Protestors opposed to the mandatory vaccination bill Senate Bill 277 rallied last month outside the Capitol. Steve Yeater The Associated Press
Protestors opposed to the mandatory vaccination bill Senate Bill 277 rallied last month outside the Capitol. Steve Yeater The Associated Press

Shawn Hubler

Deputy editorial page editor, columnist and editorial writer

Shawn Hubler

Opinion: When lobbying becomes vigilantism

By Shawn Hubler

shubler@sacbee.com

May 20, 2015 05:01 PM

It isn’t clear why the California Chiropractic Association has gone so all-in with the hell-hath-no-fury vaccine resister moms.

They may both like alternative health, but vaccines are hardly the chiropractors’ core business. The red-shirted moms, though, have made a career out of smearing the nationally watched bill to tighten opt-outs for school vaccinations, Senate Bill 277.

One group has actual credibility to lose; the other has compared kindergarten immunizations with the Holocaust and the bill’s authors with Hitler. The chiropractors’ explanation – protecting “choice” – rings hollow, but they’ve stuck with it. Now, however, the “No on SB 277” agitation ought to have everyone asking: How far is too far?

At issue is the campaign against Jodi Hicks, a lobbyist who helped the bill’s authors, Sens. Richard Pan and Ben Allen, get it out of a jam in the Senate Education Committee last month.

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After it advanced, a YouTube PowerPoint landed in Hicks’ Twitter feed, featuring her and a California Medical Association lobbyist conferring with Pan and Allen. Off camera, a high female voice speculated that the lobbyists were actually in charge.

Then up flashed a clandestine photo of Hicks in a Capitol hallway. Then one from her wedding, the bridal party of fellow politicos all glued to their cellphones. (“I love this,” the narrator, a complete stranger, snickered.)

And now here was a campaign ad in which Hicks’ youngest child high-fived Pan, an old friend and Hicks’ pediatrician. And now came her professional bio.

“Jodi Hicks, that’s her right there,” the narrator trilled. Hicks rechecked her Twitter, which was blowing up now.

“Fighting for this is fighting for pharmaceutical company profit at kid’s expense,” tweeted a stranger angrily, attaching Hicks’ Twitter handle.

“Everyone meet the Big Pharma Lobbyist @DrPan turned to at the Health Commeette (sic) last week! #forshame,” added someone from Rancho Cucamonga.

Hicks has no pharmaceutical clients. But no matter.

“Despicable!” another half-informed stranger tweeted. “Pharma mouth piece!”

The blog turned out to be one of several spreading Hicks theories, and the chatter was personal and exponential. Concerned for Hicks’ safety, Capitol sergeants instructed her to sit near them in hearing rooms.

Publicly, the chiropractors distanced themselves. Privately, CCA President Brian Stenzler said he asked vaccine critics to cool it, but they accused him of weakness.

When the CCA lobbyist was spotted chatting with Hicks and a lobbyist for the medical association, he said, rumors spread that the chiropractors’ lobbyist was double-dealing. So Stenzler defended the advocate on camera to the woman who narrated the Hicks YouTube video.

In that distinctive voice, the woman, who was outside the frame, said OK, “but at the same time, following the other two lobbyists without interruption, all day – ?”

“All day long – follow them to a T,” Stenzler answered.

He says now that he meant “follow the money.” But the video, posted on Facebook (and recently removed), sent the campaign against Hicks, a 43-year-old mother of three, into warp speed.

“Hey, Jodi!” someone yelled as she crossed the street. When she turned, a bevy of red-shirted “No on SB 277” women snapped her picture. Moments later, it was up on Twitter.

“#wheresJodi,” the caption sneered. “#DevilWithTheBlueDress.”

“There’s a special place in hell for you, just waiting,” warned the mean tweets.

“#wearewatchingyou.”

“People were on blogs saying, if somebody shoots my kids with needles, maybe we should shoot these lobbyists,” said Hicks’ understandably distraught husband, Paul Mitchell. “And here’s the president of this association, actually inciting people to stalk my wife.”

Mitchell notes that the bill’s grass-roots opponents are channeling contributions to the chiropractors, so they’re not disconnected. Hicks’ lawyer has sent a cease-and-desist letter to Stenzler, as did the medical association lobbyist’s lawyer.

Stenzler denies any involvement, but for the chiropractors, the consequences could go beyond legal action. They are squandering their standing with legislators as they seek the valuable privilege of receiving Medi-Cal reimbursement for their services. They gave $8,200 to Pan’s Senate campaign last year, and now the anti-vax fringe is peppering his office with death threats. With friends like these, a person could go out of business.

“Once this bill is done,” he sighed, “the CCA is out of this fight.”

The problem is, online genies don’t go gently back into the bottle. Dana Pace Gorman, the Los Angeles-area blogger who operates the YouTube and Facebook sites where the videos about Hicks were posted, didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment on the Hicks matter. Reached by phone, she said – in a voice strikingly similar to that of the narrator – that she couldn’t talk because her family was waiting.

Subsequent calls went unanswered. In a court case that settled in 2005 for $22.6 million, Gorman alleged her son was brain-injured by toxic mold exposure; her Web videos theorize that autism is caused by a buildup of pharmaceuticals, stress, electro-magnetism and other “toxins.”

As of this week, Hicks was still being pilloried as the evil genius behind SB 277; Florida vaccine critics were tweeting that she’s engineering a bill there. For the record, she isn’t.

But why let facts get in the way of a good fatwa?

Shawn Hubler: (916) 321-1646 @ShawnHubler