You have to be in awe of California police union officials' brazen efforts to politically assassinate opponents.
Just ask Costa Mesa's Republican mayor pro tem Jim Righeimer, who in 2012 was falsely accused of driving drunk while he was sober, or Garden Grove's Bao Nguyen, one of the nation's first elected Vietnamese-American mayors and a rising star in the state's progressive scene.
On June 19, police sergeant Mike Viscomi–the president of the Garden Grove Police Association that supported Bruce Broadwater, Nguyen's opponent in the last election–surreptitiously recorded a conversation with the first-term mayor.
During the discussion, Nguyen called City Councilman Phat Bui "a fucking dick," a reference to efforts by Bui's supporters to label Nguyen a communist sympathizer for not vehemently protesting Riverside's sister-city relationship with Can Tho, Vietnam.
Nguyen doesn't, of course, back communists. He declared at the time, "We are eager to see the Vietnamese government make concerted strides toward democracy with its people, whom have been fighting for the same values we cherish as Americans." But he didn't think one city council should tell another what to do.
In Little Saigon politics, however, manhood sadly continues to be measured by how loudly a person screams in anger about Ho Chi Minh, dead nearly 46 years now. Though not the most articulate politician in the city, Bui has nonetheless mastered this particular dog whistle. He has proven his willingness to incite mostly older Vietnamese immigrants into frenzies, as if the war for South Vietnam is ongoing.
Back to the controversial recording: Someone in the police department with knowledge that Nguyen had been captured making a disparaging remark about the cop union-backed Bui saw an opportunity to embarrass the mayor by leaking news of the affair. Last night, the council voted to comply with a resident's public records act request for the tape.
For his position, Nguyen stated he believes in government transparency, but the incident is a cautionary tale about police abuse of its sacred and awesome state powers for cheap political tricks.
California has a tough anti-eavesdropping statute that makes it a felony potentially punished by prison for secretly recording a conversation. There is an exemption for prosecutors, their investigators and police officers. But, as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made clear 21 years ago in Rattray v. City of National City, the loophole does not give badged individuals the right to secretly tape their personal conversations. They can evade this penal code section (633) only when they are "in the performance of their duties in detecting crime" or "in the apprehension of criminals," according to federal judges.
In other words, a cop can't record his wife during an argument in their personal life, his barber yapping about yesteryear or his neighbor whining about Southern California's latest dry spell.
But Viscomi, a 13-year veteran of the department, activated his police recording device without telling the mayor and while they chatted informally about everything but a criminal investigation: vacations, raising children, the Dalai Lama's visit, city personnel, union politics, Loretta Sanchez's run for U.S. Senate, high school pranks by graduating seniors, UC Irvine, horses, city staffing and police sporting contests.
To help make Nguyen feel at ease, the union boss even whipped out a picture of his two children and said he planned to take them to a new Disney movie.
The mayor called the kids "super-cute" and went on to ask Viscomi what the union would think of him running to replace Sanchez in the congressional seat.
"I know you could get the vote if you're ready," said the cop, who apparently is willing to utter even the absurd.
Nguyen, who hasn't officially announced for the seat, replied, "I'm going national, man."
First, thanks to the police union, he'll have to clean up this mess over spicy language that's sure to be overblown by his political enemies. His picture may even show up during a protest with an "X" across his face on a poster with a flag of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Score one for the sly boys in blue.