Criminalizing Dissent and Harvesting Votes in California’s Central Valley

  • submit to reddit

Rubber bullets, pepper spray, tasers and riot gear are all part of law enforcement’s arsenal in dealing with large protests. But in an increasingly security-conscious America, is the government taking aim at our civil liberties? At a trade conference in Miami in 2003, hundreds of protesters were detained, searched and some seriously injured in violent clashes with police. NOW takes a hard look at the protests and their aftermath to examine whether law enforcement was maintaining order or abusing power.

What do a frozen-food kingpin and a community activist have in common? NOW travels to one of the most productive agricultural regions in America to take the pulse of two locals with deep ties to their struggling community, even though politically they are worlds apart. While Tulare County, California, may not attract a lot of attention from the presidential contenders as they stump for electoral votes, there’s a lot at stake for local communities, from pollution and immigration, to poverty, crime, to rising energy costs. NOW’s David Brancaccio talks to Kathy Garza, who helped assemble a local planning committee to fight for community improvement and Fred Ruiz, chairman of the biggest maker of frozen Mexican food in the country, who was determined to keep his business in the community despite competitive pressure.

Then, conservative writer and WALL STREET JOURNAL editor Paul Gigot discusses the news beyond the headlines. With more than 20 years at the WSJ, Gigot won the Overseas Press Club award for his reporting on the Philippines and the Pulitzer Prize for commentary for his Washington column POTOMAC WATCH. You can access the original Web page for this program at the archived NOW with Bill Moyers website.



We begin with an examination of how the government is responding to dissent — to protest — in this country.

We’re going to focus on what may appear to be one event, anchored in a particular time and place. But what happened there has important implications for political events scheduled for this summer.

Big demonstrations are already being planned for the political conventions in Boston and New York. Hundreds of thousands of people could hit the streets.

Producer/correspondent Kathleen Hughes went to Miami to investigate 36 hours last November that some say marked a dangerous turning point in America’s approach to dissent.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: You would have thought Miami Florida was preparing for a hurricane last November…the city was clearly hunkering down for trouble.

But what Miami was bracing for was a gathering of diplomats — thirty four ministers of trade coming to negotiate an agreement called the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the FTAA, it’s purpose: to further globalize the world’s economy by eliminating trade barriers throughout the western hemisphere.

Louis Lauredo, former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States ran the proceedings:

LOUIS LAUREDO: We have an interest in creating prosperity in this hemisphere, which is the whole vision behind this– free trade Americas.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Miami officials had a lot riding on the conference. If the trade talks succeeded, the city would be in a good position to become the new FTAA’s headquarters, with all the prestige, influence and jobs that come with it.

The free-trade agreement’s enthusiastic supporters include the power players in Washington — both the Clinton and Bush administrations have pushed it.

Corporate America backs it, too. Among private donors helping pay for the Miami conference were Fortune 500 companies including General Motors, PepsiCo, AOL-Time Warner, and Federal Express.

With all that power behind the agreement, why were the police out in such force?

In part because of what has happened at previous world trade meetings. In the weeks before the FTAA events, Miami newscasters, using footage from protests in other cities, were hyping the potential for chaos.

LOCAL NEWSWOMAN: A live look at downtown Miami tonight — quiet, serene and peaceful.

LOCAL NEWSMAN: But in a matter of days, police fear protesters could storm through those serene streets in a wave of violence and vandalism.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: But the organizers of the protest had spent months preparing for a nonviolent demonstration.

RICHARD TRUMKA: Our planning was to make sure that this was the most peaceful demonstration that existed so that we could exhibit our right to public assembly, public dissent and freedom of speech and have our message out without it getting trampled on.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: When it came time for the protest, it was clear that an overwhelming number of the estimated 10,000 people who showed up were there on a peaceful mission. Many of them were working people claiming that the agreement would undermine a living wages, and send more good jobs offshore.

Richard Trumka is Secretary Treasurer of the AFL-CIO.

RICHARD TRUMKA: We had professional people, we had blue-collar workers, we had engineers, we had nurses, we had doctors.

People were coming together from all walks of life to say in one unified voice that the FTAA and the old trade rules had failed or they weren’t working for America’s working families.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Two points of view – in the hotel, those in favor of a free trade agreement – on the street, those opposed. It was set to be a classic clash of interests. But what happened instead, say many who were there, was something else altogether: an unprecedented show of government force bent on criminalizing the voices of dissent.

It’s become a touchstone in the debate about how to treat protesters in an age of terror.

RICHARD TRUMKA: I’ve never seen this many armed, body-armored riot police in one place in my entire life.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Thursday, November 20 – the day of the trade union rally.

An estimated 2500 police officers were on the street many in riot gear, equipped with rubber bullets, pepper spray and other so-called “less-lethal” weapons.

Cameras, some in the open, some hidden, were everywhere.

LARRY WINAWER: –lines of police this way.

BEN: Right.

LARRY WINAWER: Armored personnel carriers over there. Special vehicles. I couldn’t tell if they had water canons or what they had on them but they were clearly anti-people– you know crowd control vehicles.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Larry Winawer was helping the union that day, escorting elderly protesters — people like Bentley Killmon. Killmon is a retired airline pilot and Korean War veteran. He had come on a bus from his home near Fort Myers to raise a voice against the agreement at the AFL-CIO rally inside the Bayfront Amphitheater.

BENTLEY KILLMON: But when I got off the bus on– at the amphitheater that whole area there was just about– loaded with police.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Killmon made it inside the amphitheater. The AFL-CIO says many of his fellow protesters were left outside.

RICHARD TRUMKA (from rally): Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that there are buses that are not being allowed to come in here and join in this protest

RICHARD TRUMKA: There were armed officers, body-armored officers that were shoulder-to-shoulder that were preventing people from going into the amphitheater. They never made it in.

RICHARD TRUMKA (from rally): We want them to know our voice won’t be silent. Let our people in! Let our people in!

RICHARD TRUMKA: After we got in there, into the amphitheater, unbeknownst to us about a hundred or 120 of the armed people marched into the back of the amphitheater. Never told us anything about it. When we went up and we questioned them, said what are you doing here–I mean, they were obviously intimidating–they said, oh, we’re here to protect you. And we said, Protect us? From what? Ourselves?

KATHLEEN HUGHES: After the rally, many of the senior citizens, including Bentley Killmon, say they couldn’t find their busses.

BENTLEY KILLMON: even though I would walk up to the phalanx of police, or law enforcement people, they would not converse with me. I would– I told ’em I said, “I want to find the buses. I want to get outta here and get back home.” No response.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Killmon did find Larry Winawer. Together they went looking for Killmon’s bus. But their way was cut off by the police.

BENTLEY KILLMON: They had weapons pointed at us that not only guns and such as that. That also had mace bottles, tasers and all this, that and the other paraphernalia pointed at us. Which if it didn’t kill you would really put a hurtin’ on you.

LARRY WINAWER: Ben and I were talking just as we are now and from the west a wall of police, and I mean a wall of riot clad police with guns drawn were screaming “get down, get down”

BENTLEY KILLMON: So needless to say I got down. I was not –I may be a little bit touched but I’m not totally dumb. So I got down on my knees. So the next thing I knew it was either a foot or a knee that was put in my back and I was forced onto the ground at which time they did handcuff me with the nylon handcuffs.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: The men say they were handcuffed for 12 hours, and held for a total of 24. They were eventually charged with resisting arrest.

RICHARD TRUMKA: They did these giant sweeps, didn’t care whether you were a peaceful protestor acting within your rights or not. Did not matter. You got swept up. And they did not care.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: It wasn’t just protesters who say they were denied their civil rights. Local journalist Celeste Delgado was covering the event for her weekly paper. She says she was about 25 blocks north of the main protest when police forced her to the ground.

Police ignored her press credentials, she says cuffing her and taking her into custody.

She eventually learned, to her surprise, what she’d been arrested for:

CELESTE DELGADO: And my counts were resisting arrest without violence and failure to obey a legal order.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: The police narrative of the arrest surprised her even more. She was described as “with a group of individuals which matched description of people who were throwing rocks.”

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Do you have any idea whether those people had been throwing rocks?

CELESTE DELGADO: I don’t know. But again it said I was with people who fit the description of people who were throwing rocks. So it wasn’t even saying–

KATHLEEN HUGHES: They had thrown rocks.


KATHLEEN HUGHES: At least 234 people were arrested, and before it was over, police had fired over a thousand rounds of rubber bullets and other projectiles.

Critics amassed dozens of examples of what they describe as law enforcement abuses, even one of the judges presiding over the subsequent cases spoke out, saying in court that he saw no less than 20 felonies committed by police officers.

But Miami’s Chief of Police, John Timoney, is proud of what his force accomplished at the FTAA protests.

CHIEF JOHN TIMONEY: I’m completely satisfied that we did everything according-to the book. The way we planned it.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Timoney coordinated the entire security effort. He was the man in charge.

CHIEF TIMONEY: We put seven or eight months of planning for this event. We filmed everything. We have documented everything. And so a lot of the charges that are out there in the public domain, are just that. Charges without much substance.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Timoney says police face a new reality in confronting dissent as a result America’s War on Terror.

CHIEF TIMONEY: Of course, post 9-11, you factor in the possibility of a large event being a, if you will, an inviting target for a terrorist.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: That translates into the need for massive force. All told 40 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies were on hand including 25 local police agencies, Florida State Troopers, the FBI, the Coast Guard, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Homeland Security.

CHIEF TIMONEY: And so, this was the first big event for Homeland Security which includes a whole host of federal agencies including Coast Guard and Customs and things like that. It really was the first real, realistic, if you will, run-through to see how it would work. And it worked pretty well.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: The Miami police worked with Washington to gird against any potential terror activity. Timoney says they also spent months training to defend the city against a small group of troublemakers – he calls them anarchists.

CHIEF TIMONEY: We were watching on the internet, and a whole variety of sources, and through a whole variety of intelligence what anarchists were coming to do– in the city of Miami. Yes.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Jim Defede, columnist at the MIAMI HERALD says the anarchist threat was overblown.

JIM DEFEDE: What the news media was able to do what the police department was able was to do was define anyone who protested against the FTAA as an outsider. Therefore the police felt free to defend Miami against these invading hoards.

You know, they would always be very careful. It was always very slick. They would always talk about how, well it’s just one percent. One percent of the people coming to protest are anarchists, or the perceived anarchists are violent or here to do harm. The other 99 percent are fine. But at the end of the day the taint of that one percent spilled over on the entire group. And so therefore everyone was a perceived threat. Everyone was a possible anarchist, even 80-year-old retirees coming down from Boca Raton on busses, they could be a threat.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: That’s not how Chief Timoney says he saw it.

CHIEF TIMONEY: The problem wasn’t with the Miami police department. The problem was with the anarchists who are hell-bent on- on causing– causing havoc.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: And indeed, during the Miami protest there were groups calling themselves anarchist. And there was trouble.

CHIEF TIMONEY: There was no satiating their appetite for violence.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: In fact, while trade unionists and others were preparing to march, a small group of troublemakers gathered outside a fence near the hotel where the ministers were staying. The city had invested nearly $200,000 dollars to build the fence.

CHIEF TIMONEY: They came down at seven in the morning, and tried to tear the fence down. The hook– you know, they came down with grappling hooks– tied on rope, trying to pull it down, doing their thing, throwing paint at police officers, attacking the mayor’s car.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: There was more later in the day protesters can be clearly seen on tape, setting up barricades, trying to start a fire, and throwing things, in what Timoney calls a barrage of fire from the anarchists.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: How– how many do you think made it to Miami?

CHIEF TIMONEY: I have no idea.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: No idea. You can’t tell?


KATHLEEN HUGHES: Even from your videotapes? A rough estimate?


KATHLEEN HUGHES: No one can say how many troublemakers, anarchist or not, there were in Miami that day. But observers called them a tiny minority.

LOCAL CHANNEL 6 NEWSWOMAN OVER AERIAL SHOT OF THE PROTEST: Because when you think about the parade and the thousands of people that we saw in a peaceful way, manifesting their points of view. This is really a small pocket that has in a way gotten out of control.

JIM DEFEDE: We were told that this police department was going to be very smart in how it handled protesters. That they were going to be like a razor that was able to go in and slice off a single protester who was causing disturbance and leaving the greater good unharmed.

Well we ended up with just the opposite.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Is it possible that some people were mistaken for violent people, when in fact, they weren’t?

CHIEF TIMONEY: How would they be mistaken?

KATHLEEN HUGHES: There’s many people who say they–

CHIEF TIMONEY: Well, they can say anything they want, as long as you look at the video. Look at the footage.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: We looked at a lot of footage. One person we saw was protester Nikki Hartman.

Hartman says she knelt alone to pray in front of a wall of police officers, then was shot by something as she fled from them.

NIKKI HARTMAN: And then they hit my left shoulder and I felt to the ground. On all fours. And I tried to crawl away. I tried to leave the area while they were still firing at me.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Hartman was not arrested. An ambulance took her to the hospital, where, she says, five staples closed a wound in her head.

And then there is this footage shot by filmmaker Carl Kesser.

Kesser is all for the FTAA agreement, and he wants its headquarters in Miami. He had been out all week making a tape he hoped would be used to promote the FTAA.

CARL KESSER: But now watch this, look at that guy. That man is shooting at people’s heads.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: That afternoon, Kesser was on Biscayne Blvd. with a pack of reporters who had donned gas masks to fend off tear gas. The police were on the move clearing protesters from the area.

CARL KESSER: Watch this, it’s unbelievable. There I go. Here’s all news people. I just got hit.

CARL KESSER (ON TAPE): Oh my God! Oh my God!

CARL KESSER: There’s my blood on the lens.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Kesser was hit in the head with this-a so-called less lethal weapon known as a “bean bag” lead pellets wrapped in cloth.

The bean bag embedded itself in Kesser’s skull. Surgeons spent over 3 hours removing it.

CARL KESSER One inch to the left, I would have lost my eye. One inch to the right, I would have lost my ear. And the doctors said, “One inch above, I would have been dead.” So, you know, we’re just grateful that I’m alive.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Miami Police Chief John Timoney, remains convinced the actions of the anarchists, on balance, justified the police response.

CHIEF TIMONEY: These are not your father’s protesters. They’re pretty smart. They’re well organized. They’re trained. They have a game plan. They have a pre game plan. They have a game plan. They have a post game plan. You’re part of the post game plan.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: In other words you’re saying they’re manipulating–

CHIEF TIMONEY: Oh, of course. Without a doubt. Without a doubt. Without a doubt.

CHIEF TIMONEY: Cause I could tell by the questions and the stuff you’re asking that you’re another pawn in the post game show. That’s all.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: So– in other words by questioning what happened–

CHIEF TIMONEY: No. No. You’re allowed to question. But it’s the type of questions– what you’re alleging– you’re alleging things that didn’t happen. But you– you know you– you– you’re doing the bidding. You’re looking for sound bytes. You’ll get all that and that’s fine.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Timoney charges that a journalist’s questions are part of a plot against the police. Others charge that it was the police who were taking sides, actively supporting the FTAA and criminalizing the protesters’ message.

LIDA RODRIGUEZ TASEFF: They decided that these people were the enemy. And they decided that they were the enemy because they didn’t like what they had to say.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Lida Rodriguez Taseff is a president of the Greater Miami Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. She says that in preparation for the summit, police officials gave a powerpoint presentation touting the advantages of headquartering the trade group in Miami.

LIDA RODRIGUEZ TASEFF: And if you look through that Power Point presentation, the police is giving the presentation. And they’re talking about the FTAA, and what is the FTAA gonna do for the community. And talking about the FTAA in very laudatory terms.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: In their power point slides the police highlight that a new international trade headquarters in Miami could provide Florida up to 89,000 jobs, and $13.5 billion dollars annually in new economic activity. Ambassador Louis Lauredo says he advised the police to be sensitive to those financial issues.

LOUIS LAUREDO: I spent more time at the trainings and talking to the policemen to sensitize them to what was at stake here– what was at stake for the United States, what was at stake for the people of Florida, for the people of Miami. And to have them sensitized — not only about the issues that were in this country, ’cause it’s just not an event. This is a major diplomatic encounter. That would affect that — I told them– their pocketbooks.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: The ACLU’s Rodriguez-Taseff says the police were biased.

LIDA RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: When you take the police from their neutral role as neutral enforcers of the law. And turn them into essentially the Chamber of Commerce. Turn them into an entity that had a definite opinion on the substance of the FTAA protests. This essentially turned around the entire debate. And it was no longer about whether or not these people were being peaceful. But it became about whether or not we like their message.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: The ACLU is making the case that the police department viewed the protestors as the enemy, in the sense that the protestors were against the FTAA. And the FTAA was good for Miami.

CHIEF TIMONEY: Absolutely not– that’s not– that’s the AFL– I mean, that’s the ACLU. Stop it. Stop it.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: The AFL-CIO has asked the Justice Department to launch an investigation. Why a federal investigation? Because the feds helped pay for what happened in Miami.

Louis Lauredo says it happened like this. Last fall, Florida governor Jeb Bush and a coalition of the state’s business and government officials went to Congress seeking eight and a half million dollars for security at the FTAA summit.

And Congress came through. Remember that 87 billion dollar emergency appropriations bill for the rebuilding of Afghanistan and Iraq? It included eight and a half million dollars for security at the Miami FTAA meeting.

DEFEDE: We spent you know, in a bill designed to provide billions of dollars to bring democracy and ordering stability to Iraq, we were able to funnel off eight and a half million dollars to do just the opposite in Miami.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: There’s no word whether the Justice Department will take up the AFL-CIO’s request for an investigation, but in Miami a civilian investigative panel has already started looking into allegations of police misconduct.

The police have called the shooting of filmmaker Carl Kesser in the head an unfortunate accident.

But three weeks ago, when Chief Timoney came before the panel, he declared police actions an overall success.

CHIEF TIMONEY: There are some lessons to be learned – which we will go into but overall I take exception to some of the charges and allegations that are out there. I think the men and women of the Miami police department performed admirably. They used great restraint and professionalism.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Protester Bentley Killmon takes away a different lesson.

BENTLEY KILLMON: They say Homeland Security, it’s homeland suppression.

KATHLEEN HUGHES: The man who once fought for his country in the Korean War now worries about the nation’s future.

BENTLEY KILLMON: This is not America.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Now, America and the election.

Here was the idea. Of the ten states to hold primary contests this Tuesday — Super Tuesday — California is the big kahuna. Nearly 15 million registered voters there.

Our mission was to have a conversation about politics with two of those voters, but which two? We looked for them in California’s vast farming region in a county that reflects the state’s future. More than half the people there are Hispanic. Indeed, that’s the projection for the rest of California by the middle of this century.

The two voters we found don’t share the same tax bracket or even the same political party. But they do have something in common: both defy those stereotypical labels: Democrat and Republican.

You may never have visited the Central Valley of California, but it’s possible the naval oranges on your table and the cotton in your shirt were born here. This is some of the most productive agricultural land on the planet, but income disparities here are staggering. You have those who run agribusiness and related industries and those who don’t.

Meet Kathy Garza, Super Tuesday primary voter and a major force in Goshen, a tiny California town that used to be really crummy.

KATHY GARZA: When I started my job people asked me why we moved here. And when I mentioned the community, I had people just -petrified, how can you sleep? And what do you wanna be out there for? It’s infested with drug dealers and criminals and all of these horror stories. And it scared me.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Yes, there were lots full of junk, stray dogs, graffitti. No place to go to the doctor. No park. Not even a proper sewer line. But buying a house was cheap. Garza moved here 23 years ago and has been pushing for change ever since.

KATHY GARZA: We spoke with some of our neighbors and we talked to some very strong families. What can we do to make things better? So instead of leaving, we felt that it was better if we stayed and with our neighbors and our friends, fight it, and try to do what we could to make it better.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: The thing is, Goshen isn’t an official town. It’s unincorporated, meaning no local cops, no town council. For Garza what was needed to fight for improvements was democracy. She was a founding member of the Goshen Planning Committee, an elected body with a mandate to figure out what needed to be fixed. Garza and her neighbors pushed for and won a million dollar grant that would train people to become just the right sort of squeaky wheels that attract private sector and government money. They started with a survey to identify needs.

KATHY GARZA: There was a lot of big issues. Like–street lights and things like that–probably we couldn’t do. So we went with small things. Putting out trash cans at the bus stop. Making–fighting for–covered bus stops.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Important, but what about the bigger issues? One that came up a lot was what they are breathing.

Someone who’s never visited might think of this as a pastoral paradise. You have fields. You have agriculture. You’re saying there’s an air quality issue?

KATHY GARZA: Well, we’re a valley. We don’t get the breezes that the coast does.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Lousy air from the big northern California cities settles into this valley and mixes with dust from the fields and the pollution put out by farm equipment. The result is that many here –14% — suffer from asthma. Then there’s the one in thirteen who have diabetes, the one in six who have no health insurance… situations made worse by the fact that those in Goshen were often at least an hour away from help.

KATHY GARZA: Ten years ago, if you had to go to a doctor, you couldn’t see anybody here in Goshen. You’d have to take a city bus to Visalia — and further– probably do a transfer at least one time to get to your doctor or to a clinic.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Goshen alone couldn’t clean the air, but residents did look for ways to treat its effects. Kathy and her neighbors worked over time to get the ear of local and state representatives and as a first step, got a temporary clinic set up at the local school. It was a start.

KATHY GARZA: It did some services, but it couldn’t meet the needs of family planning and a lot of different other items.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Other big concerns are crime and security. In fact, crooks figured out that a town with no local police would be a useful location to brew batches of the nasty drug crystal methamphetamine in their garages. Last fall residents began forming neighborhood watches and patrolling for such things, but it’s still touch and go.

And then, even in this land of plenty, there’s hunger. Food stamps are not an option if you’re just in from Mexico for field work.

Kathy takes us to visit Marcelina Abila, a Goshen grandmother who feeds her homemade tortillas, pork, and beans to as many drop-ins as she can manage. For those living on the fringe, Mrs. Abila’s is their first stop.

MARCELINA ABILA: Some people ask me about, some people ask me where they can get food, they’re needed of food or where they can go so they can get their bills paid. Or they need a refrigerator or furniture or stuff, or clothes or jackets, and I usually know, and if I don’t have it, I know where to send them.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: And an overarching problem here, in Garza’s view, is that national politics fails to connect with those kitchen table issues.

KATHY GARZA: Sometimes what’s talked about and brought out on the news isn’t really touching the lives of a lot of people. I mean, of course – you know, foreign policy is a concern, because a lot of young people that we know and families have children that are involved in one form of military or not. But when things get – about – the right to have – gay marriages and things and it’s put on the news and just goes crazy with it, that doesn’t really affect a lot. That’s not one of the top issues for them. There’s other thing that I think people are more concerned about.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Their electricity bill for starters. And strangely for a town of just 2,500 people controlling growth is an issue.

KATHY GARZA: We really want Goshen to have a friendly atmosphere. We want out homes, our potential future homes, to not have bad neighbors, to have the right businesses here that’s gonna work for them.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: The environment is connected to Goshen’s growth question. So is immigration. Though Garza is American born and bred she has no problem with people who cross the border for local jobs.

KATHY GARZA: I think that to keep the cost of our produce down and there’s jobs that people, some Americans, choose not to do, that we still need to bring in those crops in.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: But not resentment from a community that has such a high unemployment rate, of people coming from a different country and perhaps taking jobs?

KATHY GARZA: Well, I believe that if people want the jobs, they’re there. But some people again, choose, whether it’s health issues or whatever, they don’t necessarily choose to wanna work in the fields. And that’s the type of work we’re talking about.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Garza worked at K-Mart in nearby Visalia for two decades and her husband works at the Post Office. Now she worries the modest standards of living they achieved may be erased by a changing economy.

KATHY GARZA: And that’s the saddest part. Is- everybody hopes that their children will have it better and things are going more positive for them.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: But Garza says, just look at what’s happened to the price of a house.

KATHY GARZA: Basically, incomes are not going up as far as property values are going up. So all we can do is work together and hopefully things will get better so that the average American, the working people, more people can buy a home and start saving and putting away money for college and things for their children. Right now it’s paycheck to paycheck for a lot of people.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: On a recent night, Garza is back at it with the planning group, which is also living check to check. Tonight, it’s the District Attorney with a $5,000 crime victim’s restitution check. The squeaky wheel at work.

Just down Tulare County Road J-19, it’s the wheels of prosperity at work. Fred Ruiz – yes, he pronounces it Reese even though it’s spelled R-U-I-Z, is chairman of the company that’s the biggest maker of frozen Mexican food in the country, Ruiz Foods. Although, he was raised in this area, he’s been wrestling with the idea of making the company’s next big expansion somewhere outside the state.

FRED RUIZ: You know California is becoming so anti-business and creating so many issues and obstacles for us to compete, you know, with– other companies and other states.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: This is a big time Republican talking, one who welcomed the President to his factory just last fall.

But many of his views on issues are unexpected. He says there are Democratic positions he supports and there are Republican ones with which he takes issue.

FRED RUIZ: I kinda wondered if I’m not the voter of the future and that maybe they oughta’ start payin’ more attention to a middle ground.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Is there anything President Bush could do differently in order to cement his support among people that you normally bump into in a given day or week?

FRED RUIZ: No, I– you know It’s interesting that the President– has a difficult time relating to people. I think he can be more sensitive to the common worker, the laborer. You know. I think he’s too Republican.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: And when it comes to his workforce he likes to practices what he preaches. Ruiz prides himself in offering solid health and dental care to his employees but those costs, he says, were going up 10 percent a year. The price of worker’s compensation insurance was also soaring out of sight. That’s a big reason why he’d been thinking of expanding out of state. But could he find this kind of workforce elsewhere?

FRED RUIZ: My analogy is that the people in southern California are dangerous, northern California they’re strange, and we’re the normal part of California.

Very much a Midwest type of mentality but with a very strong Latino-Hispanic workforce. Which I think makes it-another– I think it makes the valley better. And of course our workforce is primarily, you know, Hispanic. We have about 1,800 employees. Wonderful workforce. Very strong work ethic. Very appreciative of the employers.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Employers like Ruiz who support the environment and want cleaner air in the valley. He’s about to buy one of those little hybrid cars that don’t pollute much, but hardly shout “here comes the chairman of the board.”

The environment isn’t much of a priority for the Bush administration, but don’t get Ruiz wrong. He doesn’t think the Democratic Presidential candidates have much to offer.

FRED RUIZ: You know the President introduced a health care program and, you know, and for some reason, you know, they’re attacking it and they’re saying, “Well it’s wrong.” I mean somebody just do something and so I’m just very frustrated with the negative politics. You know, the estate planning issues, you know.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: The estate tax issue affects you?

FRED RUIZ: Absolutely. You know I’ve got to– start planning for the transition of ownership from one generation to the next. If I can’t do that effectively– then this company’s gonna have to be sold. And you know and I’ve got a– I’ve got 1,800 employees out there.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: “Out there” is a county where the migrants of past harvests are celebrated on giant murals, and the president’s new guest worker idea also gets high marks…a plan to let employers sponsor immigrants – including those already here illegally – for positions companies say they can’t otherwise fill.

FRED RUIZ: On the immigration issue I like what he’s done on that and I like his position. Seems like he is reaching out.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Ruiz says the President’s plan isn’t going over as well with some of his neighbors.

FRED RUIZ: We’ve got some wonderful very successful farmers you know in this area. And they did it, you know, with the cheap labor and so all of a sudden it’s kinda like, you know, what– I don’t need these people any more? So they don’t count? There’s a little bit of racism involved in it too. Unfortunately.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: One of his answers to this racism is to support voter registration drives.

Even if you’re encouraging voters to vote ultimately Democrat in some cases?

FRED RUIZ: I mean that’s– what’s wrong with that? Voting, you know, I think is– more important that they vote. And they have to vote which way they think is best.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Idealistic, perhaps. But common ground among different political persuasions may be possible. Ruiz’s grandchildren also live in this valley. And like many of the kids Kathy Garza works with in Goshen, they also suffer from asthma.

FRED RUIZ: I want them to be able to go out and do the things that I did when I was growing up here in the valley. Ride your bike and go fishing and I worry about them.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: It’s his dedication to preserving the future here that has led Ruiz to make a serious commitment to the Valley. After much planning and consideration, he has decided not to build his new factory out of state. He’ll make his big expansion right here in Tulare County.

FRED RUIZ: I think one of the things that we’ve done very well is created a relationship with our employees. So that, you know, when you’re growing at 20, 25 percent a year it requires a lot of support from your employees I mean to sustain that kind of growth. And we get that.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: It’s the same impulse that drives the folks in Goshen where,thanks to the pressure from Garza and her focussed fellow citizens, they’ll finally have something more than temporary medical care, with the grand opening set for next month.

KATHY GARZA: Well this is our very first permanent health clinic. This is very exciting for the community of Goshen. It’s a full array, family services, children, it just has everything you could possibly need.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: What we see in this part of California are two voters, poles apart financially, but sharing something beyond their Latino heritage, a desire to work to make their communities better. Democratic and Republican parties take note: you can’t take voters like these for granted. It’s meat and potato issues we’re hearing, housing, health care, improving the environment and the environment for jobs. It’s striking when you spend any time here, the divisive headline issues that typically consume national politics just seem to pass right by much of Tulare County.

We want to reflect now on the week’s news. To help us do that, we’ve invited Paul Gigot for a conversation about the politics of our time.

Paul Gigot is a leading conservative and the man who sculpts news events into opinion for the WALL STREET JOURNAL. He won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in the year 2000. As editorial page editor, he oversees the JOURNAL’s editorials, op-ed articles and leisure and arts criticism.

Paul Gigot welcome to NOW.

PAUL GIGOT: Good to be here, David.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: So here we are, the dawn of March, 2004. What’s on your radar?

PAUL GIGOT: Well, a lot of things are on my radar. But I think the one of the bigger stories of the week was the President’s endorsement of a Constitutional amendment for gay marriage. It’s controversial, stirred up a lot of fuss, a lot of debate.

One of the things that strikes me about the reaction to it is that people think it’s somehow a illegitimate political issue, something you don’t want to discuss. I think the Democrats in the debate the other night said, “Well, this is something that’s divisive.” And I guess it is, but you know, I think maybe we ought to talk about that. Maybe that’s what the core of democracy is all about, talking about an issue as fundamental as marriage.


PAUL GIGOT: Let’s get it on the table.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: There’s a further argument that, in fact, the Republicans in the White House had embraced this issue. That this is this fabulous issue that he can get the American public focused on, so that maybe we don’t ask questions about the state of the economy, or how the war is going in Iraq.

PAUL GIGOT: That’s not my reading of what they’re thinking. I mean, I think Bush has come to this reluctantly. I really do. I mean, I think, if you look at his history in Texas– even the first few years of his administration, he’s not a natural culture warrior.

There are Republicans who are, there’s no question that there are. And they are– there’s no question also that Republicans in the past have used the culture as a so-called wedge issue to divide the electorate. But I don’t think this President feels that way. I think that the President’s been backed into this– I– what I think is a kind of cultural corner, that he’s a little bit uncomfortable with.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: His chief political advisor in the White House, Karl Rove– he doesn’t see a gold mine here? Even if the President doesn’t?

PAUL GIGOT: Do you think it’s a gold mine? I don’t think the politics of this is all that clear. There certainly are a core group of Republicans on that vote for Bush, that think that this is a wonderful issue. But I think that most Americans are what Bill Galston, the social scientist says are “tolerant traditionalists.”

That is, they really don’t want to mess with what people do in their own personal lives. On the other hand, they believe in traditional institutions, and they don’t want some an institution like marriage to be tampered with easily, or quickly, or without due deliberation in the democratic process. So I think this issue, the politics of this, are not clear to me at all.

If Bush looks to be intolerant, or if he looks to be somehow censorious, voters don’t like that. I think the way this comes out will depend on who looks to be the cultural aggressor, if you will. Between now and November.

But look, I mean this is a delicate issue for both sides. You know who endorsed the Massachusetts Constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court of Massachusetts? John Kerry.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: A man by the name of John Kerry. And that was this week.

PAUL GIGOT: That was this week. Both John Kerry and John Edwards are against gay marriage, or claim to be. And– so they’re dis– they’re the main difference now between them and the President is not in the fundamentals of gay marriage, it’s whether or not you support a Federal Constitutional Amendment. Look, I don’t think that a Constitutional Amendment, we all know they’re very hard to pass.

Seventeen of them since the Bill of Rights, that’s all. I doubt that this one is ever going to become part of the Constitution. But maybe, just maybe, by making– by supporting it, the President’s going to force this issue to be debated in legislatures– to be handled democratically. And we can reach some kind of a consensus about a very important issue, an institution, as social mores change.

I mean, social mores are changing. Civil Unions are– I think are going to become a fact of life in all kinds of states. Now, whether gay marriage does or not, I don’t know. I would like that to be settled democratically, and not by judges.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Here we are talking about issues that some regard as morality versus immorality. We also have– an interesting idea from Senator John Edwards, who would very much like to go to the White House, about the morality of our trade policy. The implication that a policy that leads to people losing their livelihoods, losing their jobs, is immoral. What do you make of that?

PAUL GIGOT: Well, morality in politics is a very powerful– subject. When you can turn any political issue into a moral issue, you make it more compelling, rather than– particularly economics, with the dry statistics of what economics sometimes–

DAVID BRANCACCIO: And economists hate that when you introduce– morality to any of this.

PAUL GIGOT: Well, yeah I think they do. But it seems to me what he’s raising the question is whether trade is fundamentally immoral. Whether free trade is. Because you end up shipping jobs overseas, and then that damages people here.

I would argue, based on my long experience– working as a correspondent overseas and here, that trade is one of the most moral issues around. It’s the most moral things we can do as an American society to enhance not only the living standards of Americans, but of– foreigners as well, overseas. And that’s in our long-term interest too.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Help me understand how you get to that conclusion I was traveling recently for this program in Michigan– just prior to their caucuses. And I was speaking to folks who build refrigerators at a factory there. It’s closing. They can get people in Mexico to do those jobs for much less per hour. They’re understandably upset by free trade. It was rational– it wasn’t irrational.

PAUL GIGOT: No, no no– it’s not irrational at all. And nobody’s saying, and I’m certainly not saying, that there aren’t costs to free trade. But there are– I mean, it’s an enormous transition. It’s a very dynamic economy and process that happens. And some people are going to lose their jobs, there’s no question about it.

But what happens is, you hope you create a dynamic enough economy that you create all kinds of new jobs, and new opportunities. During the 1990s, for example, when Bill Clinton signed a number of trade deals, and we had debate over NAFTA, we had unemployment shoot down to the lowest level it had been in 20, 30 years. So– it– you have to maintain the policies that allow United States to become competitive.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: I mean, it’s the argument that if we don’t allow, for instance, outsourcing, where a person in the Indian subcontinent can read an X-ray for a doctor in Boston– if we don’t allow that, ultimately companies won’t do very well in the United States, and they won’t be employing anybody, right?

PAUL GIGOT: That’s right. I mean that’s a very important argument. I mean, John Kerry’s used this line on the– on the campaign trail called “Benedict Arnold CEO’s” who move their jobs overseas. Now, even given the you know, political rhetoric, “Benedict Arnold” is– what is he saying? That the– that the– treason here?

I guess I’d argue that a CEO almost has an obligation to the other workers. To all the workers, and to his shareholders, to make his company, or her company, as competitive as possible. And that means if it means moving a call center to India, so be it.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: The thing is, Paul, that once people who have college educations, middle-class people who train for jobs like reading X-rays find out that all this free trade stuff can also put their jobs at peril, they’re going to ally themselves with working people, like from that refrigerator factory. And whether or not you like free trade, there will be a coalition building that– produces a political backlash.

PAUL GIGOT: You may be right, politically. That’s a political observation, though. That’s not a substantive economic observation.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: But it may be reality.

PAUL GIGOT: It may in fact be reality. And I think you do have to– you have to explain this to people. The truth is that the service jobs that are moving over are not very high-end, high-paying service jobs. And the political reality, and I add this to your point, is that he jobs that we do lose, we feel immediately. Because they were real, they existed.

But jobs that will be created because we have a more efficient use of capital, and a more efficient and more competitive company, those are speculative. We don’t know where those’ll be yet. We don’t know where they’ll be created. Will they be created in bio-technology? Will they be created in nano-technology?

Will they be created in new kinds of information technology? Telecom? We don’t know yet. And that makes for a difficult political issue. One of the things that we at the JOURNAL praised Bill Clinton for, time and again, was his trade policy. For– basically explaining to the American people what this kind of dynamic process involves. And that you can’t gain as a country if you do put up walls and are protectionist.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: It’s just so hard, though. Because it’s very easy for me to talk to a dislocated worker– he’ll do the interview, she’ll do the interview. It’s harder to talk to a 14-year-old kid who may some day have a nano-technology job because of free trade.


DAVID BRANCACCIO: New subject. Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve Chief, is on Capitol Hill this week. He said something that must have drained the color from the faces of the White House. He’s talking about this giant deficit. It’s projected this year, as you know, to be over– maybe a half trillion dollars, over $500– billion this year. And he’s talking about ways to address it.

And he says, “Well, don’t raise taxes.” Greenspan says, “Make spending cuts. And when you’re thinking about spending cuts, how about Social Security? There are problems there.” The logic being that we pay for the big tax cut that we just gave the American people by cutting payouts for Social Security?

PAUL GIGOT: I think that would be political madness. And it wouldn’t ever happen. I mean– but I think Greenspan is proving– I mean, Greenspan committed the gaffe of telling the truth. And the truth is, that– what he was saying is that promises that we’ve made through the great entitlements, Social Security, Medicare, are unsustainable in the long run, because we’ve made these promises.

And, with the Baby Boomers, you, me, retiring– here and– we hope a ways off– there are just going to be fewer workers– too few workers to really sustain them on a pay-as-you-go basis, which is what Social Security is. Current workers pay for current retirees. So we’re going to have to do something about it.

And I think he was opening up the avenue of– you could look at it more optimistically, David. And say what he’s doing is opening up the debate over Social Security reform. And I don’t think that– the moneys going to be there– unless the programs change fundamentally.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: I mean, half of all Americans don’t have a pension. I mean, something has to be done.

PAUL GIGOT: Yeah, I think that’s right. And I you know, and I think– you know, President Bush here– has– an obligation, I think, to– as President, to propose changes in Social Security. He did talk about them in general terms in 2000, lived to tell about it. Rare in our politics.

And now– and he didn’t do much about it during his first term. The White House is saying that they’re going to do something about it here in the campaign. And campaign to do something about it, if they win and– would do something in 2005. The Republicans are petrified on Capitol Hill. Chairman Greenspan’s remarks won’t make them any more self assured about it.

But this is an issue where Presidential leadership is crucial. You’re never going to make those reforms unless you get a President who steps up and does it. Bill Clinton talked about doing it. And then we had the impeachment debate. And it– and it feel by the wayside.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Well, maybe the White House needs to get it’s house in order on it’s own spending first, even before addressing this whole issue of social security. I mean, you have some– might argue, irresponsible spending.

PAUL GIGOT: We’ve argued that.


PAUL GIGOT: Sure. I mean, I think this is I– we’ve supported their tax policy, because we think it’s really helped us get the economy get back on a growth track after some very difficult years. But the one I think the– well, I would– their trade policy hasn’t been great, either.

But the one other big area they’ve had a problem with is spending. President Bush has acquiesced with the Congress, just going crazy on spending. And– you know, it’s a bad it’s a problem. And it’s contributed, I think to some of the deficits. Although the biggest factor has been the slow growing slow growing economy.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Wanted to call your attention to a nifty little piece I saw.

It turns out there’s a survey of how the stock portfolios of US Senators fared. It was a five years period during the 1990’s where they had the data. Turns out these Senators are doing pretty good. Over these five years, their personal stock portfolios went up 12 percent a year– past the, what the market was doing on average. What does that say to you?

PAUL GIGOT: Maybe they’re in the wrong business. I didn’t know Senators knew that much about economics, or the stock market.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Maybe it implies, I don’t know what, insider knowledge? I mean–

PAUL GIGOT: Well, I don’t know. Either that, or they have the wherewithal to hire pretty good financial advisors. I doubt most of these guys are doing their own trading.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: You don’t think they have the time, huh?

PAUL GIGOT: They’re too busy raising money, and doing other things.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Just– worry about that, that somehow these people in positions of power, with access to all sorts of information pull this off very, very well when it comes to grooming their own portfolios.

PAUL GIGOT: I’ll tell you what I worry about. I worry about the Senate being a millionaire’s club– where if– I mean, if– it’s so much easier to win– election to the Senate if you have– if you’re already rich. Because you don’t have to go out and raise $1,000 and $2,000 from all those small contributors. That’s where I think campaign finance reform has really damaged our politics, and restricted the pool of candidates that we have available.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: You’re arguing that the efforts to take the money out of politics have had a perverse effect?

PAUL GIGOT: I sure am.


PAUL GIGOT: You got it exactly why? Because it– makes it more difficult to tap larger contributor– like– you’re a poor guy on the street, right?

But you’re smart as hell. And you have an ambition to be in politics. And you want to be in the Senate. Well, I mean, the odds that you’re going to be able to raise the money, unless you already have it like Jon Corzine of New Jersey–

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Who used to work at Goldman Sachs.

PAUL GIGOT: Goldman Sachs, or Bill Frist of Tennessee, who was a prominent heart surgeon-, the prospects– raising that money is slim. And you have to raise an awful lot of money. And to do it in $1,000 and $2,000 increments is even harder.

So, what you want to do is I mean, I think we ought to open it up. If you have some friends who– or– people, who believe in you, believe it or not, you know, support your ideas, and they want to write you a check for $100,000, or $200,000, I think they ought to be able to do that, as long as they disclose who they are, instantly, on the internet. You know who they are.

The voters can then make up their mind, and say, “Okay. He’s the– candidate from Phillip Morris. I don’t like that.” But–

DAVID BRANCACCIO: So we’ll know who the special interests really are?

PAUL GIGOT: We’ll know who they are. I think that it’ll be a lot more transparent system. And I think would have more competition. Because I think, political competition. Because I think we’d open the system up more to more candidates.

And, particularly in the Congressional and Senate– contests. Senate contests, in particular. Because they become so expensive.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Gee, Paul, here I was thinking you were argue for more public financing for elections. And that’s just not the way you went.

PAUL GIGOT: Sorry to disappoint you.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Yeah, right. Paul Gigot, WALL STREET JOURNAL. Thank you so much for spending the time with us on Now.

PAUL GIGOT: Thanks, David. I enjoyed it.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Bill Moyers and I will be back next week. Watch for his conversation with the Reverend William Sloane Coffin reflecting on love, political passion and mortality. I’m David Brancaccio. Good night.

This transcript was entered on April 23, 2015.

  • submit to reddit