Mr. Yee’s Profession
by Stephen Cox | Posted April 02, 2014
The day after Leland Yee was arrested, I was listening to a fill-in anchor on my favorite Southern California talk show. She started discussing the arrest, and I was shocked to hear her say that she had, until that moment, never known of Leland Yee. How, I wondered, could anyone not know this man, and despise him?
California State Senator Leland Yee is a man who crusaded against the Second Amendment with a host of bills designed to make owning a gun as pleasant for a law-abiding citizen as falling into the hands of the Spanish Inquisition. Leland Yee is a man who tried to ban “violent” video games, and who, in response to objections, said, “Gamers have got to just quiet down. Gamers have no credibility in this argument. This is all about their lust for violence and the industry’s lust for money. This is a billion-dollar industry. This is about their self-interest.”
Occasionally someone wonders whether politicians mean what they say. This time it was the FBI.
Leland Yee is the sole Democratic senator who voted against the very, very liberal, Democrat-written state budget, because it didn’t spend enough. Leland Yee is the man who for many years persecuted the University of California, a constitutionally independent entity, attempting to subject it to governance by the legislature. (I freely concede that on this issue I may be biased; I am employed by the University of California. I seek to lessen my appearance of guilt by observing that the state’s contribution to the University’s income is less than 10%, and falling; as the percentage falls, politicians like Yee try even harder to subject the institution to themselves.) As reliably reported, seven of the top eight contributors to Yee are labor unions.
Yee got awards from journalists’ associations for his crusade on behalf of government “transparency” and “open records.” What interested these journalists was the fact that Yee got upset when one of the state colleges paid $75,000 to a certain politician to come and deliver a speech, and the college gave him a hard time when he wanted to find out about it. I don’t think any politician should be paid anything to give a speech to anyone, much less to the hapless denizens of a college, but Yee didn’t object to that sort of thing when members of his own party received honoraria. He got upset when it was Sarah Palin. So he demanded documents and documents and documents from the college, which successfully resisted. It’s at that point that he became an addict of transparency.
The episode that really tickles me, however, was, or started out to be, purely horticultural. Environmental fanatics attempted to remove “exotic” and “intrusive” plants from Golden Gate Park, demanding that the area be restored to its original condition (which was, by the way, mainly a bunch of sand dunes). Yee objected — but you probably won’t guess what his objection was. He didn’t say that cypress trees are pretty, and the climate is exactly right for them, and people like to see them, so why take them out? Oh no. He took the whole thing as an attack on Chinese Americans, who, he said, are regarded by some people as “exotic” and “intrusive.”
If somebody wanted to erect a monument to intrusive self-righteousness, Leland Yee could pose for the statue.
Given this history, I was not unhappy when, on March 26, Leland Yee was arrested — for, among other things, conspiring to traffic firearms illegally.
Take a moment to savor that. Yee was one of the nation’s leading opponents of people’s right to keep and bear arms. He claimed that guns made him want to cry, thinking of his children and other children, and how children are so often victims of gun violence.
But there’s this about transparency: occasionally someone takes it seriously. Occasionally someone wonders whether politicians mean what they say. This time it was the FBI, which infiltrated the social circle of a leading San Francisco gangster, looking for dirt on him, and also on Yee. The investigation may have started because, some years before, Yee had spontaneously decided to visit John Law to dish the dirt on one of his former political disciples, a San Francisco supervisor named Ed Jew . People think that was because Yee didn’t want any political competition. Anyway, Jew got sent to federal prison, and Yee ended up looking funkier than he had ever looked before. He’d had a few scrapes with the law, but nothing had happened to him, what with his being the last advocate of morality and transparency and diversity and the Children and all of that.
Nobody seemed to wonder how Yee could have so many possessions, despite having done nothing but hold “public service” jobs the past 26 years.
Now, however, Yee was being seriously investigated. According to the US Attorney’s affidavit, he and his friends liked to talk with gangsters, and they sounded a lot like gangsters themselves. One of the friends was Keith Jackson, who has now been charged with participating in a murder for hire plot. Jackson is a former president of the San Francisco Board of Education. His story is amusing. Then there was Marlon Sullivan, a sports agent and “consultant” who has advised big-time basketball players. Sullivan said he didn’t need to commit crimes; he just enjoyed doing it. He called it a “power and challenge thing” and said “it was fun” (affidavit, p. 88).About murder for hire, he said, “It’s easy work. . . . I will put eyes on the guy and have my boy knock him down” (88).
As for Yee, he is alleged to have said a lot of fun things. From the affidavit:
- Yee on his role in supplying illegal arms: "People want to get whatever they want to get. Do I care? No, I don't care. People need certain things” (94).
- Yee on opportunities to practice crime: "There's tremendous opportunity in local levels . . . because whoever's gonna be the mayor controls everything.” Yee was running for mayor of San Francisco. Should he become mayor, he said, “We control 6.8 billion man, shit" (106, 107).
- Yee on evading political contributions laws: "As long as you cover your tracks . . . you're fine." Asked how someone could make large donations to him without getting caught, Yee suggested giving to the campaign, supported by (guess who?) Leland Yee, on behalf of a ballot measure to raise money for schools (106, 107).
- Yee on contributions from gangsters: "By helping me get elected means, I'm gonna take actions on your behalf." "Just give me the goddamned money man, shit. . . You should just tell them, write some fucking checks, man" (127).
- Yee on political virtue: "Senator Yee attributed his long career in public office to being careful and cautious" (95).
- Yee on his beloved children: “Yee told [a secret agent] he would take the cash [for illegal activities] and have one of his children write out a check” (102).
Well, Yee was hauled into court in shackles. Along with 20-plus other defendants, he pleaded not guilty. Unlike the rest of them, however, he was released on a $500,000 unsecured bond. Didn’t have to pay a dime. I guess that’s because he’s such a distinguished citizen.
That very afternoon, the Democratic leaders of the state Senate, suddenly sensitized to public opinion by the fact that during the past couple of months two other Democratic members of the Senate had been hit with criminal charges (and had been allowed to take “leaves of absence”), held a press conference in which they demanded that Yee leave the Senate, now. Never mind about that “innocent until proven guilty” stuff; they needed to protect “the institution.” When, oddly, he didn’t leave, they “suspended” him (and finally, the other two also). The Democratic mayor of San Francisco lamented the damage done to Yee’s many years of “public service.”
Yee on his role in supplying illegal arms: "People want to get whatever they want to get. Do I care? No, I don't care. People need certain things.”
To me, the most interesting remark was made by one Jackie Speier, a Democratic state representative from a wealthy Northern California district. (Did I mention that wealth is liberal? Did I mention that Yee represented western San Francisco and an even wealthier part of San Mateo County? Did I mention that nobody seemed to wonder how he could have so many possessions, despite having done nothing but hold “public service” jobs the past 26 years?) Ms. Speier, who like a lot of people claims never really to have known Mr. Yee — "I don't think anyone knew him," she said — was full of sympathy for politicians in general: "It's always sad for all of us in the profession, to see individuals who lose sight of what the public trust is all about."
The profession. For these people, their life (not that of the guy who fixes roofs or the gal who runs a restaurant) is a public service; their jobs are institutions, like the art museum, the church, and the medical school; and their cheap, stupid, boring existence — cadging money, sitting on committees, giving awards to one another, spreading “outrage” in exchange for votes — is a profession.
As my grandmother used to say, that takes the cake. But what I’d still like to know is this: How could Leland Yee have disgraced thatprofession?
Stephen Cox is editor of Liberty, and a professor of literature at the University of California San Diego. His recent books include The Big House: Image and Reality of the American Prison and American Christianity: The Continuing Revolution.
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