Tear Down This Commission
What likely made Ronald Reagan roll over in his grave? Dana Rohrabacher backing tax dollars for the Gipper’s birthday-party commission
Last week, you may have noticed Dana Rohrabacher’s chubby, smirking face leaning into news photographs of Nancy Reagan and President Barack Obama at a White House signing ceremony. The images signified the ongoing absurdity of Washington, as well as the hypocrisy of our often-clownish, 11-term Huntington Beach/Long Beach congressman who first won election in 1988 partly by arguing the dire need for term limits. Of course, conservatives continue to hail President Ronald Reagan’s campaign themes: The federal government is too wasteful, constantly expanding into areas best-suited for private action and managed by bureaucrats determined to hold unnecessary hearings and write unnecessary reports.
“Government does not solve problems,” Reagan once said. “It subsidizes them.”
Given all of that, what did the leaders of both major political parties—including Reagan disciple Rohrabacher—decide is the best, most efficient way to celebrate what would be the dead president’s 100th birthday next February? Despite trillions of dollars in debt, numerous states on the brink of financial collapse and two ongoing overseas wars, they created an 11-member Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission. The government entity, which will have as-yet-unquantified access to our tax dollars, will hire a staff as well as “experts and consultants,” pay unspecified travel expenses, lease office space, hold hearings, take testimony and write reports, according to the congressional bill signed by Obama. The commission is directed to “provide advice and assistance” to other “federal, state and local agencies as well as civic groups to carry out activities to honor” the occasion. Indeed, the birthday-party commission was given a power that used to annoy the 40th president: The commission itself has the sole power to decide when it should disband.
Does any of this disturb Rohrabacher, a former Reagan speechwriter who in the past has rarely missed an opportunity to tout his old boss’ principles as his own? He did not respond to calls for comment. If he had, I’d have asked him if he thought Reagan would have wanted a federal bureaucracy created for one of his birthdays.
SHOULD CALIFORNIA OPEN SHOPS SELLING POT AND HEROIN?
Give Jim Gray big points for moxie. The retiring Orange County Superior Court judge recently gave himself an impossible task, at least by conventional-wisdom standards. Gray, a silver-haired conservative Republican, brought his pro-marijuana and heroin-legalization message to a lunchtime group of about 50 local senior citizens with the League of Women Voters.
“Drugs are here to stay,” said Gray, a 1971 USC law-school graduate who was appointed to the bench by Governor George Deukmejian in 1989 after working as a prosecutor and defense attorney. “Let’s recognize this fact, and instead of moralizing it, let’s legalize it.”
The assertion didn’t provoke gasps or hissing. Most of the crowd continued to look on, expressionless. A few picked at their desserts with noisy forks.
“Let’s treat marijuana like alcohol,” he said. “Let’s regulate it, control it and tax it.”
Gray’s crowd remained silent; in a nearby restaurant room, a gathering sang “Happy Birthday.”
“If Charles Manson can sell drugs while he was in solitary confinement in prison, how can we expect to keep drugs off the streets of Irvine?”
Gray finally scored. Several members of his audience laughed and shook their heads in agreement. “That’s right,” one woman said.
Actually, it’s not surprising that Gray took his message to this crowd, if for no other reason than for the past 17 years, he has lobbied everyone else, including the ACLU, California Young Republicans, OC Weekly and Fox News. He says his message (“Drug Prohibition: Worst Policy Since Slavery and Jim Crow”) is nonpartisan and is “the most critical issue facing our nation today.
“That sounds like an exaggeration, doesn’t it?” he continued. “But it isn’t. The so-called War On Drugs is stupid. It isn’t working. In fact, we couldn’t find a worse policy if we tried. We’re perpetuating a failed system.”
Based largely on his experience as a judge, Gray argued that if a state of California monopoly sold marijuana (and potentially other narcotics such as heroin and PCP) at stores, the tax revenue would be enormous, teenagers would have a more difficult time obtaining it, usage would decline, and “the winners in the War On Drugs”—the drug cartels, police agencies, gangs, prison builders, guard unions, politicians and government bureaucracy—would lose billions of dollars annually.
“We’ve glamorized marijuana because it’s illegal,” said Gray. “We’re actually driving more people to drugs.”
If he were “King Gray,” he said, he would cut the price of an ounce of marijuana by 50 percent and add a $50 tax. He calculated his plan would translate into at least a $2.3 billion annual saving to the state. He’d also prohibit the government’s drug shops from advertising.
“Why shouldn’t we do this?” asked Gray, who is backing Assembly Bill 390, a proposed law that would treat marijuana like alcohol. “We have every right to object [to the status quo] and demand change.”
Did Gray win any converts?
At the end, he received an enthusiastic ovation from a room full of, yes, grannies.
How’s that for progress?
“I’m so glad I got to hear Judge Gray speak,” one woman told her friends as they left. “He was so thought-provoking.”
While living in Orange County in the late 1990s, 27-year-old Mexican national Cosme Medina-Villa was arrested for performing “continuous sexual abuse” on a girl under the age of 14. The acts, which occurred regularly during a two-year-period, included oral copulation and intercourse. In a plea bargain, Medina-Villa got prosecutors to dismiss one of three felony charges and was sent to Chuckawalla Valley State Prison for three years before his deportation. He’s back. This time, he was arrested for acting as a paid border coyote near San Diego and, based in part on his criminal history in OC, was given a 60-month prison sentence. With the assistance of publicly provided attorneys, he complained that his punishment was unconstitutionally severe. On May 28, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld his sentence. Any bets on when we’ll hear again from Medina-Villa?
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OC lost four public servants last week. Assistant United States Attorney Ken Julian resigned from his agency’s Santa Ana branch to join Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. Julian—a mild-mannered but devastating master of cross-examination and courtroom strategy—most recently served as co-counsel in USA v. Michael S. Carona, our infamous, dethroned ex-sheriff. Across town at The Orange County Register, veteran reporters John Gittelsohn and Norberto Santana Jr. announced their departures. Gittelsohn has accepted a job with Bloomberg News in New York City; Santana is mum about his plans. Both men gave the Reg energy and skill that’s going to be difficult to replace. And finally, ace Los Angeles Times investigative reporter Christine Hanley, who worked in the paper’s OC bureau and helped expose Carona’s corruption, announced her resignation.
IT’S YOUR MONEY, BUT THE GOVERNMENT SPENDS IT
Local taxpayers shell out millions of dollars annually to the county’s OC Public Works department for many tasks, including tree-trimming services. But apparently the job’s too big for them. On June 2, the all-Republican board of supervisors voted, without public discussion, to pay as much as an additional $55,000 per month to a private company for tree trimming.