Jeff Jardine

Denham playing victim card? Not the first time, as duly noted

When politicians try to play the victim, look very closely at the not-so-fine print.

Last fall, the wives of at least three and who knows how many more Republicans running for state or national offices wrote letters decrying political attacks against their husbands. Among those letters, one came from Sonia Denham, wife of Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock. Others came from Christy Jones, wife of 7th Congressional District (Sacramento area) candidate Scott Jones, and from Christine Antonovich, wife of State Senate candidate Mike Antonovich of Los Angeles. All three letters used the same graphic in the letterhead, the same typeface meant to look handwritten, and all were dated Oct. 22, 2016.

All three clearly orchestrated letters began with “Dear Friend.”

Jones’ and Antonovich’s letters led with “This is a very hard letter for me to write” and all three included a sentence that read “I have tried my best to ignore all the political mudslinging that comes with campaigns (or campaign season), but the attacks on my husband (insert his name here), have gone too far.”

Then, they went off script to tell about how the big bad world of politics was unfair to their respective husbands, what great husbands and fathers they are and such, ignoring the fact that their husbands’ opponents were getting the same treatment from their husbands’ supporters.

Returning to the template, all three letters ended with a P.S. reading, “I have enclosed a photo of our family” and commenting about how fast the kids have grown.

Denham retained his seat in November, but the vitriol against him now isn’t coming from henchman political consultants. It’s coming from constituents, including some folks who are politically opposed but remained personally friendly. No more.

His flip-flop on Trumpcare last week ramped up the anger of people already critical of him for refusing to hold a townhall before the GOP’s first attempt to repeal Obamacare fell apart. After it did – and he refused to say how he would have voted – Denham heard from the angry horde at the Government Night town hall meeting in Denair last month.

Likewise, his coffee clatch in Riverbank Tuesday morning was anything but the casual conversation billed. Some constituents are angry that he suddenly voted “yes” last week on the revised House healthcare bill after suggesting until hours before the vote that he leaned toward “no.”

Another appearance Tuesday evening at the Dust Bowl brewery didn’t turn into a similar dust up, perhaps because it was an invitation-only event.

Follow that with a small but honk-inducing demonstration the intersection of McHenry and Briggsmore avenues Wednesday billed as “Denham SHAME on You! / Recess Rally.” Then he went to California State University, Stanislaus, to meet privately with a group of Dreamers – undocumented immigrant students – that drew protesters. Among them was student Jason Serang, who told me he’d been invited to attend by an administrator but then prohibited entry because he isn’t a Dreamer. Or maybe it was because Serang is president of the school’s student Democrats group. And a Denham office worker told Bee photographer Andy Alfaro that Denham would not attend, that a staffer would represent him in the meeting.

The week is still young, with a “Pre-exist and Persist: Healthcare Rally and Vigil” set for Saturday at Graceada Park.

The Democratic national party has targeted Denham as beatable in 2018, which explains why media including Politico, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and others suddenly give a rat’s backside about Northern San Joaquin Valley politics. They covered some of his recent public appearances.

Which brings us back to the victim’s stance he’s taking. If you saw the video from Tuesday morning’s coffee meeting, Denham told the gathering he voted for the Republicans’ healthcare bill only after it was reworked to include $8 billion to help those with pre-existing conditions. He told the crowd that the pre-existing conditions element was important to him because relatives whose pre-existing conditions led to their deaths. Anyone who lost a loved one to a disease or long-term condition would relate to that, he assumed.

“It’s personal for me, too,” he said. “My father passed from a pre-existing condition. My father-in-law, too. My mother-in-law just recently passed away with cancer. These are very not only personal but emotional issues – the same way they’re emotional to you.”

And any other time, it would have resonated. Not this time – not after he voted for the GOP bill last week. Some in the group interrupted and even jeered him.

“Let’s be respectful,” he responded. “Let’s be respectful. This is my family you’re talking about.”

To which one responded, “This is our families!”

“Have a little bit of compassion,” Denham said. “I’m sharing a personal story about a family member that passed away with a pre-existing condition and you are going to shout me down?”

They weren’t having it. According to the LA Times, he’s worth at least $6.5 million. That ranks him 56th on the list of richest members of Congress. Residents in Stanislaus County, where the median household income is just over $50,000, worry more about healthcare costs than do millionaires.

Indeed, Denham is facing a public backlash unlike anything he encountered while in state office or to this point as a Congressman.

Maybe it’s the perfect time for another round of “quick-picking-on-my-husband letters,” mailed to wherever a “Dear Friend” can be found.

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