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from March 2, 2014 meeting with Bayard Rustin LGBT Democratic Club

By Barbara Gaea

March 4, 2014

 (paraphrased and quoted as closely as poss.—never did this before !)

As with Bill Clinton decades prior, we were pleased to have Congressman John Garamendi (Democrat, District 3) to come and talk to the Bayard Rustin LGBT Political Club & many other local & area politicos at Jeff & Dave’s house in Fairfield; and I believe very few were disappointed.  While waiting, a few of his staff mingled and talked about his history—e.g. of working in the Peace Corps (& remember his term as CA Insurance Commissioner).


He spoke very briefly – “I always keep my opening remarks short, and never stand between the people and the bar!  In front of the TV usually works.”   Thanked everyone and talked about the brand-new Gay Straight Alliance at Travis Airport Base (apparently 1st in the nation!), giving them many kudos for being such trailblazers.  He then talked a bit about the recent Arizona veto of their outrageous bill to codify the state’s business’s discrimination against LGBT, stressing “why did it pass in the 1st place?!  Yes we have much still to do, but remember—this current congress would roll back most of these (pro-LGBT rights) laws if they could!”


(To a Q re: can democrats take back the House?) “yes we can, because Republicans will continue to overstep, with the (far) right wing driving it … let it play out.”  He then talked about the Civil & Voting Rights, inclusion, economic opportunity, and how the Republicans (“R’s” from here on) have forced an “austerity budget” on us—“that’s what ‘sequestration’ is!”  For example, the WIC and food stamp programs are “decimated”.  We need 17 seats (to regain control of the House), but 1st we need to hang on to what we have” (e.g. his).  Mine is a swing district, and my opponent is far far right wing.”  He also talked about huge races in the next weeks—e.g. Florida could go Democratic (“D” herein)—for the 1st time in 70 years;  and 4 – 5 seats in California—“very tough but possible.  We need to do the kind of organizing and grass roots efforts just like this” (the club).


Q & A:  (paraphrased, & couldn’t remember all names—esp. non-locals)


Q (Steve):  What are the chances of ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) passing the House?

A – “We won’t have any progress—won’t happen until after the November election, when R’s will be more open (to discussion)”.


Q (?):  What about the Farm Bill, and restoring the Food Stamp cuts (& about hungry kids)?

A – It’s not likely.  (He stressed these are largely) “the women’s agenda” – when women succeed, America succeeds!”  Then gave very compelling statistics.


Q (mine):  While we all probably have our pet issues (e.g. to keep whacking at the military budget or climate change), what realistically CAN a minority congressperson DO?!

A – Work diligently on the election progress—organizing grass roots, fundraisers;  “issue development”; (being) “excited about pay equity—in CA, women earn 84 cents on the dollar (for each man’s equivalent work), vs. 77 cents nationally . When women turn out, Democrats win!”  But 1st we have to hold on to our seat, and make a lot of appearances.”  E.g. this a.m. I was on MSNBC, talking about the drought and the Ukraine.


Q (Jimmy):  What about military retirees, the reduction in force and how they are cashed out (with much reduced pay)—can you at least make it tax-free?

A – “the President’s budget will be out Wednesday, and yes he is downsizing the Army & Marines (“big cuts”) because they are an “expeditionary force”.  Bernie Sanders (independent congressman) worked many hours doing a major revamp of the Veteran’s program, then the R’s killed it!”


Q (Ruscal):  about minimum wage…taking Robert Reich’s class at U.C. Berkley…about a petition to take it up to raise it to $15.00/hour)

A – There are 3 levels to this:  1. localities (cities and counties), 2. state and 3. national.  In CA, we will be at $10.00 in 2015.  But this is part of the women’s agenda—e.g. 2/3’s on minimum wage are women!  There is a petition now in the House—hopefully by the end of the week, we will have all D’s—need 215 or 217—and 15 to 20 R’s for Obama’s $10.10 by 2015.


Q (Craig):  re: this—what about tip earners.  (& recent changes to the law, & $2.35/hr. now but have to pay taxes) – it can no longer be a career choice!

A – Yes,  (but) all minimum wage laws have exemptions, and these tip earners are among them.


Q (David):  (about LGBT & human rights oppression in Africa, esp. Uganda, the criminalizing of homosexuality makes it illegal to use HIV & other public health programs, etc.);  many deaths, why won’t the U.S. cut aid to these countries;  what kind of pressure can we put on them?

A – “We often underestimate the ability of the U.S. to use targeted pressure—not just AIDS funding.  There are many military programs we can use.  E.g. Tanzania—they are very dependent on travel money (to which many laughed;  & he was told about the Mayor Davis controversy); and they need our assistance!  …about a long talk with the head of the World Bank, and how “pressure will build” (in these areas).  However (re: Osby Davis)—the feds can’t put pressure on individuals like them.  But continue to speak out!


Q (?):  re the Voting Rights Act—any chance of getting more of an omnibus V.R.A. bill through?

A – the Supreme Court decision threw out 30 yr.-old criteria and wanted to look at more modern criteria (to vote).  D’s need to work on increasing access to the ballot and polling places (discussed the recent Florida and Ohio fiascos)—the closing of voting stations when so many are still in line shows repression;  Voter I.D. laws;  we have opportunities to go to the Dept. of Justice, but they were too late to act!  It should have been immediate!


 Q (? – re: health care & the A.C.A.)…working great for the rich, but costs are still a problem!  “Medical tourism” is on the rise to access affordable procedures and AIDS drugs!   Some (latter) are $2,500/ mo. vs. $1.00/mo.  in Europe!

A – yes!  Medical costs are astronomical.  The A.C.A. is benefiting the insurance companies, but eventually the overall costs to the population will go down—esp. for seniors, who are of course the highest percentage of users of health care dollars.  (2 of its greatest benefits are) 1)  now pays for annual check-ups—e.g. checks for blood pressure and diabetes, & 2) ( reducing) hospital re-infections:  the A.C.A. dramatically increases serious penalties;  also helps reduce the “donut hole” problem (lack of Medicare prescription coverage for senior in the $2,500 to 4,500 cost range).  But we still can’t negotiate drug prices!  (MediCal can.)


Q (?) post the “Citizens United” decision (unlimited anonymous corporate donations to campaigns--“corporations are people, my friend”!);  it seems now it’s us vs. the corporations!

A – there are 3 things to do:  1)  it was a 5-4 vote—we need to regain that 5th vote.   It will come back.  2)  we need a constitutional amendment—though won’t happen in my lifetime 3) there’s an ingenious bill now in congress for public financing (of elections), to equalize (match) our money with that from e.g. the Koch brothers, etc.;  also we need disclosure bills—1 colleague got $2 million—and change the definition of a 501C4—it’s from the Eisenhower era .  Maybe from the IRS?


Q (Craig):  (re: the) Trans-Pacific Partnership—too much like NAFTA!

A – No!  it’s clearly troublesome, but since we don’t yet know all that’s in it, (my philosophy is) “so say NO!”  One (a congressperson) can go read the draft, but you can’t take notes or take anyone with you!  (so we don’t bother.)   No one understands these complicated laws… “I’m not a mushroom—so don’t keep me in the dark and feed me #%@&!”


Q (Paula):  for small clubs like ours, the bookkeeping is onerous!  (e.g. about the oppressive paperwork required) – any way to exclude very small clubs like ours?

A – These are at the federal and state level.  You can avoid the feds with a $1,000 limit, but that’s ludicrous.  Andrew (one of his staff) will look into it.


Q (Stephen):  So many keep trying to repeal the A.C.A.; but since it so benefits seniors, why do they keep flocking to elect R’s?!

A – I am also seriously frustrated.  It’s very confusing.  (discussed the complicated budget negotiations, that resulted in R’s being able to accuse the D’s of making a $800 billion cut to MediCare!   Messaging is REAL important!  This was not thought through.  E.g. the MediCare Advantage bill (subsidized additional insurance for seniors):  the bonus (to insurance companies) was removed, but the D’s got killed.  We lost a lot of seats over that!


Q (?):  re: voter suppression shenanigans & the Reno situation)

A – We need an early response (to these).  Need to blow the whistle a.s.a.p.!  E.g. (institute) online registration, giving an example of a huge event with many young people—all just pulling out their phones and registering en masse.


Q (Craig):  these are very thoughtful answers, but how can we help your re-election?

A – my team is here—we need volunteers!  Our Open Primary system is still new—may need a full-out effort (normally reserved for November) in June!  GOTV, call-out from homes, and continue at community colleges.  Money is important, events, walking (precincts), all of these grass roots things.  (And his last statement was):