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Party Men 

Sometime between Friday and Sunday, the people who have been managing State Senator Pat Wiggins must have gathered round and decided that the facade could no longer be maintained. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat published a long, myth-busting and soon-to-be award-winning story on Friday; two days later, the poor woman stood at a podium and announced that she would not seek reelection in 2010, after all.

Wiggins didn't give reasons, but the timing left little doubt. The Press-Democrat's story made it no longer possible for Second District party bosses to deny what everyone has known for at least a year -- that the senator is gravely ill of health. Her outburst during a committee hearing in Aug. 2008, when a preacher who was testifying had barely finished clearing his throat before Wiggins informed him (on camera) that his "arguments were bullshit," is only the most publicly famous example of her consistently odd behavior. The P-D laid on example after example: the Senator wandering off lost in the halls of the Capitol, forgetting where she was at or whom she was speaking to, kissing reporters at the end of press conferences, being physically steered hither and thither by her aides.

It took 2,700 words of that for her handlers to get the message -- they wouldn't be able to keep the lid on things throughout the coming election cycle, as they had been doing. Not even on in this area, where the incumbent Democrat is pretty much guaranteed reelection, so long as that Democrat isn't term-limited out. So that is that, and hopefully the poor, suffering woman they've been propping up can get some treatment and rest. Unfortunately for her, it looks like someone made the decision that she's going to serve out the remainder of her term.

So we should have plenty of moments over the coming months to remember the ghouls and creeps who, in order to stay in power, keep a woman who is apparently in the grips of senile dementia in office, representing the North Coast in the upper body of the California State Legislature. I don't know their names -- they belong to a higher strata of the Sacramento atmosphere than I -- but I hope they wake up every day proud of what they are accomplishing. What Wiggins did to deserve them I can't fathom. She always seemed like a decent sort.

I'm more used to the local, on-the-ground party men who would be expected to know something. As I've plunged in and out of this story in the past year, I've found they fall into two categories: those who baldly deny everything and damn you for asking, and those who will tell you everything but only if they stay deeply off the record. (The P-D, working Wiggins' home turf, seemed to meet with exactly the same types, which is probably why it took that paper so long to put together a publishable story.) If the core Wiggins team are the demons in this story, then these are the venial sinners.

Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee Chair Milt Boyd last week represented the denialist side of things in the Times-Standard's follow-up to the P-D story, as he often has in the past. "I've heard these rumors before and I don't have any evidence to support them," Boyd told the T-S. "All I can say is that I've seen nothing in my recent interactions with Sen. Wiggins that would indicate any diminished capabilities with respect to her mental faculties." This was a bit more nuanced than Boyd's previous statements on the subject -- "Don't you know? She has a hearing problem!" -- but even if it's technically true it doesn't go very far.

That's because Boyd and other denialists are undeniably in constant contact with the other half of the local Democratic apparatus -- the Deep Throaters, the off-the-record types. They're the ones who were (sort of) up-front with their concerns, and who were seeking a quick resolution to a rapidly devolving situation. They saw the election approaching, and didn't want to give the Republicans an unexpected opening in the upcoming election. Who knows -- maybe they also spared a thought for the idyll of democratic government, or for Wiggins herself. They were telling the story to anyone who might conceivably be in a position to do something about it, so long as they were sure their hands would be kept clean.

So that's party politics on the North Coast of California -- the party politics that permit a gravely ill and incapable woman to stand for the district, and the politics that kept it all hidden and hush-hush for at least an entire year. If you look, you can see its echoes in any number of other issues and personalities -- most obviously around the grand plans of the state-owned North Coast Railroad Authority, which has likewise divided the local Democratic party ground team into duplicitous denialists and hand-wringing hush-hushers.

Every day, one pines a little bit more for the state Constitutional Convention that will be proposed on the 2010 ballot. Wipe the slate clean. Someday, a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets.

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Hank Sims

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