It’s been a week since Jeff LeTourneau resigned from his leadership positions in the Democratic Party of Orange County. He remains a member of two committees he once led and is still a voting member of the body which many still find unsavory and Republicans are using as a weapon to strike our candidates in key races.
LeTourneau’s supporters haven’t been quiet on social media about his removal and there’s been a misapplication of the term “McCarthyism” applied to those who sought his removal. This simply isn’t the case. There are also suggestions the demands for LeTourneau’s removal was a muzzling of a progressive voice that amounted to censorship of his free speech. That’s not true either. But let’s take each argument down a logical path.
McCarthyism described the practice of publicly accusing government employees of disloyalty, specifically McCarthyism soon evolved to include false charges – often without evidence — accusing government employees of political disloyalty or subversive activities and using unsavory investigatory methods to prosecute them. This then extended to other segments of the public, notably Hollywood.
None of this applies to LeTourneau’s situation. He did praise a communist despot and offended the county’s Vietnamese community on both sides of the political spectrum. And even when he was contacted by a number of people about the post, LeTourneau didn’t seem to grasp the weight of his words and didn’t seem to understand why he should resign or face removal.
Silencing a progressive voice or censorship isn’t in play here either. No one made LeTourneau write a post praising Ho Chi Minh. He has expressed support for Antifa and Marxist rhetoric on social media. He resisted the tug and resigned from leadership positions in the Party but remains a member of the Central Committee and a member of those committees he once led. There are plenty of people who think even this is too generous treatment for his lack of responsible free speech by someone who held no cards to play.
During the meeting to remove Victor Valladares, an alternate member voting to remove Victor used a Spanish gay slur in the chat function directed at Victor. I didn’t see it, and I wouldn’t know the term, but LGBTQ members quickly reported the infraction to his elected member and that person was removed as a alternate. And that was the right thing to do. Imagine if a similar comment on Ho Chi Minh was uttered about the LGBTQ community? Or Latinos? Or Women? Or Muslims? Or Jews? How fast would LeTourneau light the torches to punish the offender?
In regards to silencing LeTourneau’s voice, it’s not. He has a 40-year career as a activist that still provides him a platform. He has his social media feeds to say whatever he wants. It’s up to the recipient of his message to give him any weight to his speech from here on out.
And LeTourneau shouldn’t be judged in the context of this singular issue. There have been several other infractions from verbally assaulting signature gatherers seeking to recall Josh Newman (watch the tape and see how people couldn’t wait to sign because of LeTourneau’s behavior). There’s confrontations in Anaheim and Irvine City Halls that were heated (in Irvine, police had to escort Council member Farrah Khan to her car after being threatened by LeTourneau. I will always remember how he made IUSD trustee Sharon Wallin cry if she didn’t endorse a candidate LeTourneau wanted her to even though Wallin didn’t know the candidate. There’s never been an apology for that.
There is a difference between free speech and responsible speech. If you are a party leader, your words need to be carefully chosen. A lesson that Valladares still hasn’t learned.
There was no witch hunt for LeTourneau’s removal. But he gave the party no choice. His apology came off as insincere, and knowing how much he resisted calls for his resignation even after four congressional representatives asked for it taints the apology he did issue through the party. His words and actions have erased years of positive work for the party in Little Saigon that the DPOC will now have to invest more resources, times and effort to get back to where we were – and the full extent of the damage will be more apparent on election day when we examine elections for Board of Supervisors First District, AD72 and CA-48.
As LeTourneau lost an outright election for AD55 for the 2021 edition of the Central Committee, he needs a voting member to name him an alternate. Otherwise, he can attend meetings (once COVID19 is over) as a guest and make announcements during public comments. But elected members ought to think twice about appointing him as an alternate; it will make other members question your judgment. Frankly doing so would be seen as a sign of disrespect to our current Party chair.
So there’s no McCarthyism (watch the movie “Good Night and Good Luck” for a primer) and there’s no censorship. Just bad judgement and a lack of awareness of what those words praising a despot meant to those residents of Little Saigon.
I taught a class at Chapman University in 2013 on Reputation Management. How you can spend a lifetime building your reputation only to shatter it in a moment. We used Anthony Weiner as an example; how he misbehaved, apologized, was forgiven by his wife and friends and colleagues and was on the verge of a political comeback only to do the same damn destructive behavior. It cost him his career, his marriage and many friendships. The person responsible for LeTourneau’s reputation is him.
On a more tangible note, LeTourneau ought to send his Vice Chair badge back to the Party’s HQ in Orange. Pretty sure he knows the address.