Where’s Lincoln When You Need Him?

To tolerate in silence
and endure these freakin’ bigots
is itself akin to violence–
let’s cork these leakin’ spigots.

Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on the first of January, 1863, in a time vastly more difficult than we endure today. We call it the Civil War. This year, merely droning, President Obama declared June Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. So we’ve come a long way–right? Not if you sit on Porterville’s city council.

On the 17th of last month–Constitution Day, no less–Porterville’s mayor and vice mayor, Virginia Gurrola and Pete McCracken respectively, were drummed out of ceremonial office in a 3-2 vote by fellow council members Brian Ward, Cameron Hamilton and Greg Shelton. Why? Because of their support of a proclamation naming June LGBT Pride Month.

This was no endorsement of the presidential declaration: rather, a Porterville resident brought forth for mayoral signature a proclamation specific to his city. Porterville has a council/manager civic government, which means a city manager is in charge while the mayor is chiefly a figurehead with limited duties. And one of these is the discretion whether or not to issue proclamations. After a summer spent wrangling, the council not only rescinded the LGBT proclamation in favor of a milder “good will to all,” but replaced its own leadership.

First, though, some history.

In 2008, while the Mormon Church poured untold millions into an effort supporting California’s Proposition 8–which proscribed same-sex marriage in this state–Porterville City Council Member Ward, himself a Mormon and the author of “good will to all,” called for a statement in favor of the proposition’s passage. Then-mayor Hamilton approved, and Porterville’s city council thus became the only entity of any kind in the state to officially endorse Proposition 8. Ward and Hamilton sit on the current Porterville City Council and, with Shelton’s accession, were able to orchestrate this new symphony of intolerance. In fact, Hamilton is the new mayor. Care to venture a guess as to who the new vice mayor is? Yes–it’s Ward. Surprised?

In a council/manager government, the position of mayor and vice mayor are often rotated among council members.

In Porterville, according to its Charter Review Committee, which sets the rules for such things, a term of office is two years. Customarily, a rotation is accomplished in cycle with municipal elections. But Gurrola was cashiered barely a year into her term. And the vice mayor, who in rotation frequently ascends to the center chair, was in this case also sent packing. Definitely not business as usual. But did this unsavory manoeuvre violate any Charter Review Committee rules? Not technically, according to City Attorney Julia Lew, “because they can do it any time.” That’s right, folks–they could do it so frequently as every meeting if they chose to, without so much as the check of a super-majority (4-1) requirement for off-cycle irregularities. Hamilton made it clear.

In making a unilateral decision, Gurrola fell afoul of the council and was ousted strictly for that. In other words, Porterville’s mayor and vice mayor were relieved simply because three of its five city council members so vehemently disagreed with June’s LGBT Pride Month proclamation.

Both Hamilton and Ward have sought to justify their position. Ward said he drafted the “good will for all” so as not to set “one group off against another.” Fundamentally, Ward would deny any proclamation that “pointed to religion or to race or to gender.” Seriously? Are there no Christmas–as opposed to Holiday–events he smiles upon? Is he against Black History Month? How about Mothers’ Day? The latter two were created by proclamation. But more insidious still is Hamilton, who cloaks his position by naming gay relatives “in Hollywood. “ This sounds too much like a racist denying

his racism by dint of claiming the acquaintance of someone of a different race. Worse, Hamilton refuses to “marginalize” those of the LGBT community “down to one identifier.” Yet it is precisely this “identifier” he is discriminating against. Clearly, former mayor Gurrola was seeking a more inclusive stance for Porterville. What do you suppose beats in the chests of Hamilton and Ward?

Considering their previous support of Proposition 8, these rationalizations are sad, tawdry and tired. Certainly, they are risible.

With a population of 55,000, Porterville is modestly sized. And while larger cities might tend to be more liberal, we still do not hear of Porterville-esque wrangling from yet tinier towns. What the city needs is a Lincoln, not the Three Stooges–and the only way to land such a person is to elect him. Are three people really speaking for 55,000 here?
I don’t think so. I think the Porterville City Council has run rough-shod over our most marginalized of communities.

Can you truly picture it behaving similarly in regard to another minority? Of course not! But in this case, apparently, they can get away with it. Somebody please explain to me why this is not just naked bigotry.
— Joseph Oldenbourg

One thought on “Where’s Lincoln When You Need Him?

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  1. Those who know me understand that I make every attempt to be non partisan and non sectarian when making decisions. I’m interested in solving problems, not taking sides on issues. For the most part I do believe our current City Council has done just that and the the 3 incumbents deserve to be re elected. I sometimes don’t agree with a position taken by the council or one or more of its members, but I respect the integrity of all of them.

    Next week’s council election is a difficult one for me because 4 of the candidates are qualified to serve on the council but only 3 can be elected. But one candidate stands out and deserves to be re elected. Win or lose this will be Greg Collins last election. His more than 20 years on the council, some as mayor, have been marked by tremendous accomplishments and he deserves the opportunity to finish putting his final signature on our updated general plan, the plan he was so instrumental in creating over 20 years ago.

    Even though Visalia has grown at a faster pace than Bakersfield, Fresno, or Modesto, more than any single citizen of our great City, Collins is the reason Visalia has concentric growth around its downtown and does not have the urban sprawl or the very week downtowns of those cities. We quite possibly would not have the Marriott Hotel, expanded Convention Center, or hospital in our downtown. We would not have had as much historical preservation, parks, trails, bike paths, effective transit systems, sports programs, or support for the arts.

    Very importantly, over those 20+ years Collins has been arguably the most fiscally conservative council member and can take considerable credit for our City having enough financial reserves to survive the recent great recession. Even more importantly, Collins has never had a conflict of interest or been influenced by special interests, some of whom have spent 10’s of thousands of dollars to unseat him, one time successfully.

    I urge voters to thank Collins for being instrumental in Visalia becoming the true “Jewel of the Valley” by giving him one last term on the council. He’s certainly earned it!
    William A. Martin
    [email protected]
    Office: 559-625-9089
    Cell: 559-731-2623

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