Commentary – Quentin Kopp

Remembering sacrifices

by Quentin Kopp

In 1921, H.G. Wells declared: “Human history becomes more and more erased between education and catastrophe.”

Some readers may still be puzzled by the wealth of ballot measures and candidates, even in this one-party city and one-party state. I think it’s important to vote against Proposition 3, which was qualified for the ballot by a distasteful system of its author raising money from entities and individuals who will benefit economically if it passes.

If state legislators acted in such fashion with ballot measures, they’d be denounced and maybe prosecuted for bribery.

The California Court of Appeal, however, in the 1990s decided it was constitutionally permissible for a private citizen to practice “pay to participate” in invalidating legislation sponsored by me and signed by then-Gov. George Deukmejian.

Also dangerous to housing construction incentives is Proposition 10, which merits a negative vote.

I recommend strong support for Proposition 6, repealing a 12-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax and increased registration fees. I do so not because a gas tax increase isn’t warranted; it is warranted, but I do so because the proceeds will be spent on projects other than highways, roads and streets. It’s a distortion of the reason we’ve paid a gas tax since 1922, and it’s financed by the construction companies, engineers, building trade unions and others who will benefit from its billions of dollars.

As a lawyer and retired judge, I was keenly attentive to last month’s confirmation proceedings respecting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Neither his opponents nor Kavanaugh demonstrated good judgment and appropriate conduct.

The concealing by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of an accusatory letter from a woman alleging Kavanaugh assaulted her at a high school gathering in 1982 when he was 17 and she was 15 resulted in the most vicious set of public hearings and closed door maneuvering in decades.

Forgotten by the commentators and journalists was the case of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. On Aug. 12, 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (F.D.R.) nominated Democratic Sen. Hugo Black of Alabama to the Supreme Court. He served more than 30 years and was hailed as a supporter of civil liberties and the First Amendment.

Forgotten by the “talking heads” and Democratic leaders is that Justice Black, after his appointment, was exposed as a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. He joined it in September 1923, and resigned in July 1925.

In September 1926, as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, Justice Black was given a life membership in the Klan, which was anti-black, anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish. Black later claimed he joined to prevent the Klan from being too extreme. He was a man who never graduated high school, but graduated the University of Alabama Law School Phi Beta Kappa, marched in parades and spoke at nearly 150 meetings in the Klan uniform.

He was also F.D.R.’s first nominee to the Supreme Court and championed the Bill of Rights against the states. Now, will Kavanaugh be another Justice Black? I wasn’t overly persuaded by his accuser referring to events 36 years previously, but if I had been a U.S. senator, I would’ve had a difficult time voting to confirm him.

Why? His display of anger indicated a non-judicial temperament. As pointed out by a Wall Street Journal reader, he was belligerent, hostile, intemperate, self-pitying, insulting and political (recall his reference to the Clintons).

I don’t care about his political background. I care about his judicial record and temperament. I was a fierce trial lawyer with a temperament to match, but as a judge, I was temperate. Some lawyers who knew me as an opponent were surprised.

I can’t imagine using the phrase “what goes around comes around” as Kavanaugh did during one of the public hearings. Let’s hope that he performs as a protector of the First Amendment and other constitutional provisions and accumulates the proud record of Justice Black, even to the point of carrying a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his pocket.

Last fall, San Franciscan historian Ken Maley from Telegraph Hill asked me if I realized Nov. 11, 2018 would be the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice ending World War I.

An immigrant from a farm in Russia (now in Belorussia), my father immigrated legally to the United States in 1912 as a 15 year old. By May 1917, he’d finished a two=year course at Brooklyn of Pharmacy before enlisting in the U.S. Army.

After being shipped to France with the American Expeditionary Force, he was naturalized that fall and, after the Armistice, was one of 100 soldiers selected for the American mission to Armenia in January 1919, a 90-day investigation of the Armenian genocide in which more than one million Armenians were murdered.

World War I means much to me. I’m delighted to be co-chairman of the World War I Armistice Centennial Commemoration at the War Memorial Veterans Building, which will culminate on Nov. 11 after the Veterans Day Parade, which will be held at Fishermans Wharf beginning at 11 a.m. (the time the World War I Armistice was signed in 1918).

There will also be a memorial service at Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill. San Francisco was chosen by the U.S. World War I Historical Commission as one of 100 recognized commemoration cities. With retired Marine Corps Major General Mike Myatt as co-chairman, citizens have raised $100,000 for poster, banner and photographic World War I displays since May in the War Memorial lobby, which will remain through 2019 to commemorate the centennial of the establishment of the American Legion.

Besides Myatt and Ken Maley and retired Lieutenant Colonel Wallace Levin, a War Memorial Board of Trustees member and director of the Veterans’ Day parade, the committee consists of American Legion leaders, history professors and World War I historians.

Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco supervisor, state senator and current member of the SF Ethics Commission.

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