Wed 5 Dec 2007
Back in 2004 when West Marin Citizen editor Jim Kravets was news editor of The Point Reyes Light, he wrote in an editorial that The Light was “reluctantly” endorsing Carole Migden for the State Senate. “Voters,” he wrote, “like their legislators to be leaders, have good judgment, and act decisively… Carole Migden does all of this.”
However, Jim also noted, “voters would like their state senators to be approachable, receptive, or at least slow down as they drive past constituents. Carole Migden does none of the above.” This second observation has now turned out to be remarkably prescient.
Trinka Marris of Inverness Park (standing beside the state senator) heads the Save the White Deer campaign, and she invited many of us who also oppose the Point Reyes National Seashore’s slaughter of fallow and axis deer to come to her house last Saturday for a party to meet Migden.
Unfortunately, the majority of guests had little chance to spend much time discussing their concerns with Migden. Instead they mostly had to content themselves with listening to a loud, brash, sometimes-witty, and sometimes-abrasive performance by their state senator.
Addressing the party, State Senator Migden, who is openly lesbian, told the guests right off that she is also Jewish, from New York, and represents, along with Marin, “east San Francisco, the part you enjoy.” That part, she added, includes the Mission District and the Embarcadero but “not the Avenues” (the Sunset and Richmond districts). Coming from a legislator, her bluntness seemed both refreshing and gratuitous.
The local press was represented at the party by The Point Reyes Light, The West Marin Citizen, and this blog. Midgen playfully posed for pictures riding a rocking horse and later used a West Marin Citizen photo of this on her website — but said she didn’t want the stuff she was saying quoted in the press.
While she clearly didn’t mind being photographed, Migden (at left) said news articles too often make her look bad by getting her comments wrong or presenting them out of context. Whether press reports on Migden have been right or wrong, it is perfectly understandable why the state senator has been uncomfortable with them.
One reason The Light three years ago endorsed Migden only “reluctantly” was her behavior in October 2004 during a candidates’ debate with Republican opponent Andrew Felder. Sponsoring the debate was the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce. As San Francisco Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross wrote at the time:
“It started when Migden’s staff asked that the debate schedule be reshuffled because she had to leave early. Organizers did so — only to have Migden show up late. When she finally did arrive, Migden stayed outside in the hall and sent word that she wouldn’t join the proceedings until Felder was done.
“Upon taking the stage, the ever-blunt Migden informed moderator Dick Spotswood that she had come a long way, so forget about the time limit on answers. The capper came at the end when she chose to ignore the extended hand of her opponent. Not once — but twice.
“The audience was just aghast,” said chamber president and CEO Elissa Gambastiani. “You could have heard a pin drop,” said Marin Association of Realtors vice president Edward Segal, a fellow Democrat and former press secretary for the notoriously gruff John Burton.
“‘Was she this arrogant in San Francisco?’ Gambastiani asked. To be honest, yes. Migden has long been known as hell on high heels. The New York native cut her teeth in the-rough-and-tumble world of San Francisco politics, then spent eight years as one of the most-aggressive liberal legislators in the state.”
As a motorist, Migden can likewise be hell on wheels. This past Aug. 10, the state senator pled no contest to reckless driving charges, stemming from a three-vehicle collision on Interstate 80 in Fairfield last May. The accident sent a Vallejo motorist’s three-year-old daughter to the hospital.
The day after Migden was fined $710 and put on two years’ probation, CBS 5 and the Associated Press reported that “State Senator Carole Migden [had] caused a panic among fellow drivers last May when she drove out of control in her state-issued SUV for 30 miles on Interstate 80, according to [just-then-released] 911 tapes.
“A series of callers between Berkeley and Fairfield, where Migden’s wild ride finally ended… described her as coming perilously close to hitting other vehicles, weaving back and forth across multiple lanes of traffic, and careening repeatedly off the center median barrier.
“One caller described motorists putting on their vehicles’ hazard lights in an apparent attempt to warn others away from Migden’s Toyota Highlander hybrid. Another caller feared she was drunk.” One woman thinking Migden’s car was being driven by a man, frantically told a 911 dispatcher, “He’s like, he’s been weaving in and out of lanes. He almost hit the back of our car, and then he sped up and almost hit another car. He’s driving real fast right now and —oh, my God, he’s about to hit another car.”
Another caller to 911 told the dispatcher, “I’ve witnessed her hit the center divide already once. She’s been crossing three lanes at a time, wandering back and forth. She’s been on the phone, reading a book. She’s doing about 80. She’s really scary — watch out!” In all, the 911 dispatcher in 27 minutes received nine such calls from five motorists.
After the collision, Migden told CBS 5 she had been diagnosed with leukemia 10 years ago and that her daily medication may have been to blame for her bad driving. I personally was certainly sorry to learn about the state senator’s leukemia, but would her medicine really cause her to drive 80 mph in traffic while intermittently reading and talking on the phone? After all, Migden was a leader of the movement in the Legislature to outlaw the use of cell phones while driving. How easily does one forget?
While Migden didn’t want her comments to some members of the public on Saturday to be reported to other members of the public later, I will reveal that when she addressed guests at the party, she: 1) told a couple of concerned women she’ll look into a state plan that would allow the labeling of pasteurized almonds as “fresh”; 2) told four of us who raised the issue that she would sit in on the Bay Area congressional delegation’s discussions of the park’s deer-eradication program — but do little else, saying that probably nothing will change until 2009 when our Republican president and governor are out of office; 3) listened for a while to Marshall activist Donna Sheehan’s concerns about chemical pollution of the environment — and then faded out on her.
Although Donna seemed pleased to at least momentarily get the state senator’s ear, this ending to Migden’s performance became too embarrassing for me to watch. I went outside to smoke my pipe and talk with Mark Dowie of Inverness (just back from Africa) and Richard Kirschman of Dogtown (who said Save the White Deer has already lined up different influential people to champion its cause).
When the party was over, I left longing for those happy days of yore when West Marin was represented by the genteel State Senator Peter Behr. Somehow Behr managed to remain a class act while pushing major bills (e.g. his Wild and Scenic Rivers Act) through the Legislature. Alas, those days are apparently gone in Sacramento.