Archive for September, 2010

Calif. Governor’s election notes

September 27, 2010

September 2010

Myth: Brown is in labor’s pocket.

If only it were true. Brown has been countering this claim—heard countless times on Whitman ads—by saying when he was governor he vetoed pay raises for state employees. This is true and while it is disturbing that he would brag about it, he is just trying to establish that he is his own person and not under “union control,” whatever that means. The vetoes came before state employees had collective bargaining rights. The legislature, by a two-thirds vote, overruled his two vetoes of state employee pay increases. Brown has always been fiscally conservative so I guess this was his motivation. For more, see the previous post: “Is Brown labor’s champion?” The answer is no, he isn’t.

So, if he isn’t in our pockets, why do we endorse him anyway? We do for a number of reasons. The primary reason being that Whitman will be very bad for the CSU, which I will explain, but there are a few positive reasons to support Brown despite his not-so-great attitudes toward state employees.

Governing style—California is not an easy state to govern. Some say it’s entirely ungovernable. Brown claims he has the experience to navigate the treacherous political waters of Sacramento. This remains to be seen, of course, but a glimpse of his governing style may tell us something. When he was governor earlier in our history, Prop. 13 was on the ballot, I believe,  for its third try. Brown was against it but he was not putting up any real opposition to it either. After it passed into law he said the people have spoken, so he implemented it.

Arnold, on the other hand, is a bully. He has tried many different methods to get his way, even after his precious “my people” have spoken and turned him down. He attacked unions directly with proposed legislation and then ballot measures (costing the state many millions with his special election nonsense), and by ignoring the bargaining table and imposing furloughs and cuts directly. This style did not work so well in Sacramento, and he is still losing in the courts. He is not liked very much by both Democrats and his own party (nobody likes bullies who don’t discriminate between friend and foe). Arnold said he had his own money so he was not beholden to anyone. Well, that proved true, and that meant he couldn’t deliver any votes either, even from his own party. Love it or hate it, that is the way Sacramento works—you have to deliver the votes.

Whitman was a corporate CEO. This style works (sort of) in the dog-eat-dog corporate world. It is top-down and does not lean towards collaboration. Union activists don’t particularly care for this style when we see it practiced in the CSU. Just like higher educational institutions, government is not exactly corporate. Whitman’s sudden interest in government (she didn’t bother to vote for 28 years) will not go very far in Sacramento. You need to build relationships and alliances over many years to be able to talk to people and convince them to make compromises with you. She says in her ads that she will force the legislature to sign a budget on time by cutting their pay and benefits until they do. This bullying will not work. It’s beside the point. They are not delaying the budget because they are getting paid. Besides, why would some of the independently wealthy in the legislature (mostly Republican?) care so much? She says we need to “clean house” (as if she ever has to worry about such a thing) but that is same thinking that got us in this mess in the first place: term limits have taken the expertise out of the legislature. Now only lobbyists seem to really know what is going on.

As with Arnold, Whitman is being advised by former Governor Pete Wilson. When Wilson was governor we got performance pay (which usually creates more inequality in the workplace for various reasons) and lost yearly salary steps. Arnold’s anti-union, anti-worker agenda will continue under Whitman. Count on it.

Retirement—Brown sees some reform as necessary for the state retirement systems. We agree that pension spiking should end. Our retirement benefit is one area where we will have to educate Brown. The average state retiree monthly check is $1,400. This is earned with over 20 years of public service. We know the infamous “$100,000 club” is made up primarily of former administrators (who got their pensions spiked just before their separation dates, no doubt) and not rank-and-file employees. Not only do we contribute monthly to our retirement savings while working, but that money is invested, which, between the two, covers a good portion of the payout. Also, our checks are deferred compensation because our real wages (not the pay ranges) are depressed, lagging between 16 and 24 percent under market for most of our classifications.

Whitman says our defined benefit retirement plans have to go. (The irony is that most, if not all corporate CEOs, have defined benefit retirement plans.) Arnold has said this also, but one difference is Whitman has the dough to purchase the signatures to put this on the ballot. (By the way, changing the pensions for new hires—Arnold’s plan—and for all state employees—Meg’s plan—to private 401(k) accounts does nothing to address the current budget shortfall. It’s all about taking advantage of the economic crisis to push a long-range agenda of funneling public monies to Wall Street.) While Whitman is at it she may as well put the entire “union question” on a ballot too, e.g.: “Should state employees have union rights?” How do you think that question will go after all the anti-state-worker propaganda of the Arnold era and the “lifeboat” envy of drowning private-sector workers?

Higher education—Whitman says she will “invest in higher education.” What she means by this is that she will use the system to funnel public dollars into private hands. Whitman has said she will declare “free enterprise zones” near universities, where businesses can get tax-free holidays and investment dollars from state coffers. This is where you and I will go to work when she fires the promised 40,000 state employees as her first act in office (California does not have the highest ratio of state employees per population; out of the 50 states we are average; yet we provide more services than many other states). We will be doing the same jobs for the university, but like the private foundation employees, working without secure retirement plans and the benefits of unions.

One of Whitman’s nuttiest ideas is to cut the programs that currently put the poor to work by a billion or so and invest the money in our universities. If she does that the state will lose two-to-one federal matching funds. I wonder the affect that will have on our state economy when two billion fewer dollars are spent here?

Brown, on the other hand, believes in the work we do. His father, in a bi-partisan effort 50 years ago, ushered in a new era for California with the Master Plan for Higher Education. Brown has no intention of dismantling and privatizing this system. He knows it’s good for California to invest in our children by providing quality and affordable higher education. (Remember, the governor appoints CSU trustees, and the lieutenant governor and supervisor of public instruction are trustees, so those races affect us as well. Former governors have appointed a few too many corporate types, IMHO, who don’t have the same commitment to public education that Brown has.) He says he wants to figure out how to cut down on our prison spending (which even Arnold bemoaned as prison spending surpassed higher education spending) not by privatizing the system or sending prisoners out of state like Whitman proposes, but by maybe not locking up so many in the first place (bringing some sanity back to our criminal justice system by reversing the unfunded mandates of mandatory sentencing, re-committing to cutting down on recidivism rates, and legalizing pot so we stop locking up people at great public expense for non-violent, non-victim crimes, etc.).

Demographics—Pre-voting election polling looks at what is called the “union vote.” This counts all voters in households with a union member. Arnold had 40 percent of this vote. Brown and Whitman are 50-50. Why union people would vote for leaders who hate unions is beyond me. Be selfish, join your union and vote like a union member. The last figures I saw for how CSUEU union members are registered go like this: 52 percent Democrat, 24 percent Republican, 17 percent decline to state, and 6 percent other. Conventional wisdom says only talk to your own. I don’t agree with this strategy. I want to especially talk to our 24 percent registered Republicans. I want to know what they are thinking. Some of our statewide leaders are in this group. We have two affiliates within CSEA, the Association of State Supervisors and the State Retirees, Inc., who are organizing a group called “Republicans for Brown.”

Conclusion—Along with Brown, I too believe in civil discourse. We should be able to sit down and talk about things without overblown rhetoric and insults. We all need to learn from those with different ideas and perspectives, and they need to learn from us. I do want a governor who can have the backbone to hold to principals, at the same time I want those principals to be of the highest order and applied with equality and justice. The elitism of Arnold and Meg should be exposed for what it is. Like Lincoln said, if you are against labor you are either a fool or a traitor, or both.

What can we do? Everything we can right now to make sure Whitman doesn’t become our new boss. If Brown is elected our work will still be cut out for us. No matter how it turns out California is in trouble, but at least with Brown we are starting from a similar premise, that the CSU is worth keeping and funding properly for the good of California’s future.

Is Gov. Brown labor’s* champion?

September 11, 2010

It’s déjà vu all over again. Jerry Brown wants to be governor. So I visited his campaign website to see what he is about this time. Among other statements he says he knows how to fix the bi-partisan stalemate in Sacramento, but I fear what that implies. I know how to fix it too: either elect enough Democrats so that the 2/3rds vote requirement wouldn’t matter, or eliminate the rule altogether.

There is this thing called democracy — you may have heard of it — in which the majority decides. How anyone thought that the “tyranny of the minority” would be better than the “tyranny of the majority” is beyond me, yet that’s exactly what the 2/3rds requirement represents. We have laws to protect minority rights from the latter’s oppressions (the majority isn’t always just or constitutional), which have worked pretty well through our history. What protections are there for the majority against minority rule? There are none that I know of. Our system isn’t set up for it.

I suppose either of these scenarios is possible this November (either enough seats could “flip” party affiliation or Prop. 25, the ballot measure to change the 2/3rds rule could pass) but both are long shots. Besides, this is not what Gov. Brown means. I believe he plans to “work across the aisle” and not take so many “partisan” stances by taking a page from the Clinton Democrats: adopt the opposition’s programs and meet them halfway.

Outside of polling of “likely voters,” this makes no sense. Brown may win, but, either way, working people lose. What this says to me is that Whitman is controlling the debate. The election is being run on her terms and Brown has no intention of questioning that, let alone rising to the challenge of changing the terms.

If he follows this plan through, Gov. Brown will make the same mistake as President Obama. Remember, Obama promised to return to a more civil government. However, civil discourse only works when the other side is willing to listen and be persuaded by your arguments. How do your persuade this particular group of California’s Republican ideologues to meet you halfway? These are not the old-fashioned moderates who were in office the last time Jerry was governor, let alone the ones who worked with his father from 1959 to 1967 to make great strides in infrastructure and investment in our future.

There are lots of California examples of moderate Republicans working across the aisle. Gov. Pete Wilson saved us all a lot of time and trouble by proposing a budget that the Democratic Party majority could pretty much go along with. Arnold, on the other hand, tries to bully “girly-man” Democratic legislators across the aisle or to hold state employees hostage and to wear down the state until we all “cry uncle.” In spite of a Democratic Party majority in both houses, we have “government that doesn’t work.” This is all by design. Why would these extremist Republicans want government to work if they are not getting their way?

They understand the power they hold and they know what to do with it. They are not the least bit shy in this. For example, you can’t have a rational discussion on taxes with this group. All of them have signed conservative activist Grover Norquist’s “no new taxes” pledge. That’s the beginning and the end of the argument. Where is the space to talk about tax fairness? (A rational debate over taxes would question why we allow a tax break to yacht owners and must cut the already meager benefits to the socially needy [we are getting meaner and leaner so corporate America can supposedly “create more jobs”; how’s that workin’ for ya?]; or when you tally up all taxes people must pay to live, why the top income brackets pay a lower percentage overall [seven percent vs. 11, see CBP research]; or how the state income shifted from ever-shrinking corporate taxes to being more dependent on the more volatile personal income and sales taxes [thanks to Prop 13 and the bi-partisan project to serve the corporate needy]; or why we even tax income on lower and middle Americans at all — which directly affects their quality of life — while already-accumulated, real (and obsessive) wealth lives on with little tax. You might think our tax policy was more informed by Madison’s elitism rather than Jefferson’s egalitarianism. How’s that workin’ for ya?)

The way to reverse the downward slide of the last 30 years is to elect real champions of labor. As radio commentator Jim Hightower says, “If God had meant us to vote, he would have given us candidates.” We need to develop candidates who understand what working people need, candidates who get that public investment helps the quality of life for the majority of California’s residents beyond those with so-called independent wealth.

Is Brown our champion? Hardly. Unfortunately, if you believe what he says, we are in a lose-lose situation this November. But it’s a lose-lose worse situation. Should we do all we can to elect Brown over Whitman? Yes, if we believe in progressive values. Brown will do the right thing if pushed into it. Whitman’s agenda will continue Arnold’s main project: starve the public “beast” and feed their wealthy constituents at the public trough, and to hell with a California for the majority.

For California to turn around, it will ultimately come down to us, no matter who wins. We, the working majority, need to make our voices heard in Sacramento to make sure our elected “leaders” follow us and do the right thing.

Peace.

* What I mean by “labor” may not be immediately obvious. I mean labor as in working people and their quality of life, as opposed to organized labor as a political entity, which doesn’t always have the former’s best interests as its primary goal. The difference could also be described as the bottom-up, social justice labor movement vs. the business unionism of the post-McCarthy (Herbert Hoover) era. If social justice labor ever catches on, then images of Jimmy-Hoffa-corruption would finally be replaced in people’s minds when you say “strike” or “labor” with images of people in the streets demanding justice.