Don’t Tread On Me. Or I Will Strike.

Steve Mensinger treads on Costa Mesa

A Personal Opinion by Mike Harmanos

The Gadsden flag is a historical American flag with a yellow field depicting a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike. Positioned below the rattlesnake are the words “Don’t Tread On Me”.


In December of 1775, Benjamin Franklin published an essay in the Pennsylvania Journal that suggested the rattlesnake was a good symbol for the American spirit.  He wrote that the rattlesnake “… has no eye-lids—She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance.—She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.”


The trial of Steven White concluded two Fridays ago.  Mr. White was charged with misdemeanor vandalism for allegedly ripping up a lawn sign advertising candidates in the 2012 City Council race.


Those familiar to the case testified under oath to the following facts:


1. The Mayor Pro Tempore Mensinger, as a private citizen, but one who receives payment as a City Council member, hired a private investigator on the night of October 20, 2012.  The PI famously videotaped someone destroying a campaign sign.


2. Christine White (Steven’s wife) told jurors that she found six police officers outside her home along with Mensinger and Mayor Jim Righeimer.  They told Mrs. White that her husband had ripped up a sign and wanted to know where he was.


Steve Mensinger treads on Costa Mesa

A jury of Mr. White’s peers found him not guilty of the charge.


In 2012 and in Costa Mesa, California, and in the United States of America, a Mayor, and the Mayor Pro Tem can hire a private investigator to track a private citizen, show up at that citizen’s front door, accuse someone of a crime, take that person to trial, and put him through an 18 month ordeal because of his assumed political beliefs.


Think about that for a second.


When elected officials take such steps against a private citizen, it makes me think of a few questions.


Are you or I being followed by a PI for our political beliefs?  Is anyone who holds different political beliefs than the Mayor and the Mayor Pro Tem presumed guilty before being proven innocent?  What kinds of limits are there, if any, to the Mayor and the Mayor Pro Tem’s need to punish citizens who disagree with him?  Is the presumption of innocence no longer applicable in Costa Mesa?


No matter the answers to these questions, the facts of this case go well beyond political parties and factions or $5 signs in local politics.  The facts of this case strike at the very heart of our basic rights as Americans and the balance of power between citizens and the temporary leaders of our government.  This is why I volunteer.  This is why I give freely of my time and my energy.  Every city – not just Costa Mesa – needs vigilance.  I am proud to live in a city with someone who exercised his vigilance and defended his beliefs in the face of such challenges.


Mike Harmanos lives in Costa Mesa.  The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the official position of CM4RG or all of its members.