I’ve been living with Jackie Speier for over 40 years.
I don’t mean I’ve physically been living with the woman, but she has been a part of my life for all that time.
I first became aware of her when she was laying beneath the fuselage of an airplane on a remote airstrip in the jungles of Guyana, five bullet holes in her body, watching as her boss Congressman Leo Ryan was gunned down by the insane members of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple cult. She was 28 years old.
For most of you the name Peoples Temple brings up memories of that horrible day, but for those of us who lived in San Francisco and the Bay Area in the mid to late 1970’s our memories of encounters with the Peoples Temple cultists are a bit more personal. The Peoples Temple fell somewhere between Moonies and Mormons, respectable looking folk trying to make the world a better place through a non-religious religion under the guidance of their leader, the “Reverend” Jim Jones. Jones had insinuated himself into the power structure of SF politics by not only getting his followers to vote as a block, but to then become the “boots on the ground”, getting out the vote, ringing doorbells, planting yard signs. They were on the street corners, in the SFSU quad (where most of my encounters with them were) and seemingly as ubiquitous as Krishnas at the airport. As so often happens those boots suddenly disappeared one day when word got out that dear leader was playing fast and loose with followers money, manna, and marriages. Off they skedaddled to that Guyana jungle where they could be cut off cultists, no worries about this material world or the fact that their families were prevented from getting in touch with them even when their bank accounts were being mysteriously drained. Investigating the families complaints was the reason Congressman Ryan and future Congresswoman Speier ended up on that tarmac.
When she returned and recovered, Speier decided to dedicate her life to public service. Here is where she personally came into my life. She was my county supervisor, assembly person in the state house, then my state senator, then my congressperson. No matter that I moved houses or even counties, she remained my political representative to one legislative body or the other. How about this, in her last election to the state assembly she was the nominee of BOTH the Democratic and the Republican parties. That’s called someone who can bridge the aisles. Would that there were more like her these days.
While a member of the assembly her husband, an emergency room surgeon, was killed in a car crash at the off ramp to Poplar Avenue from the 101 Freeway. Everyone who lived in the area at that time knew that off ramp was a danger zone. In fact I remember telling my sons when they were learning to drive that if I ever heard of them using that off ramp or it’s on ramp section I would personally rip up their licenses. I was not alone, most of my friends told their kids the same thing. By the way that exit was of course the closest one to their high school (shout out to San Mateo High, home of the Bearcats). While most of us would have wallowed in our despair at losing a loved one, Speier took it as a challenge to make not only that off ramp, but all the on and off ramps in her district safer. No one dared deny her.
As a member of Congress she allowed her colleague from the district she shared SF with to get the headlines and ultimately the speakership of the house. I often thought of them as the political version of the Glimmer Twins, Pelosi out in front making the noise necessary to encourage the base, Speier working behind the scenes to get things done for the entire Bay Area. She made sure not only did we in San Mateo county and the southern part of SF get the money to build and rebuild the freeways both real and cyber we so depend on, but also that funds for northern SF and Marin county, Nancy’s turf, got theirs as well. Pelosi is our Jagger, Speier our Richards, sans the whole he’ll outlive us all thing.
For over forty years she has stood for honesty and integrity in politics. And while I totally understand her desire to step away from the arena and give a new generation their chance, I can’t help but feel that she is stepping away at this moment because she is tired of the rancor currently eating away at the body politic. With all respect to her first husband, she has been the cartilage between the bones of that body, necessary to keeping the entire body healthy and functioning by absorbing the shocks, body blows, and abuse heaped on it from outside forces. As El Grande Hefe de First Draft Adrastos pointed out yesterday she was the sponsor of the censure resolution of the Arizona Arsonist Paul Gosar. I second that her mentor Leo Ryan, friend of Adrastos’ Republican father, namesake of the park where my sons played as kids, would have approved.
She officially stopped being my congressperson earlier this year when we switched our registration from San Mateo to Sonoma. Big Mike Thompson is now my congressperson, another one who tries to build bridges, not burn them down. Compromise, I think I heard someone say, makes us all live in harmony with each other. To Ms. Speier I wish a long life filled with harmony, grace, pleasure, and calm. She has earned all of those after a life in the arena. Come on up to the wine country Jackie, we got a bottle of Sonoma’s finest waiting to share with you.
The last word goes to some musicians from her district with a song that should be her anthem.