By Tim Whyte
When Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus went into the Borderline Bar and Grill on that fateful night Nov. 7, he was interested in just one thing:
He gave his own life doing it. The sergeant was one of 13 killed in the mass shooting before the suspect died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Meeting the definition of a hero, facing an active shooter, Sgt. Helus laid down his life trying to save others.
Too bad our political environment is devoid of such selflessness. This past week, Sgt. Helus’ memory was dealt the ultimate disrespect: “The Blue Bowl,” a flag football game, planned to be held today at a high school in Ventura County as a fundraiser for Helus’ family and those of other fallen law enforcement officers, was postponed indefinitely. (Read: canceled.)
Why, you may ask?
Well, the organizers say it’s because they had the temerity to invite — gasp! — Republicans.
Yeah, I know. We can’t have “those people” — Republicans — in any form of public life in the People’s Republic of California. I heard a Republican family is trying to move into my neighborhood. I believe there’s a petition circulating to stop them.
Here’s what happened:
Sgt. Helus’ heroics are well-chronicled. When a shooter started killing people at the Borderline night club in Thousand Oaks — a destination frequented by many of Santa Clarita’s young people who like country music and line dancing — Sgt. Helus was one of the first responders to arrive.
More concerned with the safety of others than his own, he entered the club to help people escape. He was shot and killed, doing his job and rising to the call of duty.
Fast forward almost a year, and the Fallen Officers Foundation has been planning the Blue Bowl fundraiser.
They invited a Ventura County sheriff’s honor guard to be part of the ceremonies. The bipartisan slate of invited speakers included Gov. Gavin Newsom’s public safety liaison, a Democratic assemblywoman and, according to one report, a Democratic congresswoman, too. And, two people who happen to be Republicans: Singer Joy Villa, a supporter of President Trump, was to sing the national anthem, and actor Scott Baio — who, to me, will always be Chachi from “Happy Days” — was invited to speak. Baio was a member of Helus’ church congregation and also happens to be a Republican who ardently supports Trump.
Mike Randall, vice president of the Fallen Officers Foundation, told FOX 11 that Thousand Oaks Police Chief Tim Hagel objected to the presence of Republicans — should we just call them “The R-word”? He said Hagel told him he was contacted by Democratic Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, who was aggravated because her past election opponent, Republican attorney Ronda Kennedy, was invited, too.
Randall told the TV station that Hagel pulled the sheriff’s honor guard from the event.
“[Hagel] basically said over and over in the conversation this is not Trump country, that slogan ‘Make America Great’ is not favorable, popular, within 1,200 square miles, that we don’t want Republicans here. I could not believe it,” he told FOX 11. “We were totally floored by this comment, ‘The only thing,’ and I quote, ‘The only thing you coulda made this worse, Mike, was to invite Dick Cheney and Sarah Huckabee Sanders,’ and I went, ‘Wow are you kidding me?’”
However, there’s always another side of the coin. Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub issued a Nixle alert on Wednesday objecting to Randall’s characterization of Hagel, and said it was the organizers, not Hagel, who politicized the event.
“I initially gave my approval for support of the event organized by this out-of-state group,” Ayub’s statement said. “As we drew closer to the actual event, they seemed to become more focused on political agendas, and less and less so on the victims and their families. I felt it was in the best interest of the department, the victims, and our community to not directly participate in the event, which the organizers have since canceled.
“The event organizers have now launched a vicious and calculated social media campaign against the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office — and specifically against Commander Tim Hagel, who serves as the chief of police for the city of Thousand Oaks, as he has done honorably for the past several years. During the past year, since the Borderline crisis, Commander Hagel has been both professionally and personally involved with all those impacted by the Borderline tragedy.”
Who do you believe? I suppose in today’s environment, you’ll believe whoever’s side you were on in the first place — because it doesn’t seem like anyone on either side is willing to actually listen to the other.
It would have been wrong for Randall and the Republicans to try to exploit the event by turning it into a de facto MAGA rally. If that was what they were doing, shame on them — although the presence of Democrats on the guest list, at least on the surface, makes it seem like that wasn’t what was happening.
It would also be wrong, and downright childish, for the sheriff’s office and Assemblywoman Irwin to play hardball and threaten to pull out unless Baio, Villa and the other Republicans were uninvited.
As is often the case, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Regardless of who’s to blame, we know WHAT is to blame: partisan bickering, over an event that should have been a bipartisan no-brainer.
So, the flag football game got postponed/canceled. And the donations that were collected in advance are reportedly being returned to the donors.
This is how far we’ve sunk, folks. People can’t even get along well enough to put political differences aside to have a flag football game to raise funds to help the family of a law enforcement officer who made the ultimate sacrifice to save others.
Whether he was right or wrong about how the political scuffle started, Randall was 100% correct on this point: When Sgt. Helus went into the Borderline, with shots being fired, he didn’t look around and ask who was a Republican and who was a Democrat. All he saw was young people in danger, and he died trying to help them.
And today, even in his memory, people can’t be bothered to reach a hand across the aisle.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays. On Twitter: @TimWhyte.