Says Once and Current Candidate: 'Looking at it from hindsight, perhaps we should have gotten more involved'
UPATED! Transcript and Audio now available!
By Winter Patriot on 8/31/2006, 4:49pm PT  

Guest blogged by Winter Patriot

Word just in! Francine Busby will be on the radio with Peter B. Collins beginning at 8:15pm Eastern time. That's 7:15 Central, 6:15 Mountain and 5:15 Pacific, of course.

If you're in (or near) Monterey, Sacramento, Eureka or Phoenix, you can listen via broadcast radio.Otherwise your only option is a streaming webcast.

Either way, click here for more details.

UPDATE: A recording of Francine Busby's interview with Peter B. Collins is now available. Click here to download it (MP3).

We now have a transcript, courtesy of Emily Levy. That's below the fold.

We're also trying to get the audio for Busby's appearance on The Stacy Taylor Show on KLSD this morning, too. Will post it when/if we get it.

Francine Busby with host Peter B. Collins and caller Paul Lehto, August 31, 2006. | Transcribed by Emily Levy.

PBC: If somebody steals your purse, your car, or breaks into your house, you call the cops, right? But when somebody steals your election, who ya gonna call? (Music) That's a tune from 1970, the Temptations, called Ball of Confusion. That's what we've had this summer in San Diego. We've covered this case quite a bit since the June 6 special election which was intended to select the replacement for Randy Duke Cunningham, who can't continue to serve 'cuz he's doing time in a federal penitentiary.

With us today is Francine Busby, the Democrat who, in my view, had that election taken away from her. Or at least we haven't had a fair process to evaluate the validity of the outcome. Ms. Busby, thanks for joining us on the program today.

FB: It's a pleasure.

PBC: Well, tell me your reaction to the judge's ruling on Tuesday which dismissed the underlying challenge to the election on various issues which I consider to be substantive, because Mr. Bilbray, your opponent then and in November, has already been sworn in to complete the term of Duke Cunningham. I consider it undemocratic, unprincipled and just another example of the Republican power grabs.

FB: Well, two things happened, and I was quite shocked at both of 'em. First of all, the people who brought this suit in here, true, all they wanted to do was have access to information so they could have a recount, hand recount, of the votes. Because they wanted to recount the votes to see if it matched the machine totals, because of course you know those machines were taken out of the chain of custody and taken home.

PBC: Right.

FB: That was their original goal. And the judge denied that. Which means that he's denying the people in this district the right to access the public information that is their right to have and if they could pay for it they should have a right to recount the vote. They were not contesting the results of the election. They were concerned about the process. But since the Registrar of Voters put the cost at $150,000 they had to go to court to reduce the cost. So the first shock is they threw that out completely. And I don't know why. I mean I don't know why. Number two, I don't know why Mr. Bilbray has such a problem with a hand recount that he had to go to court to fight this. Why not just say, "Fine, let 'em have the recount." But what you're talkin' about is the atom bomb they dropped on the Constitution. Basically, when the judge said he does not have jurisdiction any longer in California over that election once Congress swore him in. And you're right, he was sworn in before the votes were counted in San Diego, before…

PBC: And before the election was certified! And that is crucial! If you can swear people in without certification this opens up the door to all kinds of havoc that would be wreaked by either party who happens to be in power.

FB: Well, absolutely, because what he said was once it was certifi --- once he was sworn in, even if there had been an issue, if there had been reason to question the outcome, what this judge said was the State of California, the voters of California, the voters of this district no longer have the right to even challenge the outcome because once Congress--it became a federal issue. This is clearly a state of, you know, Congress and the Republican party, with a letter from their counsel, trumping states' rights and turning this into a federal issue. And I think this is bigger than me, it's bigger than this election. This means anybody who gets sworn into Congress is no longer under anybody's jurisdiction but Congress and they can swear people in early if they want, even before the votes are counted, and get away with it.

PBC: Francine Busby, I agree it's bigger than you, but also I believe that it is your obligation to defend the voting rights of the people in your district. And frankly, I've been disappointed that you haven't spoken up 'til now.

FB: The reason I didn't speak up is because, two things: I'm running again in just a few--in two months, I'm running again. And I knew that if I got involved, the press here--even when it first came up they kept trying to turn this into "Francine Busby's behind this." I knew if they turned it into a Busby issue it would be turning into, "Oh, she's sour grapes. Oh, the Democrats are poor losers." And nobody would--they wouldn't be able to maintain the integrity of their argument that it wasn't about me and the election.

PBC: Okay, but Gore took that "out" in 2000 and I am still upset about that!

FB: Well, now I'm going to say something. Because it was never about me and my election but I thought, I respected their right to have the recount. I supported their, their, their mission to have this recount. I agreed with the issue that the voting machines are vulnerable and that this is an opportunity to see if anything had happened with these voting machines. So, first of all, I'm shocked they threw it out. I thought if they could just get through this process and do it without me, they could keep it separate. They could keep it clean and not have me involved and my name and people muddying the waters. But this, now, is an issue where Brian Bilbray has told them they don't even have a right to do this, which I think they do, and they're using this now Congressional, you know, this Congressional issue of Congress now has the right to swear in people even before they're elected.

PBC: Mm-hmm.

FB: So now I will make a statement. And now I will stand up for the people of this district.

PBC: Well, I applaud you. And anything I can do to help amplify your remarks, please let me know.

FB: Okay.

PBC: Because I think this is crucial to the future of democracy and to any hopes of the Democrats getting a level playing field and being able to win back control of either house. And if we continue, you know, to not protest, to concede prematurely, to not insist that every vote be counted, we're going to get hosed again and again.

FB: Well, the concession issue is--when you're a candidate, you run and it looks like there's a clear majority, if we contested every single race people would then become--they would discredit the party. They would discredit those challenging. You have to be sure when you're challenging, you're challenging. And we had no, no reports, no issues that people had problems voting or that there was problems with the machines that weren't working or an inappropriate number of machines. So we had really no reason to go back and say, "Look, this happened so we're questioning it."

PBC: Mm-hmm. Francine, we've gotta take a break here and I can't stop it. Do you have an extra couple of minutes?

FB: Uh, yeah.

PBC: Okay, well, hold on through the break and I'll just hold you for five more minutes if you'll indulge me.

FB: Okay.

PBC: Francine Busby, live from San Francis--uh, San Diego. We're talking about District 50 and the way Republicans grabbed that seat, at least short-term. More coming up in a moment here on the Peter B. Collins Show.

[commercial break]

PBC: And the Peter B. Collins Show continues. Thirty-three minutes past the hour. We're talking with Francine Busby, the Democratic candidate in district 50 in southern California. Gets a little confusing. She was contesting, or competing with Brian Bilbray, the Republican in the special election on June 6 and at the same time they held a primary in which Francine Busby won the Democratic nomination to face Brian Bilbray this November for the full two-year term that has been vacated by the inconvenient conviction of Randy Duke Cunningham. Francine Busby, as you look at the picture, we understand that by November in your district in San Diego County, all of the votes will be handled on DRE machines, the touch-screen machines that so many people are concerned about because of their vulnerability to hacking and manipulation. And given the backdrop here that we just discussed about what occurred over the summer in cementing what I consider to be a purloined victory for Mr. Bilbray, do you have any confidence that this election will be properly conducted in November?

FB: Well, let me start by saying that the election in June, we just don't have reason to question the outcome of it. You know, it was such a close race and we saw the polls changing towards the end, so you know, some people may think that I won this and it was stolen, others may not, but you know we really don't have a strong case for that. However, I am very concerned about the use of the touch-screen machines. But again, this has been recertified by the Secretary of State. These machines, I am assuming, are going to be used throughout the state at this point. And everybody should be concerned about this. But the best thing I can do is raise a red flag for the process that just occurred that denied the voters the right to have a recount so that they could satisfy themselves and others that we could have full trust and confidence in our system, in our process. And now that that's been shut down I think, you know, I will speak out on this and see what we can do about it.

PBC: Mm-hmm. Francine, we've just gotten a call from attorney Paul Lehto, who has represented those challenging the election. Do you mind if we conference him in?

FB: Absolutely. I'd love to talk to him.

PBC: Okay, great. Paul, welcome back to the Peter B. Collins Show.

PL: Thank you.

PBC: Tell me your comments, I guess you've been on hold a couple of minutes and you heard what Ms. Busby and I just discussed. Do you have any reaction?

PL: Well, I think, as I said about John Kerry and every other political candidate, I think there are so many pressures put on candidates that they're amongst the last people, because they're going to be made to pay a very high price if they challenge an election. But, you know, that being said, I think we also have to look at what is the nature of the evidence here when you're processing votes electronically and it's all done invisibly and secretly. I mean, at this point there's still not a single human being that has actually counted these votes. So, you know, when we don't have--to the extent there's any missing evidence it's because it's never been produced, it's been withheld at $150,000 or because it's invisible or computerized to begin with and we haven't even started to get production on that kind of stuff.

PBC: Mm-hmm. And Francine, the morning after the election the unofficial tally showed Bilbray ahead by, if I recall correctly, 4,732 votes. And at that time there were still 60,000 ballots in San Diego County--not all in district 50, but in the county--that had not been counted. So at what point did you become persuaded that at least based on the tallies presented that you did not have a cause of action?

FB: Well, first of all, when I, when I did the concession the next day we knew that that was a courtesy. It's something that we weren't going to wait three or four days, but we were watching the polls, we were watching the numbers coming in, very closely. We were watching--and when the precinct information came back a few weeks later we scanned those very carefully to look for anomalies, to look for anything that leapt out at us as being unusual or where there was a--you know, something that told us that something didn't smell right. And we didn't find it. So we were watching…

PBC: Okay, but, but can you understand from my perspective--and I'm not in your district and I don't want to presume to know more than you, the candidate--however, when I look at this picture and the fast and loose way that the Republicans have played this race, the way they misrepresented the sound bite that they--that you coughed up and that they blasted all over the media in San Diego during the final week of the election--it mischaracterized your position on immigration and it misconstrued comments that you had made about the voting process for, you know, American citizens of Latino extraction.

FB: Mm-hmm.

PBC: So, when you look at the big picture and how they're willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that that seat stayed in Republican hands, don't you believe that the chain of custody issue is sufficient to reopen this case because if the chain of custody issues were violated that means there was the potential for the machines to be manipulated and therefore the results presented could never be trusted.

FB: Looking at it, it looks like it's something that would make sense, but remember, I was, I was, I'd just come through a very difficult election. We had observers here from both the Republican and Democratic national parties and the Registrar of Voters that night. Neither one of them felt that there was anything that they felt that they should challenge. We had people calling us and asking us about challenging and I just felt like I didn't have the means, I didn't have the resources--people said, "Say something," but I didn't have the party ba--I mean, maybe they would have come, if we had said, "Look, there's something here. We need to pursue this," they would have come in, but at that time there was--except for, you know, BradBlog, you know, Brad Friedman on the blog…

PBC: Mm-hmm.

FB: …there was no other entity or official person calling me and saying, "This is an issue. We're going to back you up. Go out, make the statement, let's challenge this." It was just saying, "Francine do this. Francine do this. Francine do this." And, to be honest, I'm--I wasn't in a mental position…

PBC: [laughs]

FB: …or physical or financial position to put myself there and do this without somebody saying, "We're with you and here's what we're gonna do, and…"

PBC: Understood.

FB: It's a personal thing.

PBC: Paul Lehto, given your immersion into the facts of the case and the dismissal on Tuesday, do you feel that if you'd been able to pursue this to the limit that it would have produced something substantive?

PL: Well, we already have some substantive things. I mean, if you just look at the election results themselves on their face, you have the absentee voter precincts which have turnout percentages of thousands of percent higher than registered voters. Now, they try to explain that by saying, 'Well, we just lumped them all together and that's why we have the high numbers,' but that's not really an excuse because it prevents--when you don't assign all the voters to their proper precinct it prevents a proper reconciliation between votes and voters which is your basic check and balance against a stuffed ballot box. So that's a sign right there that things are being obscured and the high turnout percentages are certainly anomalous.

PBC: Mm-hmm. Okay. Any other issues of note?

PL: Well, I think that we ought to move forward also with the Zogby poll that we commissioned recently that came out with 92% support for transparency, specifically the right of public members to watch vote counting and specifically the right of public members to get--obtain--information. So that shows that in San Diego and in a lot of other places around the country the election officials are out of touch with every political group in the country. Ultraconservatives, it doesn't matter what race, color, creed, religion you are, whether you're a Walmart shopper or a NASCAR fan, 92% plus or minus 4% of every single group support transparency. So here what we really have is this intense contrast. Our government is completely out of touch. And they're trying to eliminate the public from their proper role in supervising elections. You know, the government, er, the public has a proper role of sitting on a jury. We decide in the judicial system. In the legislative system they've got to publish all the roll-call votes so we can decide who we're going to vote for. But the revolution against democracy that's happening in the United States is that in the executive branch, which runs elections, we don't have a role anymore.

PBC: Mm-hmm. Francine Busby, I'm just curious about this. Given the way the Republicans rushed to have Brian Bilbray sworn in only a week after the election and a full 16 days before the expected date of certification of the results, did you smell a rat at that point? Did you say, "Why are they doing this so quickly?"

FB: You know, people were contacting me but again, and I, again, you have to put yourself back in my frame of mind a week after this election. I'd been running for three years. It was a bruising experience. I had staff coming, I had staff going. We had to run again. People were saying, "Are you going to bother?" I mean, we were really--this was just one more layer onto the things that we were dealing with. So, looking at it from hindsight, perhaps we should have gotten more involved. Perhaps we should have asked more questions, we should have gotten higher powers involved that did have the means to--and the resources to--push this thing forward.

PBC: Mm-hmm.

FB: I didn't pursue it personally but if I had, or if I had reached out, maybe we could have taken it farther.

PBC: Mm-hmm. Let me just offer this as free advice and you can use it as you see fit: Jan Schakowsky is a Congresswoman from Evanston, Illinois, on the north shore of Chicago. She understands the election issues. And we interviewed her in Washington in June and at that point she was on fire about Ohio '04. I told her about California 50 '06 and she promised to investigate. And I would just encourage you to reach out to Jan Schakowsky because I think she could be a strong ally in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. And she has the ear of Rahm Emanuel, who is in the district adjacent to her in Chicago and they ride on the plane back and forth to Washington a lot and she forced him to read Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s article about Ohio '04.

FB: Mm-hmm.

PBC: And so that's somebody who I think might be able to help you. And I personally would like to see you gear up to protect the integrity of the November election in district 50 and to bring in outside observers and put the heat on the Republicans to make sure that this kind of fast and loose play cannot happen again.

FB: Well, you know what? I'm going to maybe have some--a few minutes--to talk with Mr. Lehto over there, get some advice and information from him and see where we can take it from here.

PBC: Okay. Paul Lehto, another comment? It's about time to wrap up here.

PL: Well, I think that the real key is that contrast between the Zogby poll and this. And I know that Francine's goin' around the district now talking about--and I hope she goes around the district talking about how Bilbray was happy to terminate this election before the game was over. There was ten minutes left on the clock except this isn't a game, this is democracy.

PBC: Well, and obviously the Republicans didn't trust the potential outcome of a real count of every vote or the challenge that you represented. And so they went for a quick fix which is a kind of "gotcha" approach under the law, and I for one am steaming about it. I think it is so undemocratic, we cannot let it stand without comment. A final question for you, Francine, Busby, what kind of news coverage has there been about the dismissal of this case? I have not read a story in the New York Times or in northern California papers about this. Is it getting covered in San Diego and L.A.?

FB: That's not the problem. It was in the newspapers, I think it was in TV. People do not understand the dimensions of this. They don't understand the issue. It was portrayed, I think Mr. Lehto can confirm, that every time it was talked about in the paper it was, 'these voters are questioning it but there's really no story here.' So if it's going to be a story we're going to have to make it a story. And again, I am going to put out a statement on this. People have suggested that I make other phone calls and try to raise the awareness of this and I will try to do what I can to do that.

PBC: Well, I sure appreciate that, and I offer again our assistance in any way we can.

FB: Great. Thank you.

PBC: Thank you, Francine Busby. Paul Lehto, thanks for joining us today.

PL: Thank you.

PBC: All right, we'll talk to both of you again before November the seventh. Well, that's a fascinating look at the situation in district 50 in southern California. Kudos to our producer, Matt Renner, for getting us Francine Busby, and then Paul Lehto decided to call in. I think that's terrific.

[End of transcript]