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In California, Labor is King

Aug
8
2006

In my last missive, I observed that, in California, education policy is no longer about improving children’s education—it’s about the aggrandizement of the teacher’s unions. But wherever you look in the Golden State—whether it’s fixing traffic or building shopping centers—unless a union benefits, nothing gets accomplished. Good or bad, we Californians have to ask ourselves how Labor managed to buy and pay for the Golden State.
When someone recently asked me how we got to a situation where Labor is running the show in California, my first reaction was to blame Gray Davis. Elected as a moderate, Davis believed in rowing the ship of State Government with both oars. On the left, he created an onerous daily overtime system (unless voters organized into collective bargaining units) then to the right, he argued for stricter law enforcement and more prisons (which coincidentally pleased the CCPOA).
Labor elected Gray Davis against dueling multi-millionaires and he repaid them dearly as Governor of California. But it’s too easy to blame Gray for all of California’s troubles—as he certainly had co-conspirators in the Legislature.
Perhaps the two greatest contributing factors to Union power in California are commonly thought of as common-sense political reforms. Rather than empowering the people, term limits and campaign finance reform have given special interest groups—and Labor in particular—a stranglehold on Sacramento.
When Californians passed term limits for the State legislature in the 1990’s, the prevailing wisdom was that a new set of fresh faces every six years would bring Sacramento closer to the people. What has happened instead is just the opposite.
Because of the very nature of the Labor movement—where individuals must constantly politick for power and build coalitions from within—unions are developing a farm team which does not exist among the Chamber of Commerce set. For example, just look at the 45th Assembly District. From former speaker Antonio Villaraigosa to his predecessor Jackie Goldberg to her future replacement Kevin DeLeon, each representative from this district got their start in politics working for a labor union…and this downtown Los Angeles district is not an anomaly. The Democratic Caucus in Sacramento may as well be an executive council of the AFL-CIO.
A second popular political reform has also positioned Labor to strengthen its grip on California politics. Under California’s Campaign Finance Laws, individuals are limited to contributions of no more than a few thousand dollars. But while candidates and contributors hands are tied, there are no limits on so-called Independent Expenditures.
In races across the State, labor and the business community have waged war—spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in Independent Expenditures to elect the candidates of their choosing.
In the 2006 primary elections, according to the California Targetbook, Labor won this battle in 11 of 19 districts.
With their ability to garnish wages from their members’ paychecks to pay for such multi-million dollar campaigns, Labor has a structural advantage like no other in California politics…and it could get worse.
Under Proposition 89, a proposal written by the ultra-liberal California Nurses Association, candidates must collect a certain number of $5 contributions in order to qualify for public financing of their campaigns. Compared to chambers of commerce with only a few hundred members, a thousands-strong labor union (which can take money from its members paychecks to contribute it on their behalf) will be halfway to the finish line before the starting gun goes off.
While on the East Coast the educated anti-war liberal is surging behind names like Ted Lamont, out here in California, labor remains king.

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