This is a tale of a former Irvine Mayor and a candidate who wants to be. And a tale of character — of who has it and who lacks it.
As the economic hub of Orange County, Irvine plays host to national leaders on a regular basis. We share two stories of a national leader who came to Irvine and the interaction of that leader with a member of the Irvine City Council who was in the opposition party. Of course, we talking about when Irvine City Council member Beth Krom was mayor and President George W. Bush came to town. And we’re talking about Council member and Mayor candidate Steven Choi when then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi came to Irvine.
By all accounts, Krom greeted President Bush with all the respect due to the Nation’s commander in chief. The Register has this short story about it:
Back when George W. Bush was in the White House, then-Mayor Krom attended an event for the president held in Irvine.
“I’ve told this story several times, but no one has ever published it,” Krom told me last week when we sat down for coffee. At the event, when she had the chance to shake the president’s hand, she proudly told him of her Austin connection – she graduated with a B.S. degree in education from the University of Texas. What happened next, and the president’s reaction, drew stares from everyone else in the room.
Krom had been a teacher in Texas in the early part of her career. Scott McClellen, the White House Press Secretary under George W. Bush, was an elementary school student of hers. When Krom told this story to the president, his face lit up and said, “Scotty is here,” and called over an aide to escort Krom to meet him in a back room.
Krom explained with a smile, “To the heavily Republican crowd in the room, the sight of me, a registered Democrat, chatting with the president and then being ushered through a side door by the Secret Service likely conjured all kinds of thoughts.”
In short, Krom was a gracious host for the president of the United States and represented the city with pride and respect. But when the Speaker of the House — the third most powerful member of the federal government — came to Irvine, respect was the last thing Choi showed the speaker.
Choi paraded around the Irvine hotel for the 2009 Truman Dinner with a sign on his back featuring a Photoshopped image of Pelosi has Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and later posted with photos with Tea Party members showing signs of Pelosi as a Nazi SS officer. And all the while wearing his badge identifying himself as a member of the Irvine City Council. We broke this story and it went viral to SFGate, DailyKos and even The Drudge Report. You can read about it here, here and here.
Republican pollster Adam Probolsky expressed disappointment with his Republican councilman, telling the OC Register: “Choi also drew rebuke from some in his own party, including Adam Probolsky, an Orange County Republican pollster and Irvine World News columnist, who criticized the councilman for posing with another protester who was wearing a rendering depicting Pelosi as an SS Guard. Probolsky has not aligned himself with any candidate in Choi’s assembly race, but was replaced as the councilman’s appointed planning commissioner last year.
“Either he is clueless about history, or he is happy to belittle historic tragedy,” Probolsky said.
Choi even tried to use criticism of his behavior to raise money for his failed assembly bid; his campaign website featured this statement:
Thank you for visiting my campaign web site.
Lately, many people have sought me out due to my appearance with the protesters against liberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
I am so humbled and honored to receive such an overwhelming outpouring of support from throughout the country (though there are obviously some opponents).
Will you kindly join my contact list to show your support for me?
I also hope you will help me by making a campaign contribution. Thank you so much.
Irvine’s Republicans did little to denounce Choi’s actions. I don’t recall any statements from Christina Shea. None from the Republicans on the school board. Nothing from Congressman John Campbell, or from then Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. Not a peep.
Irvine Council member Beth Krom made this statement about her fellow councilmember:
“When I was the Mayor of Irvine and then President Bush came to Irvine, I attended and showed respect for the President despite the many misgivings I had about his policies.”
“We who hold public office have an obligation to hold ourselves to a high standard when it comes to how we comport ourselves in public. At least that has always been my perspective.”
“I was utterly disgusted when I saw my City Council colleague Steven Choi, who recently announced plans to run for the State Assembly, parading around the lobby of the Hilton Hotel with a picture on his back depicting Speaker Pelosi as Josef Stalin.”
“Those around him had images of the Speaker and the President as Nazis. I’d like to say this behavior is out of character for Council member Choi, but this is the same Council member who accused a City Council candidate of having ties to Islamic Terrorists without any basis. My guess is that he also had a hand in the mailers that went out during my 2006 race for Mayor that showed me as Chairman Mao.”
“There seems to be no limit to the derision and division that Councilman Choi will advance in the name of his “Republican values.”
Choi tried to explain this criticism away as a Partisan attack, obvious to his own partisan attack on the speaker, and used concerns about healthcare reform as an explanation. Choi was quoted in the Register:
“I’m a Republican Party member and went there to express my disapproval of her policies,” Choi said. “I have big concerns with what is going on with the government pushing down the mandated health issues… As a small businessman it would impact me.”
Actually, as a small businessman, Choi should be thrilled about provisions that ObamaCare provides small business. His statement then provides that he places political party line ahead of his own best business interests.
From this story in Slate:
The bill in fact contains substantial benefits (some might even say giveaways) for small businesses. That starts with a program already under way to offer special subsidies to firms with fewer than 25 employees that want to offer health benefits. As long as your employees earn less than $50,000 on average (law firms, medical practices, and other elite professional partnership are thus ineligible), you can get a tax credit to defray 35 percent of the cost of the insurance if you’re a for-profit firm, and 25 percent if you’re a nonprofit. When the law really gets rolling in 2014, those subsidies rise to 50 percent for for-profits and 35 percent for nonprofits.
Firms with fewer than 50 employees are also exempt from the “employer responsibility” provision of the law that otherwise constitutes the biggest business burden in the legislation.The Affordable Care Act (in)famously requires that all individuals who don’t receive insurance from their employer or from a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid must buy their own insurance on a regulated exchange. Subsidies will be provided to those for whom such insurance wouldn’t be affordable. That could be seen as, in effect, penalizing firms that already offer insurance to their workers. To offset this, the law stipulates that companies whose employees receive subsidies to buy exchange plans must pay a financial penalty. That is supposed to deter firms from responding to the law by simply dropping existing insurance coverage. But the ACA doesn’t make small businesses pay that penalty.
Put the special subsidies and the exemption together, and the result is a law that’s pretty clearly a good deal for small businesses.
More broadly, the bill should encourage the formation of new smaller firms. Insurance is based on the concept of pooling risks. One reason most nonretired people get insurance through their employers is that a workplace constitutes a nice risk pool. It’s a whole bunch of people who are linked together by something that has little to do with their health status. This tendency is further reenforced by a generous tax subsidy to companies that pay their employees partially in the form of health insurance. But a newborn firm with just a handful of employees is not a good risk pool and will have trouble putting together a viable insurance plan if any of its workers are ill. That means only people with small health needs or large savings can afford to take the risk of entrepreneurship in America. The Affordable Care Act sets up large state-wide risk pools where anyone, regardless of health status, will be able to buy affordable coverage. That should be a boon to firm formation.
So my fellow Irvine residents, imagine for a moment that President Obama — currently leading in almost every major electoral college tally, decides to come to Irvine after his re-election. Just who would you rather have represent our city before the leader of the free world? Larry Agran or Steven Choi?
Since Irvine Republicans have demonstrated they have short memories when it comes to previous interactions with the public and previous statements they’ve made, this post should serve as a reminder to Irvine voters about the character of Steve Choi. Simply put, a vote for Agran for mayor means a termed out Steven Choi can no longer embarrass himself or our city.