|By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, November 17, 2001 - 11:38 am: Edit Post|
Here is a report on what went on in the Confirmation Hearings written by John Coyne of Peace Corps Writers taken from an email sent out to supporters of the Committee for the Future of the Peace Corps:
Report From the Senate Hearing
The success of our small, non-lobby, grassroots, and on-the-side-of-the-angels campaign, was evidenced by the "big guns" that the White House and the Peace Corps brought to the hearing on Wednesday, November 14. Many former Peace Corps staff people who worked for the late Senator Paul Coverdell, the late Ambassador Loret Miller Ruppe, and the current Secretary of Labor, Elaine (Just Blow Dry It Please) Chao, were present to show their support for the former Orange County Supervisor from Southern California, Gaddi H. Vasquez. Of course, many of them might have been there to get a little face time with the nominee and curry enough favor to land another tour in a Schedule-C job. A number of current Peace Corps staff members also appeared those who did not attend Ken Hill's farewell party. Looking particularly perky was the new Communications Director and lovely Virginia horse-country women who has been gallant in her efforts to polish Mr. Vasquez's image with RPCVs and you know how irritating RPCVs can be when it comes to monitoring the activities of PC/W. The hall was full with close to 100 people.
Gaddi arrived flanked by his wife and child. Jody Olsen, the nominee to become Deputy Director of the Peace Corps, arrived with her parents and her husband whom she proudly introduced as, "her Peace Corps husband of thirty-years."
Enter the side-of-the-angels team Jack Hood Vaughn, the second Director of the Peace Corps, arrived with Barbara Ferris, Matt Losak, Hugh Pickens and his wife, myself.
Additionally, there were several reporters from the LATimes, the New York Observer, and the Washington Post.
When Senator Chris Dodd entered the room from the back chamber, he immediately circled the chairs to greet Vaughn, reminding him that he had signed Dodd's Peace Corps completion of service papers. The fact that he greeted Jack first, not Gaddi, was a silent statement. We know that the White House did not want this second hearing, and did not want Jack Hood Vaughn to speak on behalf of The Committee for the Future of the Peace Corps. Dodd had honored his former Peace Corps director by allowing him to make a presentation.
Sitting alone in the Senate seating, Dodd called the meeting to order, and introduced everyone. He did a very fine job of keeping the questioning fair and allowing Jody and Gaddi to answer questions as fully as they wished. Jody was smart enough to reply carefully, based on her former experience. Gaddi, on the other hand, eager to impress, to be knowledgeable, was less wise, as I'll detail.
Speaking on behalf of Gaddi Vasquez were Senator Barbara Boxer, Congressman Christopher Cox, and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. Introducing and speaking on behalf of Jody Olsen was Senator Orin Hatch. All made presentations before the questioning began.
While the full Foreign Relations Committee was to be there, only three senators appeared: Senator Dodd, Senator Lincoln Chafee, and Senator Paul Sarbanes. The only Senators to question Vasquez were Dodd and Sarbanes. I got the impression from the vague, distance look on Lincoln Chafee's face that he had no understanding of what was about to take place. Later, at Senator Dodd's urging, he asked a question of Jody Olsen, one of those questions that fall into the realm of "Where you in the Peace Corps?" And "Did you like it?"
Hatch spoke first and began by bantering with Dodd. One quickly realized what a little club this senate is, how deals are done, and how they all have a good time hanging out together while doing the people's business. It's all very polite and fraternal.
In praising Jody, Hatch drew on the strong comparisons between Mormon missionaries and Peace Corps Volunteers and how they are sent out to the developing world, to live at the local level, eat the local food, and learn the local languages. He was quick and then out of there, but before leaving added as an afterthought, "and I support Gaddi Vasquez, too."
Barbara Boxer spoke for Gaddi, praising him as a "fellow Californian" and listing his qualities as a "poor man born to migrant farm workers." She also objected to the ad we had placed that morning in The Hill, saying that it was a personal attack on the man. Beyond that, with all her praise of Gaddi, you would have thought the man had risen from the dead the night before and was on his way to heaven.
Boxer an attractive, petite woman, also was invited by Dodd to stay, but she, too, had other pressing Senate business and was out of the hearing as fast was possible.
Christopher Cox was next to praise Gaddi. Cox is a good-looking, with an ex-boxer resembling mug. If any more charm had oozed from his pores, we could have been swimming. He had come to defend the charges against Gaddi's lodged by the SEC. While the Securities Exchange Committee in their report in 1996 on their investigation into the bankruptcy of Orange County concluded in part by saying, "Based on the Supervisors' significant knowledge relating to the County's finances, they should have understood the materiality of that information to the County's ability to repay the municipal securities. The Supervisors therefore had a duty to take steps appropriate under the circumstances to assure accurate disclosure was made to investors regarding this material information. The Supervisors, however, failed to take appropriate steps."
Cox said, "Instead of wasting time on political concerns, Gaddi set an agenda to get the County back on its feet. He fully accomplished his agenda a recovery plan, a realistic budget, and the restructuring of county government under a strong chief executive officer." He then went onto say that "When Gaddi Vasquez concluded his two terms as Supervisor" Of course he did! Gaddi bailed out of his job with a year to go, a point that Senator Sarbanes would focus on when it was his turn to question the nominee.
Next, it was poor Loretta Sanchez's turn to find something fair to say. She departed from her prepared remarks to really condemn the poor guy with faint praise. She's said something nice about him, and then pulled it back in the next sentence. At the end it came down to the fact that they are both from Orange County, both of them are Chicanos but they aren't from the same barrio, that's for sure.
Jody spoke first, after introducing her Peace Corps husband and parents, she presented a well-written and nicely delivered short reply, saying how honored she was to be nominated.
Gaddi was next. His presentation was brief, though I believe he had a long document that he wanted to present. He spoke of being a poor boy, son of migrant farm workers, (we're going to hear a lot more about his family history, I'm sure, if he is appointed), he talked about his Boy Scout work, and told us with pride that he was the youngest cop in Orange County. (Why he doesn't want to go work for HomeLand Security with Governor Tom Ridge, I'll never know.) And how proud he is to be nominated for this directorship.
While Senator Dodd asked a number of questions, two of them were particularly enlightening, given the way Vasquez responded. Dodd asked Vasquez why he had voted twice to deny housing rights and job protections to people with HIV/AIDS. Dodd noted, to give Vasquez a heads up, that often people, like himself, make the wrong vote, and then later would like to correct it. Vasquez passed on the opportunity presented to him by Dodd and gave a rambling answer having to do with how HIV/AIDS people were protected already by the state. Dodd bore down on him, asking again would he reconsider those votes of his. Vasquez was again meek and misleading and finally Dodd said, "Mr. Vasquez, I'm trying to help you here." Gaddi won't be helped.
Later, Senator Dodd asked about the plan to have 10,000 Peace Corps Volunteers in the field, saying that the bipartisan congress had approved the number and what were Vasquez's thoughts.
Gaddi launched himself into all sorts of management jargon about studying the situation, evaluating jobs overseas, seeking the right balance. Dodd stared at him, then bluntly told Gaddi: Look, Congress has already passed this legislation. It isn't your decision if you'll do it; it's your job.
One of the truly special moments in the hearing, however, was when Senator Paul Sarbanes of Maryland bore down on Gaddi Vasquez, asking him a series of, at first appearance, random questions, curious questions, odd questions, most idle questions, as if the good Senator, speaking slowly, offhandedly, even it seemed, a bit detached from the whole damn process, as if he had just showed up to quiz the guy as a favor to his friend, Chris Dodd. It was a scene worthy of Watergate, as pulsing as those times when portly, white-haired San Ervin questioned in his folksy North Carolina manner the likes of Haldeman and Ehrlichman.
What might of set Sarbanes off was Vasquez's immediate claim that he was a poor, immigrant boy from California Senator Boxer, too, had used this reference the poor, a first generation Hispanic, as his qualification for the job, someway to stamped him as the Real Goods when it came to directing the Peace Corps. Sarbanes cut him off quickly, saying, that he, too, was an immigrant boy, and that the greatness of America was that it was build on such people. No special favors for that claim.
Next Sarbanes began to ask in this gentle, semi-detached ways of his, sitting sideways in his lofty committee seat, seeming to be like some lost philosophy professor wishing to ponder deep philosophical questions just how did Gaddi H. Vasquez come to be nominated for the position of director of the Peace Corps? He was curious, Sarbanes said, how such a thing came about in a new administration. Now, Vasquez should have known, and I presume he did, having been a cop (still a reserve cop) about entrapment, and he began to hedge around on his reply, speaking of filling out forms, answering questions, etc. Never once did he mention that he turned $100,000 in cold cash to the Bush Campaign. But, hey, this is politics and the Committee understood. "But how did you get to the job of Peace Corps," Sarbanes pressed in his seemingly befuddled way. "Did you have a special interest in the Peace Corps?" Well, he knew about it, Gaddi said. He remembered watching the ads on television when he was a child, he said. "But were you ever involved with the Peace Corps," the Senator asked, "Did you serve as an advisor, a recruiter, have you done anything for the agency?" Well, no, said Gaddi. And Sarbanes looked silently at him with his wonderful Basset Hound eyes, the dropping thick eyebrows, the sad face that tells of a thousand such hearings, a thousand such incompetent nominees to have appeared before him.
He wondered next why had it taken Vasquez so long to come to Washington, to have this nomination hearing as we approach Thanksgiving. Well, Vasquez had had a serious operation, he said, a bypass, three of them actually. And that kept him home for most of the summer. No one thought of asking what was his heart condition would he pass Medical Clearance to become a Volunteer but then Gaddi doesn't want to volunteer.
Next, Sarbanes asked about his position as Supervisor and how that had come about. It seems that Gaddi was appointed to his first term, and then reelected. It was in his second term that the bankruptcy happened and Sarbanes quizzed him again about the failure. Gaddi tracked through the chain of events and summed up that they (the Supervisors) had done nothing wrong, that they had been lied to, and besides, no one, not even the SEC or the LATimes had seen the bankruptcy coming.
Why, said Senator Sarbanes, did he leave a year early from his position as Supervisor? Oh, he wanted to spend more time with his family. It wasn't because of the action of a recall of his election? Sarbanes asked. Oh, no, said Gaddi. He couldn't remember even hearing of that recall vote when he exited his position. He just wanted to be home with his children and his wife. But didn't you have an obligation to stay the course, asked Sarbanes. Did you have an obligation to the voters who had elected you?
By now, sitting where I was, I could see the sweat pouring off Gaddi's bright cheeks. By now, Jody Olsen had tilted west, as far away as possible from Vasquez. It was as if she had spotted Anthrax spores wafting from his body. Every time he opened his mouth, drove headlong forward in a burst of language filled with advertising phrasing, p.r. sound bits, bits and pieces of Peace Corps lingo, he was burying himself in the steady, sad eyes of Senator Sarbanes. By now, I'm even feeling sorry for the guy.
I lost my feelings, however, when he talked about how no one he knew had ever heard about the Peace Corps, and that his job was to let everyone know in California, that, yes, Virginia, there was still a Peace Corps. I wished Jody had leaned over and told him that since 1961, the state of California had produced more Volunteers than any other state. But Jody Olsen wasn't getting too close to this guy, not with her wonderful reputation to protect.
And on a personal note, I worked recently for the Peace Corps, For six years, I was involved with many of the Peace Corps recruitment efforts. In the last four years, Mark Gearan, a genius for getting the word out on the Peace Corps, had the agency out front on all campuses, in every state. Michael Chapman, former head of communications at Peace Corps, developed two films that won national awards. Yes, there are people who have never heard of the Peace Corps. And there are people who think Elvis Presley is still alive.
Of course, one reason why he wants to do heavy recruiting in his home state is because, we understand, his wife is not moving to D.C. She will continue to work for the police department of Orange County. Her being back home will give Gaddi a ready excuse for frequent flyer miles to L.A. where he can recruit PCVs from the ranks of the police department and the electric company, the two jobs he had had. You can see another Paul Coverdell coming our way with repeated trip to the home state as he prepares to run for Congress. I doubt if he'll bother with much long distance overseas travel, not with his bad heart.
Jack Vaughn spoke last, and for the Committee, but once Gaddi finished everyone from the Peace Corps (but Ellen Fields of the Peace Corps Communications) fled the hearing. They weren't missed.
There were some nice moments between Jack and Dodd, amusing moments, and then Jack laid into the nominee. I think many people couldn't hear the testimony by Jack Vaughn, speaking as he does with a soft, warm voice. But his statement, plus all of our statements and background on Gaddi Vasquez will be available on http://peacecorpswriters.org and www.PeaceCorpsOnline.org.
With one long break in the hearing for the Senators to vote, the whole process took nearly two hours. When we left the Senate Office Building it was dark in D.C. but the air was fresh. What a change.
Our next challenge is to seek clarification of Vasquez's reason for leaving office. We think it was because he knew he would be recalled. Also, to push ahead on why even today he wouldn't change his vote on twice denying housing rights and job projections to people with HIV/AIDS. Unlike Senator Dodd, we're not trying to help you, Mr. Vasquez.