On August 26, Gov. Brown hosts a luncheon for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in the historic Governor’s Mansion as part of reciprocal trade visits. The governor has invited members of the Legislature to join him at this luncheon. I have received such an invitation and intend to go. The visit and lunch, though, are not without controversy.
My colleague, Assembly Member Tim Donnelly, recently announced that he intends to protest President Nieto outside the Governor’s Mansion rather than attend the lunch. The reason for the protest is the continued incarceration in Mexico of Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi on charges related to guns he brought across the border. The issue is an important one that has appropriately already engaged the attention of the Legislature. For example, I have already joined in an effort to engage the federal government on the Tahmooressi case. But I do not believe a sidewalk protest by members of the legislature is an appropriate or particularly effective way to continue advancing the cause of justice in this case.
Sidewalk protests and demonstrations have a long and honorable tradition in America. Our First Amendment appropriately protects the right of citizens to assembly peaceably to petition their government for the redress of grievances and the right to speak freely without fear of reprisals in the exercise of that right. Where individual citizens cannot sit at the table to engage a foreign leader on an important issue, a sidewalk protest may well be the only available means of making a particular point.
But participants in the lunch have a unique opportunity to question President Nieto directly on the Tahmooressi case. We do not need to stand on the street shouting the question when we can attend the lunch and ask the question directly, indeed, many of us, when running for office and answering the inevitable question “Why do you want to get elected?” say it is precisely to have a “seat at the table” on important policy discussions. I do not propose to trade that seat at the table for a sign on the street. In fact, I would encourage all of my colleagues in the legislature to attend the lunch, and, with one voice, respectfully but sincerely engage President Nieto on the question of justice for Sgt. Tahmooressi.
Assembly Member Wagner represents the 68th Assembly District which includes all or part of the Orange County communities of Irvine, Orange, Tustin, Lake Forest, Anaheim, Villa Park, and surrounding areas.