Publisher’s Note: Last week Dan announced in his article about Henry Vandermeir that I would be writing in support of Jeff Le Tourneau in a follow-up commentary on the Democratic Party of Orange County (DPOC) election for Chairman. That was the plan. But as I reviewed the various articles and commentaries floating around I realized that what we needed in our coverage was not the opinion of yet another person who could not vote in Monday’s pending DPOC elections. So I sought out commentary from Denise Penn, another long-time friend of Jeff who will have a say on Monday night. Denise is currently the South Vice Chair of the DPOC, Executive Committee Member of the California Democratic Party, and Officer at-large of the LGBT Caucus of the California Democratic Party. Below is Denise Penn’s perspective on the contest and endorsement of Jeff LeTourneau for Chairman of the Democratic Party of Orange County.
On Monday, January 14th, the Democratic Party of Orange County will elect a new Chair to lead for the next two years. As Frank Barbaro steps down after many years of service, this will create a challenging time of transition. Fortunately, one of the most tenacious and dedicated community leaders has stepped up and is willing and ready to roll up his sleeves: Jeff LeTourneau.
My support of Jeff is based on a long history. I have found Jeff LeTourneau to be a person of exceptional integrity and unyielding dedication to the organizations and communities he has served during the past two and a half decades I have known him.
Many have heard about the “Shut up, Fag!” incident but do not fully understand the significance of an incident that inspired LGBT people and other minorities who had been bullied and silenced for a very long time.
It happened on a Sunday afternoon in 1988 during a town hall meeting in Garden Grove hosted by former Congressman Robert “B-1 Bob” Dornan. The Town Hall meeting was held by the congressman in order to provide constituents an opportunity to ask questions and share their concerns. But when Jeff asked a tough question and challenged Dornan’s anti-gay record, the Congressman’s wife, Sally Dornan, got up and shouted, “Shut up, Fag!” in a room full of constituents and reporters.
Try to imagine how it would feel to have the spouse of a member of the United States Congress attempt to silence you at a public event by shouting at you to “shut up.”
Imagine how it would feel to be denounced and intimidated with a derogatory slur, whether it relates to your gender, race or any minority group to which you belong, at a public event held by someone who was elected to represent you.
The unfortunate truth is that even though Mrs. Dornan had obviously lost control, her outburst expressed a feeling held by many: That gays and lesbians and anyone who didn’t embrace the values held by the right-wing, should have no rights and should have no voice in the American political process.
But Jeff LeTourneau would not shut up; nor would he cower in the face of this hatred. Instead, he stood his ground, proudly and confidently as an openly gay man who had a right to question his elected official. It is not the outburst of Mrs. Dornan that is important; it is Jeff’s response. His courage, tenacity and ability to stand up with dignity in the face of hatred and bullying inspired all disenfranchised people in the room. And when the incident was reported by news media across the nation, it gave all LGBT people hope: If Jeff could stand up for himself in conservative Orange County, maybe they could too. It moved all of us forward.
Jeff worked with and went on to lead many effective organizations. With a background in Labor organizations, he took his skills to the LGBT community and became one of the founders of the Orange County Visibility League (OCVL) aggressively fighting bigotry and hate. During the 90’s, Jeff served on the state-wide LGBT, HIV/AIDS advocacy organization, LIFE Lobby.
He also served on the Board of Directors of the Elections Committee of the County of Orange (ECCO). Founded in 1982, ECCO was a non-partisan political organization that educated and supported political leaders and candidates about issues facing the LGBT, HIV/AIDS-related, and women’s communities who were under constant threat of civil rights violations. In 1995 Jeff assumed the role of Chairman of the ECCO Board of Directors and over the following 15 years, was primarily responsible for raising approximately $2 million to support ECCO’s mission.
Jeff brings to the table over 25 years of experience in board level leadership and fundraising skill. He brings the experience of working together with competing interests and unifying them behind common objectives. The core of Jeff’s experience lies not in implementing the functions of an Executive Director or a Political Director. Rather, he is experienced in providing the organizational and board level leadership necessary to manage the staff responsible for conducting those functions.
But beyond this, Jeff has been a DPOC Central Committee member for the past two years and has committed a vast amount of time and energy to this body which he will lead. He volunteered and was appointed as our DPOC Parliamentarian and has combed over our by-laws and assisted the officers with some very difficult issues. He assisted with the Annual Truman Awards Dinner and has worked to build bridges in the community on behalf of the DPOC. Not only has he attended our monthly Central Committee Meetings, but he has also been present at all of our Executive Committee meetings to assist the Executive Committee, even though he wasn’t required to by virtue of his appointed status.
Jeff was most recently tapped by Chairman Frank Barbaro to guide the 2012 Party endorsement process. While the process of following the guidelines of the party Bylaws was tedious, Jeff successfully managed to conduct that process without the controversy that has sometimes marred the process in the past. As Chair, Jeff will be focused solely on the organizational interests of the Democratic Party of Orange County. This is a particularly important point, in light of the ongoing need for leadership focus on long-term financial stability and prosperity for the party.
A word about Jeff’s only apparent challenger: Early on, Jeff has pledged to adhere to high standard of respect for his competitor during this election, and has stuck to his promise. He respects his opponent and cares too much about this organization to create needless strife that will cause ultimate harm. I join him in that pledge. Although I do not know Henry Vandermeir as well, I know that he is the talented Executive Director for the DFOC and has conducted political training’s all over the state, helping local clubs and central committees. He has an attractive and talented spouse who frequently accompanies him and is a talented organizer, as well.
But although he has been a central committee member in the past, Henry Vandermeir has not been active with the DPOC and has not attended any of our Central Committee meetings during the past two years until the November 2012 Central Committee Meeting when he announced that he would be running to be our next Chair. This is not intended to be a criticism of Henry: I have attended one of his training’s myself, and I know that he does good work and has won the praise of people all over California. There is enough work for everyone and he is doing his work on the road.
But Jeff is the one who can hit the ground running. He knows our current infrastructure, our members, our by-laws, and knows the challenges that he will face on Day One. Jeff LeTourneau is by far the most experienced candidate as well as the candidate with the best mix of skills needed to lead the Democratic Party of Orange County to its next level of success.
– Denise Penn