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Gone Viral 

Is State Sen. Pat Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) our first local YouTube-era superstar? Several of our neighbors have tried to claw their way into Internet celebrity -- brazen dope growers, Jackass-style pranksters, self-obsessed video diarists -- but it appears that all of them have lacked some essential element. Maybe they were trying too hard. Because last weekend Wiggins came along and trounced them all without even trying. At the time of this writing, her video performance has been covered by the Sacramento Bee, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, the Napa Valley Register, News Channel 10 (Sacramento) and dozens upon dozens of websites. It is a runaway hit.

The Wiggins video consists of a two-minute excerpt from a legislative hearing last week on the subject of climate change, and the state's response to the crisis. An anonymous Capitol-watcher posted it to YouTube last Thursday. From this perch, it has taken flight. If you haven't yet seen it, you can pick it up on the North Coast Journal Blogthing (ncjournal.wordpress.com). But here's a quick renactment.

The committee recognizes Pastor Robert Jones of the Oak Park United Methodist Church, located in a nearby Sacramento suburb. The pastor launches a respectful speech written in standard bureaucratese. It is in no way out of the ordinary, either in subject matter or length. He thanks the committee for the opportunity to address it, and for the good work it is doing. He ventures that people from his constituency -- poor people, people of color -- have a great stake in climate change. In the first place, environmental degradation is naturally harder on the poor than it is on the wealthy, who have greater means to mitigate or escape from the consequences. On the other hand, he is concerned that measures taken to combat global warming might largely fall on the backs of the poor, who will have a harder time switching to new technologies or paying new fees, and whose jobs might be most at risk. Therefore, he hopes that the committee will include the perspectives of such people as it moves forward. Also, ...

Wiggins comes in from out of nowhere, interrupting from the dais. "Excuse me," she says, words audibly slurring a bit, "but I think your arguments are bullshit."

For a split-second, Jones looks stunned. Then, for another, he cocks his head, considering. Then he looks down, laughs, and, smiling, says "Well ..." That's as far as he gets -- the committee's chair quickly picks up the ball, assuring the pastor that his message was heard loud and clear. She says that his constituency has been and will continue to be involved in its work, and cites several examples. As she continues in this vein, the video fades to black.

So. The first thing to be noticed and dispensed with is the fact that, as reported by the Sacramento Bee, Wiggins' office released a statement saying that the senator "deeply regrets her comments and looks forward to apologizing to the pastor personally." It's nice, but it's clearly not going to cut it. For one, the public is suddenly very deeply interested. For another, the pastor himself is far from placated. He told the Bee's reporter that a more formal response to the incident was being planned.

Also, the Republicans, sensing their moment, have since seen fit to make the most of it. The Capitol Resource Institute -- previously known for its stances against same-sex marriage, for home schooling and against communist teachers -- issued a quick release as soon as the story broke, deploring Wiggins' "vulgar language and indecorous behavior" and calling upon its supporters to flood Wiggins' office with demands for a "public apology." Many of the comments around the Internet took this line -- that the incident was symptomatic of an elite Democratic coiterie that had grown lazy and smug in its unchallenged control of Sacramento. (A smaller faction took the line that if Wiggins had been male, no one would even have noticed.)

Lost in all the back and forth, though, is the most telling moment of the video -- that is, the moment when the chairwoman of the committee, Sen. Christine Kehoe, picked up the pieces and carried on, almost without batting an eye. You get the definite sense that she wasn't very surprised. And such, indeed, has been the unanimous follow-up reaction from people who run across Wiggins occasionally (and who, of course, demanded that their names appear nowhere in the paper). "Oh, that's just Pat!" they say. "She's just like that!" Some mentioned that she was hard of hearing. It didn't seem to bear.

In any case, no one seems completely able to parse what exactly it was that Wiggins was objecting to. What was the argument that was bullshit? Was it that poor people deserved a say in the committee's deliberations? That Jones represented poor people? That regulation stood to impact poor people disproportionately? And the senator -- was she drunk? Is she ill? No one is forthcoming. But the interesting thing to watch, over the coming months, will be how the Democratic party apparat, both local and statewide, responds to the incident. Wiggins was scheduled to run for reelection in 2010. Will she suddenly decide that retirement is more the ticket?

 

Booyakasha! The North Coast Journal's dominance of the California Newspaper Publisher Association's "Better Newspaper Contest" was skull-crushingly complete this year, with the paper taking home a record eight (8) first or second place awards in our circulation category. Just in time, too -- the backlash against our "tabloid trash" rag's spoof of the Arcata City Council a few weeks ago was starting to get tedious.

We swept the investigative reporting and local news categories, and also took home prizes in environmental reporting, writing, page layout and business reporting -- the latter especially sweet, as it snatches victory from the well-heeled San Francisco Business Times. The CNPA likes to ratchet up the suspense, so you don't find out if a story came in first or second until the convention in October.

Here are the season's winning entries. We dedicate them, with gratitude and at least some measure of humility, to you, our readers and advertisers.

Investigative & enterprise reporting:

"Prescription for Trouble," April 26, 2007.

"Campbell's Account," Sept. 20, 2007.

Local news coverage:

"Aiy-yu-kwee Goodbye," Jan. 17, 2008.

"Upward Bound No More," Sept. 6, 2007.

Environmental reporting:

"Boom or Bluff," March 1, 2007.

Business reporting:

"Humboldt at War," March 13, 2008.

Writing:

"The Not-So-Peaceful Atom," April 3, 2008.

Page layout and design:

Pretty much the entire month of December 2007.

Footnote: Above and beyond these prize-winning entries, we also took home two "Blue Ribbon Finalist" runner-up prizes, which some other papers -- no names! -- amusingly include in their total, so as to pad out their numbers. So cute.

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