I've known Sheila Kuehl since before she ever ran for office. I remember her coming to see me and how she asked my advice as she pondered the possibilities and the consequences of doing so. As an out and proud lesbian, I had been doing LGBT politics in Los Angeles since the mid-seventies, had co-chaired, with David Mixner, MECLA, the first political action committee dedicated to full equality for the LGBT community, been the first co-chair with Joel Weisman of Aids Project Los Angeles, served on President Clinton's campaign finance committee and was on both the ANGLE board and the board of the Human Rights Campaign. I encouraged her to run because she was qualified and I was excited about finally having an open lesbian elected to the Legislature or, as we put it in those days, having a seat at the table. I gave her my strong endorsement and my help, was delighted when she won and admire the work that she did in the legislature. Then why am I supporting Bobby Shriver for Supervisor in District 3?
Being a good friend of John Duran's, and no, that's not why I'm voting for Shriver, I've attended debates both during the primaries and now in the general to the point of not only knowing the answers, but also knowing the questions. The pundits say Kuehl and Shriver are both progressives, more similar than different in their positions on issues and that may be true, but after watching so many debates, it is clear to me that what sets them apart is their attitude and approach to getting the job done.
Shriver is who he is. If he feels strongly about an issue, such as the mistreatment of children in foster care, he openly expresses his horror at their suffering and then talks about his ideas for addressing the problem and doing it NOW! He believes in accountability, not micromanaging, finding the best qualified person to be in charge of getting the job done, i.e. a "czar" to be in charge of the Child Services Department, and then hold them accountable for the job they do.
He believes in transparency and in an "open door" policy. He welcomes new ideas and he is a listener. He thinks meetings of the Board of Supervisors should be held at night in different cities throughout the County so that citizens can have a better understanding of the work the Board does and the Board can hear first-hand the issues and opinions of its constituents.
He is passionate and will work hard and as long as it takes to right a wrong and there is nothing he won't do, no effort he won't make, to get the job done. For example, in a recent debate he spoke of the struggle to get the VA to provide housing for homeless veterans on its Los Angeles location, as Shriver pointed out, "390 acres, the largest VA facility in the United States" and how, after ten years of effort there is still no housing for homeless women veterans. Without any concern for the consequences, he vocally criticized our Congressional representatives, and continues to fight for more housing. At the end of his comments, Kuehl responded and instead of either agreeing that more housing, especially for homeless women vets is a major issue or applauding Shriver's efforts, she pointed out that this is a federal, not a County issue, appeared to criticize the fact that all that has been accomplished over ten years was one building being dedicated to housing homeless veterans, and ended by pointing out that Waxman had endorsed her instead of Bobby. Not once in the debates have I heard Shriver belittle any of Kuehl's efforts or accomplishments which reflects a graciousness and respect that are essential qualities in our next supervisor.
During the same debate, Shriver in response to a question about ebola, referred to his longtime work fighting AIDS in Africa through his and his co-founder Bono's philanthropic group, Red, which has brought over $275,000,000 in AIDS medication and education to Africa. In her one minute rebuttal Kuehl said it was her community - the LGBT community - that had been the most deeply impacted and while Shriver did good work for AIDS in Africa, she was working to combat HIV/AIDS here. From 1982 to 1989 I and many other lesbian activists including Ivy Bottini, Jean O'Leary and Diane Himes dedicated ourselves to fighting and caring for our brothers who were stricken with AIDS. I have no recall of Kuehl being a leader in that fight or participating in the No on 64 campaign, a campaign to defeat an initiative to quarantine people with AIDS, for which I served as state co-chair. I'm sure Kuehl did contribute in her own way to the fight against AIDS, but to make it sound like she was a leader in this battle minimizes the contributions of those women and men who were on the front line of this disease.
In an earlier debate, the moderator asked how either of them would respond to a hearing before the Board of Supervisors where the person or organization before them had been a large contributor to their campaign. Shriver immediately answered that he would recluse himself. Kuehl said that she could make an objective decision. When the moderator followed up noting that Kuehl had received around $1,000,000 from labor unions who were in contract negotiations with the County, Kuehl pointed to the fact that she had twice while in the legislature been given an award for her integrity and reaffirmed her ability to be objective. I found this to be disingenuous especially since Kuehl is a lawyer. Judges, who are lawyers, are under an obligation to recluse themselves where even the appearance of a conflict of interest exist. No less should be expected of officials elected to other offices.
Lastly, I relate to Shriver's love of family. Kuehl has attacked Shriver for missing Council meetings in 2009, a year during which both his mother and his uncle were dying and, in fact, passed away within sixteen days of each other. Ask him and he will tell you that he did miss council meetings because he traveled back and forth to Hyannis to be with his mother and uncle and then to attend their funerals. Ask his fellow councilmember, Bob Holbrook, if his absence in any way reduced his effectiveness as a councilmember and the answer is a resounding no! I respect that for Shriver family comes first. It does for me too for I have also taken time from work to care for my father as he died of Alzheimer's Disease, but did so in such a way that my work didn't suffer. I wouldn't have had it any other way and I am appalled that Shriver is being attacked for putting family first.
Yes, experience does count! Each of these candidates has experience! Shriver in local government; Kuehl in Sacramento. But for me, the experience I look to and the experience I want in our next County Supervisor is the experience of passion for the issues one fights for, understanding and sharing the human condition and a history of being of service coming from a place of humility and self-sacrifice.