I called labor activist Robert Haaland a few days after the election to chat about what the victory of Proposition A meant, and I wound up interrupting his vacation in Maui. I shouldn’t feel so bad anyone who takes his cell phone on vacation and returns calls from political reporters has nobody to blame but himself … but still, I wanted to get off the phone quickly and let him get back to his sun and sand and Bikram yoga.
It wasn’t happening. Even from Hawaii, even with all of us in a celebratory mood over the way the progressives stomped Don Fisher, Haaland had a somber note to share.
"Queer progressives were missing in action on Props. A and H," he told me. "I think they were spending all their time fighting over Mark and Carole."
What he meant, of course, was that people active in the LGBT community spent their energy these past two months in organizing (and bickering over) the Harvey Milk Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Democratic Club’s endorsement for the June 2008 State Senate race. The two candidates, Assemblymember Mark Leno and incumbent Carole Migden, are both, generally speaking, progressive politicians. They both have active, loyal groups of LGBT supporters, and they have both poured considerable effort into getting the Milk club endorsement, which puts a stamp of progressive legitimacy on the winner.
But if you’ve followed the whole mess on the www.sfbg.com politics blog, you know it’s been nasty and bitter. The meeting at which the club decided (or maybe didn’t decide) when to schedule its formal endorsement vote was a mess of procedural questions, shouting, alleged violations of Robert’s Rules of Order, utter confusion at the end, and recriminations afterward. A lot of people who used to like one another are still steaming about it, using epithets we typically save for the Republicans in Washington DC.
I’ve said this before, and I’m going to do it again, as loud as I can:
Knock it off. All of you.
Look: Leno is running against Migden. You can think that’s a bad and divisive political idea or you can think that he has every right to seek office in a democracy and hold an incumbent accountable. It doesn’t matter; the race is on. Next June we’ll all be voting for one or the other.
And five months later control of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will be in the balance, and we will desperately need a united progressive front to make sure that Gavin Newsom’s allies don’t win. We can’t afford to be mad at one another. We can’t afford an ugly progressive split. We can’t afford to let the Leno-Migden race devolve into personal attacks. We can’t be demonizing one another.
Don’t start with your he-did-it-first-she-did-it-first stuff either. Nobody’s completely innocent here; both sides have said and done things that have inflamed the situation.
I’m an idealist and an optimist; that’s how I survive. I actually believe that this city, and this movement, is mature enough politically to have a race like Migden vs. Leno without leaving lasting scars that will hurt all of our causes for years to come.
But when I mentioned to a downtown operative the other day that I was worried that people like Debra Walker and Howard Wallace will wind up hating each other, he told me gleefully that "Don Fisher would happily pay money to see that."
Think about it.