Archive for the ‘San Diego’ Tag

Chargers Season Ends with a Thud

Coaches, personnel staff has some serious soul searching to do this offseason

by Andy Cohen

The San Diego Chargers, in control of their own playoff destiny, walked onto the natural grass surface at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, and ended their season with a whimper. The situation was pretty simple: Win and you’re in the NFL playoff tournament; lose, and make your vacation plans.

To make matters even more favorable for the visitors, the Kansas City Chiefs would be playing without their starting quarterback, San Diego native and Helix High School grad Alex Smith. In his place, Chase Daniel would be making only the second start of his six year NFL career, his first coming in week 17 of the 2013 season against the Chargers.

The Chargers lost to the Chiefs 19-7, ending their playoff hopes and their season.

Instead of bowing up and playing to the occasion, the Chargers—particularly the offense—mailed in their 2014 regular season finale. With so much on the line, the team wilted.

To be fair, this was a Chargers team that probably wasn’t even as good as their 9-7 record would seem to indicate. Other than a rather impressive win against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in week two, the Bolts floundered against the best the NFL had to offer in 2014. The Chargers finished  3-7 against teams with a .500 or better record, and despite some heroic finishes by Philip Rivers and Co. against St. Louis, Baltimore, and San Francisco that gave a hopeful fan base an overabundance of confidence, this team was clearly not ready for prime time.

The truth is, even after a miraculous playoff berth in Head Coach Mike McCoy’s first season at the helm, the Chargers are clearly not a very good football team overall. They weren’t a year ago, and they aren’t now.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, with plenty of holes to fill on a deficient roster.

Personnel Woes

Two years ago, GM Tom Telesco inherited a depleted roster lacking depth across the board. Despite his best efforts, many of those holes remain. An offensive line unit that was once-upon-a-time one of the team’s greatest strengths is now one of its biggest weaknesses. A near complete overhaul, similar to what took place in 2004—when the Chargers replaced four of five starters, and eventually the fifth—is in order. The 2013 addition of right tackle DJ Fluker via the first round of the NFL Draft was supposed to be an improvement, yet he has struggled in each of his first two seasons. Both guard positions are a major liability, and with the pending retirement of center Nick Hardwick, a starter since opening day of his 2004 rookie season who missed all but the first few snaps of the 2014 season, the Chargers will need to find a replacement at center stat.

One option would be to move Fluker to guard, where he is probably much better suited at the NFL level. It remains to be seen whether 2014 third round draft pick Chris Watt is the long term answer at center (or guard), but it’s clear that four out of the five offensive line spots need serious upgrades, with left tackle King Dunlap the only player worthy of returning to his current spot.

The Chargers also need to find an answer at running back. Ryan Mathews is supremely talented, and a difference maker when he’s on the field. But therein lies the rub: The Chargers cannot count on him to stay healthy, and they cannot count on him to hold on to the ball when he is. Mathews just completed his first NFL contract, and he’s worth hanging onto at the right price. But the team MUST find another back that can carry the load. Which is fine. Running-back-by-committee seems to be the way most teams in The League are approaching one of the most physically demanding positions on the football field. But there is clearly no one else currently on this roster capable of being that every down threat, capable of supplying a consistent rushing attack for a team that is desperately in need of finding offensive balance between the run and the pass; a team that needs to rely less on an athletically limited Philip Rivers.

As well as Rivers has played at times, a consistent run game will only make him more effective, particularly considering his lack of mobility. If the team chooses to part ways with Mathews—a perfectly reasonable conclusion—they’ll need to find two such backs. As great a story as Branden Oliver has been in 2014, he is not the answer. Donald Brown was a waste of a free agent signing, likely a product of Telesco’s loyalty to players from his former team, the Indianapolis Colts. And while everybody sings Danny Woodhead’s praises, he is not an every down player, but rather a nice change-of-pace back and a good checkdown receiving threat out of the backfield.

The Chargers receiving corps remains solid, including future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates and backup Ladarius Green, who possesses all kinds of as yet unrealized potential. Perhaps they could use another receiver for depth, but it is hardly their most glaring need.

Defensively, reinforcements on the defensive line are called for. Corey Liuget is a player the franchise can build around. The linebacking corps is relatively solid—Melvin Ingram is a difference maker when healthy, Manti Te’o has steadily improved, and Kavell Conner and Jerry Attaochu show great promise, while an aging Jarret Johnson has provided a steady hand. Yet while the defensive backfield seems rich in talent, they are sorely lacking in discipline and fundamentals. Still, with better coaching and a focus on fundamental skills, it’s a backfield that holds a good deal of promise for the future.

Speaking of coaching….

Deep soul searching called for

As a young, aspiring NFL scout way back when, I was perplexed by what I was seeing as I studied college game films. I could not understand why some of the most highly touted college prospects—including many certain first round draft picks, the absolute cream of the upcoming crop from some of college football’s premier programs—seemed so deficient when it came to basic football fundamentals. I asked then Chargers GM Bobby Beathard how that could be the case; why some of the best prospects were so lacking in basic skills.

His response was that most coaches tend to assume that prospects have been taught the basic fundamentals at the lower levels of the game; college coaches assume the high school coaches have it covered, and NFL coaches assume the college coaches have emphasized it. Coaches are far more interested in installing and tinkering with their exotic offensive and defensive schemes, spending an inordinate amount of time adding wrinkles to their playbooks and are loathe to spend much time reinforcing basic skills—the basic skills that make the game safer and can help prevent injuries (and blown plays).

Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, that problem persists, and in many cases is worse than ever. The Chargers under Mike McCoy have been among the biggest culprits. Defensively the Chargers are possibly the worst tackling team in the NFL; they take poor angles, they don’t stay square to the line of scrimmage, and they stop their feet, getting stuck in cement while the ballcarrier blows by them. The secondary can’t seem to cover a soul without committing defensive holding or pass interference. Their footwork is abysmal, and they have no idea what to do with their hands.

The offensive line is nearly as bad; a unit so short on talent cannot afford to be fundamentally deficient, with feet stuck in quicksand and shoulders getting turned out of square, unable to react to twists, stunts, and blitzes, leaving Philip Rivers, the epitome of a pocket passer, constantly under siege.

But even more disconcerting is the barrage of injuries suffered by the 2014 Chargers. Injuries happen.  They’re a part of the game.  But the number of injuries suffered by this Chargers squad cannot be explained by a simple case of bad luck. Something is very, very wrong with the way this team prepares. Many concussions can be prevented with the use of proper hitting technique, and yet so many Chargers defensive players insist on leading with their helmets, refusing to “see what they hit.”

Sound fundamentals can help prevent many injuries. When those fundamentals break down, however, injuries become far more likely.

Compounding the problem, the San Diego Chargers are a poorly conditioned, physically unprepared team. A well conditioned team is less prone to injuries to begin with, while fatigued players tend to breakdown in their fundamental techniques.  A team that is deficient in basic fundamentals is far more susceptible to major injuries when they’re not in peak physical condition.

NFL teams simply don’t burn through five different starting centers and nine different offensive line starters in all through the course of one season; well prepared teams don’t have to scramble just to field a complete defensive backfield week in and week out.

Say what you will about Dave Redding, Marty Schottenheimer’s strength and conditioning coach, but he had his teams physically prepared. Mike McCoy’s teams clearly are not.

McCoy and GM Tom Telesco have some deep soul searching to do.  They must take a good hard look at the way they and their respective staffs prepare their team for the rigors of an NFL season, beginning with the offseason strength and conditioning program. Personnel deficiencies aside, a better conditioned and fundamentally sound football team is a far more competitive football team.

The 2014 Chargers showed a lot of grit in securing last minute wins against St. Louis, Baltimore, and San Francisco. But they are clearly not in the same class with New England, Green Bay, Denver, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, even Seattle. They have a long way to go if they hope to compete for an AFC West title, let alone a Super Bowl.

Rethinking San Diego’s Democratic Electoral Strategy

ImageBy Andy Cohen

There are some valuable lessons to be learned from the recent mayoral special election here in San Diego, and as we head into the 2014 primary and general elections it would be wise to take stock of what happened so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.  In case anyone’s forgotten, Republican Kevin Faulconer beat Democrat David Alvarez by a nine percentage point margin on Election Day.  The final margin ended up being closer to six points, but it was never really in doubt as the first returns rolled in on Feb. 11.

David Alvarez was a very good candidate.  He was the obvious choice of progressives.  He is a young Latino who has a record of soothing tensions in difficult negotiating arenas and coming out the other side with a deal everyone can live with.  He’s on the right side of all of the hot button policy issues that the progressive base holds dear.  He’s the kind of candidate that in theory should have drawn base voters to the polls in droves and maximized the Democrats’ huge registration advantage over Republicans—there are nearly 90,000 more registered Democrats in the City of San Diego than there are Registered Republicans.  Republicans are even outnumbered by NPP voters (no party preference) by nearly 16,000 voters.

When you outraise and outspend your opponent by nearly $1.5 million in a mayoral special election and still lose by six percentage points, and you have a voter registration advantage of 90,000 voters, it might be time to seriously rethink your election strategy.

The Democratic strategy, it seems, was designed to motivate base voters to get to the polls.  Massive GOTV efforts were employed in neighborhoods south of Interstate 8—neighborhoods with heavy concentrations of Democratic voters.  Get them to show up on Election Day, and Alvarez has a chance.

Only they didn’t show up to the polls.  They didn’t vote.  In the meantime, more moderate Democratic voters were largely ignored, and the enormous chunk of independent voters in San Diego were completely ignored…….by Democrats at least.  There were no discernible efforts to reach out to those voters in the middle, and it likely cost the Democrats the opportunity to hold on to the mayor’s office.  Kevin Faulconer, on the other hand, did everything he could to woo those independent voters, running as far away from the Republican label as he could in an effort to appeal directly to those independents and middle of the road Democratic voters who likely cast their ballot for Nathan Fletcher in the primary.

What Faulconer knew was that Republican voters were going to vote for him anyway.  He didn’t need to do anything to win their support.  He already had it.  It was those middle-of-the-road voters that were the key to his chances at victory, and that’s who he targeted.

Meanwhile, despite having Nathan Fletcher’s endorsement, the Alvarez campaign did nothing to reach out directly to Fletcher voters.  They did not ask for the Fletcher campaign’s contact lists in order to reach out to them directly, and they did not have Fletcher do any direct campaigning for Alvarez, which I’ve been told that Fletcher would have been happy to do.

The Democrats and Alvarez stuck to their base strategy, and because of it, and because the base did not turn out in significant numbers, they lost, and lost badly.  Comparing the turnout numbers in precincts that Alvarez won to the precincts Faulconer won is quite disconcerting if you’re a Democrat.  We’re talking high 20’s to mid 30’s for Alvarez, and high 30’s to mid 40’s for Faulconer, with a sprinkling of 50 and 60 percent turnouts here and there to pull his numbers up.

In 2012 Scott Peters ran for Congress in the 52nd District as a moderate Democrat.  He and progressive champion Lori Saldaña were vying for a slot in the runoff against Republican incumbent Brian Bilbray.  Peters won that primary race against Saldaña, and went on to narrowly beat Bilbray in the general election.  Had Saldaña moved on to the general, Brian Bilbray would likely still be a member of Congress today.  But Peters was able to win because he appealed directly to the middle voters.  The voter registration split for that election was roughly one third each for Dems, Repubs, and NPP’s.

Need proof that the middle won?  According to an analysis by iNewsource.org, in the 2012 mayoral race where the City of San Diego and 52nd Congressional Districts overlap, Carl DeMaio won 120 of the 189 precincts that Scott Peters won, while Bob Filner won only 69, and only one precinct that Brian Bilbray carried. 

Those moderate Dems and independent voters are looking for someone who appeals to them, who will reach out and communicate directly with them.  Remember, there are 192,000 registered NPP voters in San Diego.  And while that may not be completely relevant to the upcoming primary and general elections, it’s a fairly consistent theme throughout the San Diego region—huge numbers of independent voters who have the power to swing an election.

Now, those 2012 results could be merely a matter of familiarity as San Diego’s go-to political analyst Carl Luna suggests, since Peters did represent the City Council District 1 centered in La Jolla.  But I suspect it’s a lot more than that, since the City Council District only accounts for a small portion of the 52nd Congressional District.

Moving forward, Democratic candidates for public office would be wise to consider the middle instead of catering to a base that is unlikely to show up at the polls in a non-presidential election year.  If you’re a Republican running in a heavily Republican district, then it might make sense to all wingnut in the campaign, since those people actually vote.  That doesn’t work on the Democratic side, as we just found out the hard way.  Democrats cannot win elections by appealing to the base alone.

More importantly, if Democrats run solid, moderate candidates with strong backing (hint hint, DCCC) in the 49th and 50th Congressional Districts this year, they might actually have a chance to unseat some of the most divisive and bitterly partisan Republicans in Congress—not to mention getting rid of the guy who thinks it’s a good idea to nuke Iran.  (Dems might actually have that moderate candidate for the 50th, but more on that at a later date.) 

And in the City Council Districts, moderate Democratic candidates could very well win seats that were previously held by Republicans in District 2 and District 6 (both districts that voted for Faulconer in the mayoral race).  Candidates brandishing their progressive credentials have no chance.

The goal should be to actually win an election and not to make some sort of ideological stand.  Yet unfortunately that’s kind of where we’ve been headed in the last two election cycles.  It is better to win and get most of what you want than it is to lose and get nothing.

Busby, Bilbray Square Off in Raucous Debate

Democratic challenger Francine Busby took to the stage last night to take a few proverbial swings at Republican incumbent Congressman Brian Bilbray in their first and only scheduled debate.  A standing room only, bitterly partisan crowd gathered in the Del Norte High School Performing Arts Center in 4S Ranch to see the event and cheer on their candidate.  It was a scene more befitting a highly charged college basketball game than a political debate, with only slightly less decorum than a kindergarten classroom.

It was a microcosm of just how sharply divided this county, and country, really are.

Busby wasted no time in jabbing at her Republican opponent, chiding him for representing the interests of lobbyist and big business instead of the people who elected him.  Throughout the night, she repeatedly brought up the highly controversial Congressional Cigar Association, the lobbying front established by Bilbray that hosts get-togethers for members of Congress and their staffers to mingle with the lobbyists who fund it.

“The Congressional Cigar Association is a betrayal of the trust of the people, and shows the lack of integrity on Mr. Bilbray’s part,” Busby said.  “He claims to support small business, yet he voted against tax breaks for small business.  He voted against laws to increase lending to small businesses.  He voted against financial reform.  He voted to loosen restrictions on concealed weapons in school zones.”

Bilbray, for his part, tried to hit at the core issues of the day.  “Currently one in ten San Diegans is unemployed.  One out of every three dollars spent in Washington is borrowed.”

When queried by moderator Kent Davy, Editor of the North County Times, about the Bush tax cuts, whether to extend them or let them expire, and how they should be paid for if extended, Bilbray stuck to the Republican script:  “It won’t be a tax cut, but it will be a tax increase if they expire.  We should maintain the rates we have in place.”

“We’re not talking about a revenue problem.  We have a spending problem,” Bilbray said.  However, Bilbray did not enumerate what cuts he would like to see, and how much it would save, and did not present any plan to pay for them.

“Four tax cuts have created an enormous debt,” Busby began.  “We have a growing deficit, and our economy is in a recession.”

The current deficit, she said, was “caused by the wars and the Bush tax cuts.”

Busby voiced her support for the Democrat’s plan to maintain the Bush tax cuts for the middle class, but allow them to expire for the top 2% of earners.  “We want infrastructure investments.  We want our taxes invested in our communities.”

On the subject of immigration, a particular hot button for Bilbray, and specifically the DREAM Act:  “The DREAM Act is a cynical way of running a new amnesty program through.  It eliminates all immigration standards, and will further harm the working class.”

Busby, not surprisingly, took a different stance:  “Children brought here by immigrants did not commit a crime.”  She says she supports the DREAM Act, which provides a path to legal status for those young people who attend a four year college or university for at least two years, or serve two years in the military.

“We must take a comprehensive approach to immigration reform,” Busby said, for which she was loudly booed by the Bilbray supporters in the audience.

She also reminded the audience that Bilbray was a paid lobbyist to the tune of over $300,000 for the anti-immigration organization FAIR, which has been deemed as an anti-immigrant “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  And while Bilbray does not support the concept of comprehensive reform, he does tout the implementation of an E-Verify system to aid employers in identifying those workers here legally.

On the subject of campaign finance reform, Bilbray expressed “concern” about the recent Supreme Court ruling on the “Citizens United” case, which for the first time allows corporate interests to put their direct financial support behind a candidate or political cause without requiring the source of the funds to be identified.

“We should require full disclosure in our political campaigns,” Bilbray said.  “I was one of the seven members of Congress to work on campaign finance laws.”

Citizens United “undermines our democracy,” Busby said.  She then pointed out that Bilbray chose not to vote for campaign finance disclosure.  “Mr. Bilbray opened the back door for lobbyists to come in” and influence our political system, referring to Bilbray’s Congressional Cigar Association.  “Is your member of Congress voting for you?”

Davy, the moderator, then turned to the topic of jobs and the economy, saying that the stimulus bill did not deliver many jobs.

“I’m glad you pointed out that the stimulus didn’t work,” Bilbray answered.  “Of the stimulus, only 3 ½ % went to roads.  But here’s where we can work together:  There is $1 trillion in private capital overseas that is waiting to be invested.  We need do everything we can to bring that money here to the U.S.”

“The purpose of the stimulus bill was to stop us from falling into another Great Depression, and for that IT WORKED!” declared Busby.  “There is $37 billion in federal funding here in San Diego County, and that creates jobs.”

“There is a clear decision for voters to make.  Mrs. Busby wants Washington to have tax money more than she wants San Diegans to have jobs,” Bilbray jabbed.

Mr. Bilbray “talks a lot about jobs and spending, but he voted against small business tax cuts, and he voted against greater access to loans,” Busby countered.

On the subject of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the government’s role in single sex marriage, Bilbray said he voted against pushing it (DADT) aside.  “We have to let the military complete its study on the effects of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  We have to let them decide what’s in their best interests.”

“Government has historically been involved in defining marriage in order to protect the children who are perceived to be the issue.  Utah statehood was held up over the definition of marriage.”

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is about the Constitution.  We need to let people serve their country who want to serve.  Tens of thousands of LGBT have served with honor, dignity, and courage, and then have been asked to leave,” Busby said.  “We demand equal rights in this country, and Congress has no business legislating against gay marriage.”

“We must respect individual and personal rights.  People should be able to serve in the military and live with who they want,” she continued.

On gun control, Bilbray lamented the fact that the First Amendment is given so much reverence, but the Second Amendment is not treated with the same weight.  “We need to be able to protect our children.  My stance on gun rights is a good example of why law enforcement has so strongly endorsed me.”

“I respect the Second Amendment,” Busby told the audience.  “But we must have certain restrictions.  There should be no concealed weapons allowed in school zones.  And there’s no reason for us to allow assault weapons on our streets.”    The Founding Fathers, Busby pointed out, did not have assault weapons whose sole purpose is to kill many people in a short amount of time in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment.

Busby repeatedly reminded the audience of San Diego County’s position to become a key player in the race to develop clean energy, and her desire to promote San Diego as the hub for clean tech/bio tech development, while pointing to the Koch brothers, owners of the largest privately owned oil company in the country, who have thrown their support behind Bilbray.

On health care reform, Bilbray chided Democrats in Congress for pushing through a bill without knowing what is in the bill.  “We need to bring back the entire bill to the floor, and expose it so that everyone can see what’s in it,” he said.  “And we need to empower individuals to buy insurance policies across state lines.”  (Which the health care bill does, while defining the minimum levels of coverage to be provided.)  “The CBO,” Bilbray continued, “calls this bill a major expense.”

“The goal is to have everyone have access to affordable, quality health care in this country.  And we’ve taken the first step toward that goal.”  The health care bill is not perfect, Busby said, but it certainly points us in the right direction.

It was a highly contentious evening that appeared to further entrench both sides behind their candidates.  And the contrast between the two sides could not have been more clear, particularly at the mention of off-shore drilling in California, which the Republican partisans and Bilbray supporters cheered, and Busby and her supporters vehemently oppose.

The debate served to settle very little.  There was very little agreement between the two sides, and the contrasts could not have been more distinct.  One thing was very apparent to those in attendance:  Passions are running very high this election season, and there is a lot at stake for San Diego County and the United States a whole.

Darrell Issa’s Credibility Problem

If you would like to know just exactly what’s wrong with Washington these days, look no further than Darrell Issa, the Representative of the 49th district in North San Diego County.  Nothing screams “extreme partisanship” more than the way Issa has comported himself during his tenure in office.

Darrell Issa is on a one man crusade to discredit the Obama administration, and one can only assume with the ultimate goal of impeaching Obama.  Since Obama took the oath of office on January 20, 2009, there is no slight, no minute detail that Mr. Issa is willing to let slip by his guard in an effort to bring down this Democratic regime.  It’s enough to make Don Quixote burst with pride!

The trouble is that Mr. Issa isn’t exactly the model of decency, honesty, and fairness himself.  And as the saying goes, “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”

The latest dustup that has Issa once again tilting at windmills is the alleged criminal act of offering Representative Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania an unpaid position in an effort to entice him to drop his ultimately successful primary challenge of sitting Senator and Republican convert Arlen Specter.  You see, at the time of his much publicized switch, the Obama administration pledged to support Senator Specter in his reelection bid in 2010.  And support him they did, if only rather tepidly.

This, in Issa’s partisan opinion, is grounds for criminal prosecution.  Which would be just peachy with me so long as Mr. Issa was consistent in his quest for justice.

First, a brief historical look at the career of Mr. Issa:  On his military service, Congressman Issa claimed that he served for nine years in the Army.  But records show that he served only five years.  Issa also claimed that he was part of an elite Army bomb unit that was detailed to protect President Nixon at the 1971 World Series.  But records show that he spent a mere six months on a bomb disposal team while in a college ROTC program, which hardly qualifies him for elite status.  Even more devastating, though, is that Nixon never attended any of the 1971 World Series games.

TalkingPointsMemo also found that Issa’s Army record was “marred by a bad conduct rating, a demotion, and allegations that he had stolen a fellow soldier’s car.”  But that’s not the last time Issa would be accused of a crime.

In 1972, Issa was convicted of “Possession of an Unregistered Handgun,” the second time that year he was arrested on weapons charges.  In 1982, he was a suspect in an arson fire at a Ohio manufacturing plant he owned.  Just weeks prior to the fire, Issa had greatly beefed up his fire insurance protection on the plant.

In the political arena, Issa’s record is rather dubious as well:  He accused outed CIA covert operative Valerie Plame of perjury during the congressional hearings investigating the misuse of power by the Bush administration in the commutation of Scooter Libby’s sentence; his allegations were baseless.  He disparaged the testimony of four women whose family members were killed in Iraq at a hearing investigating the malfeasance of U.S. contractor Blackwater.  He called the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York a plane crash to justify denying support to the heroes who rushed to Ground Zero and who are now suffering from serious health problems as a result.

He defended Roger Clemens’ steroid use in Congressional hearings. He defended the Bush administration’s criminal destruction of White House email records, saying that they weren’t intentionally deleted, but lost because of a software glitch (a charge he was later forced to retract).  In fact, nearly every time the Bush White House came under scrutiny, there was Congressman Issa riding in on his white horse.

His defenses of the White House, though, only come when a Republican resides there.  Ever since Obama took up residence, Issa has been on a non-stop quest to uncover a Watergate-esque scandal, all to no avail.

Congressman Issa has been rather schizophrenic on the issues:  He adamantly opposes trials in civilian courts for Guantanamo detainees, while at the same time insisting suspected terrorists be afforded their Miranda rights, and opposing the loosening of the Miranda rules, even in the case of erstwhile Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.  He decries “uncontrolled government spending,” yet wholeheartedly supported the Bush administration’s uncontrolled spending.

Issa was a key figure behind the firing of former U.S. Attorney for San Diego Carol Lam for political reasons, yet he demands an investigation into the Obama administration’s dismissal of AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin, insisting it was for political reasons and citing a lack of transparency.  As if the Bush administration’s firing of eight U.S. Attorneys was completely above-board and beyond reproach.

Darrell Issa is a very wealthy man who seems to have forgotten that not everybody in his district is so fortunate.  And his thirst for power and attention has become a national embarrassment.  He has been dishonest and disingenuous as a representative of the 49th district.  He has worked tirelessly to advance the Republican agenda, yet has done precious little to make government work better for the voters who hired him.  He has been an excellent political provocateur, but an abysmal legislator and representative of the people of the San Diego County.

San Diego deserves better.  Mr. Issa was sent to Washington to work for the people of San Diego, not the Republican Party.  Congress is being crippled by partisan sniping at its worst, and Congressman Issa is among the worst culprits.  With unemployment in the county hovering around 11%, it would behoove Mr. Issa to get to work on behalf of his constituents instead of ministering over his Joseph McCarthy revival and his march to legitimize every last conspiracy theory whispered into his ear.

The San Diego Congressman and the Bay Area Hotel

When is it acceptable for a sitting San Diego area congressman to interfere with the business operations of a San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area hotel?  Apparently when the owner of said hotel pays him to do so.  Representative Brian Bilbray (CA 50th) has embroiled himself directly into the labor dispute between the Emeryville Woodfin Suites hotel and its staff.

The dispute began in 2006 when hotel employees (mostly cleaning staff) charged that the hotel had failed to pay back wages owed to them in defiance of a 2005 Emeryville city ordinance mandating a living wage for all employees.  The Emeryville City Council investigated the claim, and in 2007 determined that Woodfin owed its employees $200,000 in back wages, and ordered them to pay up.  Woodfin refused.

Instead, the hotel challenged the ordinance–Measure C–in court, where in 2008, the ordinance was upheld, and once again, Woodfin was ordered to pay up.  Woodfin challenged the City Council again.  Again, the Council investigated and once more rejected the hotel’s claims.  Woodfin was ordered to pay the back wages owed.  Woodfin refused, saying that they disagreed with the City Council’s decision.

In December, 2009, Superior Court Judge Stephen Brick once again rejected Woodfin’s claims, and ordered the hotel to pay its workers the $200,000 owed.  Woodfin’s response?  They filed a claim demanding that the City of Emeryville owed them $500,000 in legal fees.  That’s right!  Woodfin defiantly disobeyed a court validated city ordinance—repeatedly—and they now claim that the city owes THEM money!

So where does Mr. Bilbray fit into this?  Presumably it all started with a phone call.  Sam Hardage is the owner of the Woodfin Suites chain, and a Rancho Santa Fe resident (within the constituency of Brian Bilbray’s district).  Mr. Hardage was having an employee problem at his Emeryville property, and he needed some help to deal with it.  He was looking for a way to get out of paying the City Council and court mandated back wages.  He knew that many of the complaining staff were likely to be immigrants, some of them possibly in the country illegally.

Mr. Hardage needed a way to send a message, to quell the employee uprising that had occurred at his hotel.  So in 2006, shortly after the initial charges were filed against Woodfin, hotel management notified several employees that their Social Security numbers did not match the names on record with the Social Security Administration.  Shortly thereafter, several employees received “no match” letters from the SSA.

Normally a “no match” letter is not grounds for termination.  The SSA simply initially sends them out to notify the individual that there is a problem with their records, possibly a typographical error, and that steps should be taken to correct the problem.  It is not usually by itself grounds for an investigation into one’s immigration status, and it is not typical for employees who receive “no match” letters to be fired.  In fact, it is SSA policy that employees receiving letters NOT be fired.  And according to the North County Times, the hotel had received “no match” letters for these employees every year dating back for several years, which were met with complete indifference.

Yet this time, after the living wage complaints were filed, and shortly after receiving notification from the SSA, 12 Emeryville Woodfin Suites workers were fired.

It is unusual and highly irregular that a company encourages an investigation into its own employees, but this is precisely what Mr. Hardage wanted.  He placed a call to his notoriously anti-immigration congressman, Brian Bilbray, for his help.  Mr. Bilbray, in turn, flexed his political muscle with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security to trigger an investigation into the immigration status of the Emeryville Woodfin Suites employees.

Mr. Hardage, it should be noted, is the former Chair of the San Diego County Republican Party, and a major contributor to Mr. Bilbray’s campaign, having directly contributed $6,400 to Bilbray’s campaign from 2006 to 2007.

So what exactly is Brian Bilbray’s motivation to involve himself in the Woodfin Suites hotel dispute?  What has prompted him to engage in a labor dispute 450 miles away from the district he represents?  Surely if Mr. Bilbray was looking for an immigration issue to interject in, he could easily find it in his own district—a district whose southern boundary is less than 40 miles from California’s border with Mexico.

By meddling directly into the Woodfin Suites employment dispute, Mr. Bilbray is interfering with local politics hundreds of miles from his own district.  And despite his claims to the contrary, directly interfering in a labor dispute is exactly what he has done.  He is directly impeding the ability of the City of Emeryville to enforce its own ordinances, which flies directly in the face of conventional Republicanism—after all, one of the primary Republican mantras is to keep the federal government out of local politics……that state and local governments have the right of self determination.

What Mr. Bilbray has done is to place the private business interests of Sam Hardage above the collective interests of the voters of Emeryville (who voted Measure C into law).  It is disturbing that the political influence of Mr. Bilbray’s office can be bought by the bank account of Mr. Hardage.  This is the kind of Government-On-Demand that the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns in the Citizen’s United case has reinforced.  It guarantees that workers’ rights are usurped by corporate interests.

If this were truly about illegal immigration, then Mr. Bilbray would have instructed ICE to conduct a much broader investigation instead of the specifically targeted attack on one particular hotel’s workforce.  If illegal immigration is the real concern, then why not investigate the immigration status of ALL hotel employees within the City of Emeryville?  Surely the Woodfin Suites is not the only business in Emeryville whose employees received “no match” letters.  Yet Bilbray’s directive was specific to just this one.

It seems that if this were truly an immigration issue, and Mr. Hardage was concerned about incurring large fines for employing illegal immigrants, then he might have contacted (or had his local management contact) the representative of the district where Emeryville resides,  California’s 9th Congressional District, represented by Democrat Barbara Lee.

So why has Mr. Bilbray taken such an interest in the business dealings of a company operating in a far away Congressional District?  The facts of the case and the actions of both Mr. Hardage and Mr. Bilbray make it highly unlikely that immigration was the primary concern.  Mr. Hardage needed a way to intimidate his employees into submission, and what better way than through an immigration raid.  Mr. Bilbray was all too happy to assist one of his biggest donors.  After all, an “immigration investigation” is the perfect guise; it allows him to remain in the good graces of one of his benefactors, while at the same time appearing powerful and effective in fighting the great threat posed by hotel cleaning ladies potentially in the country illegally.

To date, none of the fired employees, none of the individuals who received a “no match” letter from the Social Security Administration, have been deported.

The influence Sam Hardage’s money has been able to purchase from Brian Bilbray should raise alarms to his constituents.  Who, exactly, is he working for?  Whose interests does he represent?  Does he work for ALL of the people of the 50th District, or just the Sam Hardage’s of the world?  Mr. Bilbray has been caught red handed interfering in a labor dispute well outside of his jurisdiction.  To assert otherwise would be purely fiction.  He has plainly used the resources of the federal government in an attempt to advance the private business  interests of a campaign contributor.

Which raises another question:  What is Mr. Bilbray getting out of it?

For more information about the Woodfin Suites labor dispute:

www.nctimes.com/news/local/article_9a2dc59a-877e-577a-a09e-8bc8edbe45e4.html

510report.org/2009/04/28/woodfin-continues-to-hold-out-on-back-wages/

oaklandlocal.com/blogs/2009/18/community-voices-judge-orders-woodfin-hotel-pay-200000

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