Saturday, February 24, 2007

Ruth Bendl, Hysterical Patriot (REAL ID Pt. 2)

In Part One of our discussion on the federal REAL ID Act, we talked about the introduction of Oregon's compliance bill in the Senate by Linda Flores and Kim Thatcher, faithful lapdogs of the xenophobic right--and tried to explain why it's the wrong bill for the wrong reasons at the wrong time. Other states have either rejected the federal mandate or are proposing an outright repeal while refusing to comply, so it's not like Oregon would be placing itself on the fringe by taking a stand here. Notwithstanding the inherent pandering opportunity in the immigration-related part of the bill, I have a hard time seeing it get out of committee--but you never know, and maybe legislators will find themselves transfixed by the testimony of people like Ruth Bendl.

Bendl is perhaps the gadfly's gadfly, as recognizable to Salem legislators and Washington County officials as Cain was to Abel. Herself a naturalized citizen, Bendl has contracted a severe righteous tic about it, and nearly seems to shiver at the gall of others to immigrate without following the rules. She has a colorful past for a little old lady, perhaps most notably in 1998 when she lost an appeal against conservative superfreak Loren Parks for defamation. She got fired as his petitions manager, unfairly in the opinion of the jury and upheld by the appeals court, so she got back wages but not her huge hoped-for payday because her boss yelled at her. (Classic line: The judge ruled that as an employer, Parks was privileged to be rude.)

Another interesting incident from Oregon's halls of administration occurred in 2004, as a result of Bendl's involvement with the Republican Party as an election observer and general busybody about the dangers of voter fraud. At a WashCo Commission meeting after the 2004 election, she used her speaking time to accuse a Commissioner of misrepresenting the ballot handling process, and demanded a "retraction" for the record:
Ruth Bendl, 10980 SW Muirwood Drive, Portland, Oregon, refuted a claim made by Chairman Brian at the last Board meeting, namely, that he had personally seen observers at Elections positioned at each end of a table during ballot separation. She characterized this as untrue...she asked for a retraction on the record of this statement.

She requested that people who did not supply proof of i.d. when registering to vote by mail not be provided a voter i.d. card. Ms. Bendl pointed out that identify theft is a real problem across the country and that providing someone with a credential such as the voter i.d. card seems to be worse than foolish.

Chairman Brian observed that Ms. Bendl’s statements about his inaccuracy are inaccurate themselves. He clarified that he did not say that there were people at each end of the tables; nor did he say that this was the ballot separation area. Chairman Brian read into the record his comments from a transcript of the audiotape of the November 2, 2004 Board Meeting. He indicated that his point was that this was the signature checking rather than the separation. Chairman Brian noted that he did not represent that it was the separation table and that he did not go over to those tables to look.

Ruth Bendl hoped that the Board would change the process and rules in the future so that it is worthwhile for people to give their time to try to do their civic poll-watching duty.
Note the deference she demands for being a good citizen! What's ironic, however, is being a stickler on electoral process while showing a distinct capacity for bending the rules in those very same processes. In the 2006 elections, we received a letter from an observer that said Bendl was working for the Republicans and was worried about major fraud about to happen:
Ruth Bendl consistently stands and hovers over the people who are checking signatures. Ruth and the other woman tend to chat with the workers. There is an observable familiarity developing.

Ruth and the other Rep. observers are apparently taking down information about signatures. You have to stand up or practically be sitting right beside the worker to see the actual envelope signature. I believe what Ruth is doing is writing down names for signatures that she intends to challenge. She sends this list to Bill Bradley. This is information that I acquired by listening to Ruth.

Ruth is concerned about bus loads of illegal immigrants being paid $200.00 @ to use stolen id information to register in "wide-open" Oregon . I have not seen the information that she is writing down but Micki told Dylan and I about the lists she sends to Bill Bradley. I see this as potentially using ethnicity of names to form her lists and a possible attempt to disenfranchise voters.
Nice. These actions caused repeated discussions among electoral workers on what to do about the limit-pushing the Republican observers were engaging in. I can accept that this woman has a right to protect her franchise by making sure the electoral process is followed exactly as written. But there really is only one way to interpret her taking down names to report to the Secretary of State's office: she is seeking foreign looking names and conducting her own suspicionless search to assert a challenge to their citizenship. And I have no doubt her focus was on those surnames that appeared to her to be Hispanic in origin. That crosses a line for me. It's literally ethnic profiling, and it smacks of racism. Bendl is no longer simply overasserting her rights in my mind; she is now abusing them and infringing the rights of others, and that's dead wrong.

So I confess that all of this two-part article on the REAL ID Act is true and worthy of its own discussion, but it's entirely background to the outrageous testimony I watched on Thursday from Ruth Bendl in favor of Oregon's compliance bill. My jaw fell open as she compared voter fraud to something like a polio outbreak--viral, dangerous and requiring immediate, emergency attention. But then it just got funny. This woman is so ginned up by her own sense of propriety and law and order, and fear stoked by self-admitted Fox News watching, that she's become a lampoonable icon of the nativist right-wing in our state.

I considered before writing whether as a nonofficial private citizen Bendl deserved to be publicly called out like this. But I quickly decided that she herself has made a near career out of being a public advocate for her point of view, and those views "for the record" are eligible and subject to fair scrutiny. I bet she is a wonderful grandmother, cooks well and is loyal to her friends and family. But there is an ugly, frightened side to her public advocacy, and people who would oppose those viewpoints holding sway in our government have a duty to object. And honestly, in the following personal transcript of her remarks before the committee, she just comes off as a loon. It's classic wingnuttery, and I had to write it up and share it with you. Cheers, Ruth!
I want to say that all three of us that signed up are fully in support of immediate implementation of the REAL ID Act, at the very least proof of legal presence in the US. All three of us attended the recent immigrant fraud trials. We saw exactly what has happened in these past years because of the negligence of proving credible proof to DMV as to who people were.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a nation of laws and we are after a 9/11 incident. Do we need to wait for the next bomb to drop before we decide that it isn’t too costly to implement the requirements of REAL ID to safeguard our citizenry?

The fact of the matter is, you can hear it on Fox News and on other news programs, the coyotes that bring these people across are being paid by Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda $3000 a head to bring in their infiltrators. Do we want to be the state that makes it possible for them to get that access by giving them those credentials? If nothing else, at least require proof of legal status.

In response to the agricultural needs, in 1994 the voters of Oregon overwhelmingly approved the requirement to put prison inmates to work. Not just by doing laundry in the jails or just shuffling papers. Put them to work instead of giving them video games to pass the time. They can be out there on the farm, with corrections officials with dogs and with a bracelet. And get a work ethic. At the very least first offenders and the people that are out on parole. Put those people to good use no matter what, and then you’ve got no excuse for not implementing REAL ID.

The other thing that I need to bring to your attention which shocks me because I’m from Washington County is that Washington County is doing a program called HELP, which is providing education for Hispanics in drivers education using public facilities, the two sherriff’s buildings in Beaverton and in Hillsboro, Centro Cultural these people only pay Centro-Cultural $30 and they are provided with all this education.

The rest of us have to do the work ourselves, so that there’s a segregated element of the community that are getting this help at taxpayer expense. I would ask you that we want to know for sure that every one of those people would be required to meet the legal presence requirements of the federal REAL ID, that there shouldn’t be any more segregation; I believe there was a vote against segregation for education many many years ago, let’s uphold that even when it comes to driver’s education, and let’s keep it in the language of this country so that people can read their signs.

I ask you to implement at least legal presence requirements in the US at the first opportunity, and let’s stop shuffling around about the cost. When it comes to prioritizing, this is a priority. Thank you for listening.
Prison labor taking over the entire seasonal farming industry from migrant labor? "You can hear it on Fox News?" "Do we want to wait until we're bombed again?" That's good stuff, right there.