It's unclear why this wasn't proposed a few weeks ago, but the Irvine City Council tonight will consider proclaiming Feb. 6 "Ronald Reagan
Day," in honor of our 40th president's birthday.
The proclamation is not being foisted on the panel that leans Democratic because Reagan was once a member of the party, legalized abortion as California's governor and granted amnesty to the undocumented as president.
No, OC Republican and newbie Councilman Jeff Lalloway wants a Reagan Day because he was inspired by the Gipper's mis-remembered conservatism.
Anyhoots, it's understandable that Newport Beach, the conservative bastion next door to Irvine, is thinking of erecting a statue of Reagan in a public park.
While Irvine voters lean more Republican than Democratic, it's still stunning a Reagan Day would go before the Larry Agran-programmed Irvine City Council. Or maybe not, as the longtime liberal Democrat credits Reagan for helping him find his political voice.
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A former mayor, a current councilman and until very recently the chairman of the Great Park Corp. board, Agran blasted Reagan's presidential policies. And when ol' Ronnie suggested more power should go to local city halls rather than the federal government, Agran ran with it by leading his city to declare itself a nuclear-free zone and divest from South Africa. Surely, that wasn't what Reagan meant.
As Lalloway brings the matter before the council tonight (the fun starts at 5 p.m.), let us look back at an interview Agran gave to Sustainability magazine in January 1990.
At the time, Agran was executive director of the Center for Innovative Diplomacy (CID), and his interviewer was the former editor of CID's Bulletin of Municipal Foreign Policy, Will Swaim, who five years later would go on to become founding editor of OC Weekly.
Will Swaim: Are there other forces involved in local government involvement besides these two principal ones, history and economy?
Larry Agran: There are three, actually: history, economy and Ronald Reagan. President Reagan did more than anybody to persuade local officials that they ought to be involved in foreign affairs.
First, there was his rhetoric. Don't forget, it was Ronald Reagan who rekindled the debate about the nature of federalism. Reagan hailed City Hall as the cradle of democracy.
Second, and perhaps more important, were President Reagan's actions. He promised to cut taxes, double military spending and balance the budget. You can't do all three. While he was a candidate, he never mentioned which programs he would slash. He talked about getting rid of waste and corruption, and that sounded fine to almost everybody. What he ended up doing was destroying the federal programs upon which most cities rely to meet housing, transportation and emergency needs. He shifted the burden for several federal programs to cities and called that "New Federalism."
How did that help spur municipal foreign policies?
First, destroying urban-assistance programs invited the creation of a new, more aggressive cities' lobby. Organizations like the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors began passing resolutions condemning Pentagon spending increases in an era of declining urban assistance. And I found myself in the company of a group of aggressive Republicans and Democrats who began articulating a new understanding of national security. We wanted to know how a nation with rising levels of poverty, a declining industrial base, record levels of public and private debt, a deteriorating public-school system, a choked transportation system, and a hellish natural environment was going to compete in the new world market. We wanted to ask Reagan, "What's the use of a first-class military protecting a third-world economy and society?"
So the Reagan military budget forced local officials to confront international affairs?
Sure it did. There was also the fact that Reagan's foreign-affairs interests were often wildly at odds with domestic public opinion. Between 70 percent and 80 percent of the American people in the early 1980s favored a nuclear weapons freeze. Ronald Reagan refused to consider it. Seventy percent of Americans in the same period favored granting more authority to the United Nations. Reagan did little more than bad-mouth the UN. Something like 60 percent of Americans opposed Reagan's Nicaragua policy.
Picture all this as steam: it had to find some release. And most often, it found that release through city halls. Nearly a thousand U.S. local governments passed nuclear freeze resolutions, referenda or initiatives. More than 100 divested their public funds from firms at work in South Africa. Cities established themselves as nuclear-free zones, linked themselves symbolically and economically with cities in Nicaragua, the Soviet Union and China, as well as Japan, Mexico, and India. The 1980s were a kind of federalist perestroika: As cities got poorer, they got more active, more innovative. They found their voices.