You reap what you sow. That’s the message activists are bringing after Miguel Santiago, a Democrat of Los Angeles, eviscerated a net neutrality bill before his committee in the California Assembly earlier this week.
The reaction to Santiago’s “betrayal,” as many voters are calling it, has been fast and, yes, furious, with accusations of “corruption” being echoed by multiple digital-rights groups that supported the passage of S.B. 822—a comprehensive net neutrality bill proposed by State Sen. Scott Wiener.
Santiago, who has received more than $29,000 from major telecom providers this election cycle, including AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, added amendments watering down S.B. 822 during a hearing before the Assembly’s Communication and Conveyance Committee Wednesday morning—a move that was characterized by many of the bill’s supporters as “undemocratic.”
As the committee’s chair, Santiago refused to allow any debate or testimony over his amendments prior to calling for a vote. The outcome left S.B. 822 stripped of several net neutrality protections. It now contains several loopholes that, if passed, will enable ISPs to congest or block web traffic and potentially charge other businesses unreasonable fees to reach users.
The fallout was swift: On Twitter, users have accused the lawmaker of turning his back on the Democratic Party, which is intended to be a unified bulwark against ISP efforts to weaken net neutrality. A spokesperson for California Rep. Nancy Pelosi told Gizmodo that the House Minority Leader was “disappointed” in the outcome of Wednesday’s hearing.
The day after the S.B. 822 vote, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted his thanks to Sen. Wiener, who had attempted to withdraw his bill from the Assembly, saying Santiago’s modifications meant it was no it was no longer a real net neutrality bill.
Users also flocked to criticize Santiago’s Twitter page, leaving messages on his most recent tweet, a photo of his family with the hashtag #FathersDay2018. Wiener saw the responses as a personal attack and came to Santiago’s defense, tweeting: “As elected officials, we‘re accountable for our actions & it’s fair to criticize any elected official for what we do. But personal attacks—particularly against families—are off limits. Period.”
A Medium post identifying AT&T as a “top donor” to Santiago’s reelection campaign, received more than 25,000 upvotes on Reddit; the top comment, with over 6,000 points, reads: “There needs to be a popular movement to vote these corrupt career criminals out of office and reform the campaign financing structure.”
Santiago’s Wikipedia page was also altered temporarily to list “AT&T” as his “spouse” under his personal details.
Wednesday night, local activists projected an image of Santiago, who is up for reelection this November, on the side of an AT&T building in Oakland. He was even given a nickname: “Sellout Santiago.” The organizer of the event, Alan Marling, told Gizmodo: “The only honorable thing left for him to do is resign.”
Santiago’s LA office has also received several negative reviews on Google Maps, calling the lawmaker an “AT&T stooge” and a “net neutrality betrayer.”
Fellow Democrat Kevin Jang, Santiago’s rival in the 2018 District 53 general election, is also capitalizing on his opponent’s newfound notoriety, promising to pass a clean net neutrality bill, not “cut it apart.”
Jang, a Los Angeles attorney, told Gizmodo by phone that his office received over a hundred phone calls and emails following Wednesday’s vote, most of them from voters angered by Santiago’s actions. “I strongly oppose what he did,” Jang said, “And I don’t understand why he did it.”
Santiago’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But shortly before publication, he released a lengthy statement in which he said he’s not happy about the “legislative maneuverings” he had to take but added: “I stand by my actions and the fact that today, we still have a net neutrality bill to keep working on.”
Santiago characterized as “sensational” and “anger inducing” claims that he “gutted” the bill and said that both he and his wife had been harassed. “My personal family pictures have been stolen from my social media platforms and used to create memes. Really? Using pictures of my kids? This is a new low,” he said.
“Public policy is often messy, it is complicated. It involves compromise and working through conflict,” he said. “In the 36 hours since Wednesday’s hearing, Senator Wiener and I have spoken several times and met. We have hugged, laughed, and had frank conversations. He has pledged to keep moving his bill forward and I have pledged, as Chair of the Committee responsible for this policy area, that I will continue the policy conversation on SB 822 to make it a strong bill that is truly legally defensible and will ensure that Californians have the best shot at net neutrality protections.”
Added Santiago: “We have not mended all of our fences, but we will work hard to do so. Because that is the democratic process.”