, who may win outright next week, has demonstrated time and again he is an independent thinker and beholden to no one, including his landlord, Pacific Lumber Co. (Although we do wish he'd refrain from voting on any PL matters.) He also has a downright libertarian view of marijuana issues, which can be summed up as -- "legalize it." Steinberg has a lot of enthusiasm, has done his homework and has some forward-thinking ideas about economic development which should land him in second place.
Support for the state's bond measures seems to be growing. Let's start with the easiest: Yes on the school bond act, Proposition 55. (See this week's guest opinion, page 4.) And yes on Proposition 56. This will allow the state Legislature to pass the yearly budget and budget-related tax and appropriation bills with a 55 percent margin. Only two of the other 49 states require a two-thirds vote as California does now and each year it leads to gridlock.
Initially I was opposed to both Propositions 57, the Economic Bond Recovery Act, and 58, which must pass together. It is unconscionable to saddle our children and grandchildren with yet more debt, I reasoned. But I was swayed by the San Francisco Chronicle analysis and recommendation last weekend: The state is truly in terrible fiscal shape that will be further damaged if these measures don't pass. Both parties are on board. Vote yes on both.
Local measures? Let's round up our neighbors and try to solve our own problems -- schools in southern Humboldt, police in Arcata and the fire department in Fieldbrook.
PS: I know he's yesterday's news, but I'm voting Tuesday for Howard Dean for President -- just to say thank you for helping the Democratic Party find its spine again.
A house divided
After a year of controversy, it boils down to this: What bugs you more? Paul Gallegos' inexperience, or Charles Hurwitz' bullying?
The answer to that question reveals which side of the recall fault line you're on, a widening gap that carries an unavoidable message: On this one, there is no middle ground.
If you're for Gallegos, you're for him because, above all else, you're outraged that Pacific Lumber -- make that the Houston-based Maxxam Corp. -- has spent $225,000 and counting to drive him from office before he can take the company to trial for fraud. If you're against Gallegos, you're against him because, above all else, you think he's soft on crime and possibly, probably, incompetent.
You may be bothered -- or not -- by Hurwitz' heavy hand, and it may be that it was the PL suit that got you riled up in the first place, but what sticks in your craw now is Gallegos himself, his surfer dude persona, his defense attorney instincts, his hiring of Tim Stoen, that Peoples Temple "kook," as his top lieutenant. Ninety-nine plants, for chrissakes; suing PL, for chrissakes; slapping the wrist of a child molester, for chrissakes.
Terry never would have done any of that. Not in a million years. This guy comes along, this guy who's cross-examined the cops he's now supposed to be working with, who's gone against the deputy DAs that he's now in charge of, skilled professionals like Worth Dikeman, and he turns the county upside-down with his screwy, liberal, enviro agenda. Who the hell does he think he is?
Your counterpart sees things differently. The villain in his eyes is Hurwitz, the notorious corporate raider who stole a venerable Humboldt County timber company and turned it into a destructive logging machine. The degradation of the region's rivers and streams? Blame Hurwitz. The shrinking number of timber jobs? Blame Hurwitz. The animosity between environmentalists and business leaders? Blame Hurwitz.
Farmer never did stand up to him. Not in all those years. But Gallegos comes along, beats Farmer, and in less than two months on the job he's suing Hurwitz' behind, telling the dark prince, who don't forget was in deep with Michael Milken in the 1980s savings and loan scandals, that Humboldt County is no longer his fiefdom. To Hurwitz', "He who has the gold rules," Gallegos retorts, "He who has the law rules." Who is Gallegos? He's a hero, that's who he is. How could anybody who cares about Humboldt County be against him?
Winston Churchill once observed that democracy is the best form of government under all conditions save when the people are evenly divided. We all learned that in the 2000 presidential election, when the deadlock between George W. Bush and Al Gore sent the country veering toward political chaos. We learned it in the 1960s, when racial issues and the Vietnam War tore the country apart. And those Americans who were alive in 1860 learned it most powerfully when the nation literally split in two over the issue of slavery after the election of Abraham Lincoln and went to war.
Polarization is the dominant political force across the country today; on a host of issues, health care, the environment, foreign policy, the very role of government, the middle ground is shrinking, if it's there at all. It is a war of sorts, a cold one, perhaps, but a long and bitter one as the combatants are opposing value systems.
A battle in this larger struggle is being waged here in Humboldt and we will know the outcome in less than a week. A strong majority may vote to throw Gallegos out or to keep him, but don't bet on it. It's likely to be close -- and that means there's going to be a lot of bitterness afterwards. A wound like this takes a long time to heal.
© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.