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Archive for 2015



Why Labor’s Dem-on-Dem Attacks Are Foolhardy

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

LBJ2In 1967, President Lyndon Baines Johnson famously posed a political question to moderate civil rights leaders Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young, then quickly answered it himself.

”You know the difference between cannibals and liberals?” the president asked. “Cannibals eat only their enemies.”

LBJ’s formulation comes to mind as we ponder the recent eat-your-own behavior of the dominant, union faction of the California and National Democratic Parties, which seems, oddly, to ape that of Tea Party Republicans.

Ideological rigidity, unwillingness to compromise, incendiary rhetoric, unreasonable demands, infuriating inconsistency and scorched earth tactics: these are just some of the characteristics of Tea Party types, whose stranglehold on Congress has so enraged liberal and moderate Democrats and Republicans alike.

Yet they’re exactly the characteristics – albeit on the left not the right — that now infest the Labor Union Wing of the Democratic Party, in California and Washington.

From Elk Grove to East Rockaway, Democratic members of Congress, from Ami Bera to Kathleen Rice, who have dared to stray from Big Labor’s take-no-prisoners stance on trade, have been pilloried as traitors to working people and others. Their mortal sin: bucking organized labor’s line on just a few issues, while hewing to it on most.

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Art Pulaski

Off with their heads: It’s understandable that Big Labor feels threatened, across the nation, by the decline in the influence and membership of industrial unions, as the manufacturing economy gives way to the cyber-service economy.

However, when crusading unions recently poured millions into a failed attempt to defeat Steve Glazer, a lifelong Democratic progressive who spent years working for Jerry Brown, in a special state Senate election — because he departed from party orthodoxy in opposing some public employee strikes – it seemed a bridge too far.

Likewise the nonstop attacks on another Democrat, former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, for his sponsorship of a proposed ballot measure to give cities the right to revise taxpayer-financed pension plans.

At the recent California Democratic convention, Art Pulaski, secretary-treasurer and CEO of the California Labor Federation, vilified pro-trade agreement Democratic incumbents, denouncing by name Rep. Bera, who last year eked out a GOP ex-congressman, by the underwhelming margin of 50.4 to 49.6 percent

“It’s time to call them out,” Pulaski thundered from the podium, charging that Bera “bowed to corporate interests and kneels at the altar of profits.”

“Our message is this – you’re choosing sides,” he shouted, adding that come next election, “we’ll choose sides” against Bera. “Let’s kick ass together.”

You go, Art. Sic temper tyrannis.

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U.S. Rep. Sam Farr

Why trade is good for California: Inquiring minds want to know: when did the Democrats give up the concept of a united front – wherein a variety of legislators who agree on 90% of the issues could tolerate differences on 10%?

For decades, labor union Democrats – in the building trades, for example – mostly have managed to remain allies with environmental Democrats, even though to the former, progressive policy might mean new housing development, while to the latter that might look like urban sprawl.

Throughout California, in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County, and elsewhere across the country, Democrats of different stripes – some with jobs as their first priority, like miners or autoworkers, others with protection of the environment and social services as theirs — might disagree on specific issues, but never lost sight of their common interests.

Take U.S. Rep. Sam Farr of Monterey – as reliable a liberal Democratic vote any party purist could ask for about 96% of the time, according to the National Journal. (Nancy Pelosi scored 86%, Zoe Lofgren 78%). He has fought against offshore oil drilling off the Central Coast, which would provide jobs to union workers in construction and oil field operations. But he’s always had labor union support. He’s also one of those who dared support the Democratic president of the United States on trade.

Here’s Farr’s take on trade, from a post to constituents. We quote at length because it makes great sense to us:

The strength of the Central Coast’s economy lies not in maintaining the status quo. It lies in our ability to adapt and change to meet the demands of a global community. The Central Coast is connected to that international community. We are the home of the Defense Language Institute, the Naval Postgraduate School and many other world renowned colleges and universities. And our local businesses rely on access to new markets around the globe to compete.

Trade opens up those markets. It puts the goods we produce and the crops we grow here in California into the hands of more buyers around the world. More sales abroad create more jobs here at home. Trade is good for the Central Coast. 

I trust President Obama to deliver a better trade deal than Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell. Under TPA, any deal brought to Congress by the President will be made public and reviewed for 60 days. At the end of that time period, Congress will hold a simple up or down vote. Without TPA, the Republican controlled Congress would be able to strip out any of the tougher standards put in place by the White House.

spitting-432799We expectorate on you from a great height: Labor unions may spit on this kind of thinking, but Farr’s logic – similar to arguments made by Bera, Scott Peters and Susan Davis of San Diego and Jim Costa of the Central Valley – is not anti-working class or even anti-union; it’s a liberal Democrat’s take on the politics and policy needs of his district and the nation.

“It’s disappointing that we had a few members vote in a way that we would say was against the interests of working people in California,” Steve Smith of the California Labor Federation, told Cathy Decker of the LA Times. “And this is something we’re going to remember.”

Oy. Again with the threats.

Can’t we all just get along? Let’s behold for a moment some members of the Senate lineup who voted to support President Obama’s fast-track authority on the trade deal: Dianne Feinstein, the reigning queen of California Democrats, plus Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Patty Murray of Washington, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

Not exactly a murderer’s row of right-to-work crusaders.

232354991_Fat_cat_boss_001_xlargeIn California, labor leaders are enforcing strict discipline simply because they can, in a state where Democratic power approaches hegemony. More broadly, however, the moves come at a time when unions have lost membership and influence across the nation – most significantly in Wisconsin, where Republican Governor Scott Walker has busted unions and won approval of right-to-work legislation, despite the state’s history of progressive politics and trade unionism. All of which makes the Democrats’ labor wing appear desperate to hold on to whatever vestiges of power it can.

It is a plain fact that in California, public employee unions — teachers and prison guards, especially — long have been the Democrats’ number one special interest group, shoveling cash and other campaign resources to lawmakers in exchange for their knee-jerk obeisance.

“Mindful of the millions they spend electing Democrats, the public employee unions expect legislators to act like the old Soviet-era nomenklatura, compliant toadies who do what they are told,” said Tony Quinn, a former GOP political consultant who now co-authors “The Target Book,” a comprehensive collection of data on every district in the state. “So when one gets out of line it’s a big deal.”

We get that Big Labor is in decline, public support for unions has weakened and their leaders feel they’re fighting for survival. And to some extent, they are — the most powerful labor unions in the country are no longer industrial trade unions but public employee unions.

And where they’re wrong: the leaders see trade as a fundamental threat to unionized American manufacturing jobs, but their members increasingly view trade as consumers who benefit from lower-cost goods.

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State Sen. Steve Glazer

Adapt or die. Several trends in California, beyond Glazer’s convincing 10-point victory, suggest the labor Dem strategy of eating their own is, er, uh, shortsighted.

The Top Two primary system has created a friendlier political landscape for pro-business Democrats, plus incentives and openings for traditionally Republican interests, like the Chamber of Commerce, to gain favor with them through campaign backing; with the loss of partisan primaries, moderate Democrats now can succeed by courting independents and some Republicans, as Glazer proved in his successful state Senate district race.

Also, recent polling suggests widespread unhappiness with financial packages for public employees: More than eight in ten registered voters said that money spent on public pension or retirement systems is either a big problem (43 percent) of somewhat of a problem (39 percent) in a Public Policy Institute of California survey done last year.

For Democrats, this poses a huge challenge: some of their most loyal and important interests are threatening to set the big tent on fire. Sure, it’s important to draw lines from time to time. But compared to the alternative (see: Walker, Scott above) Democrats like Dianne Feinstein and Ami Bera ought to be seen as on the same side of that line.

Secret bottom-line memo to labor Dems: Stop the Tea Party purges.

What Catalyzed SCOTUS Gay Marriage Decision

Monday, June 29th, 2015

anthonykennedyBy Hank Plante
Palm Springs Bureau Chief

Many times, familiarity breeds respect.

Look no further than Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote and author of the landmark majority opinion affirming same-sex marriage nationwide.

A Ronald Reagan appointee, Kennedy has a vacation house in the Palm Springs area, which the real estate website Trulia says has some of the most heavily concentrated “gayborhoods” in the U.S.

This means that Kennedy, who also has a gay law clerk and was mentored by a semi-closeted gay law school dean in Sacramento, lives in the real world, alongside LGBT friends, neighbors and co-workers.  And in that regard he is like most Americans… even the President of the United States.

On his trip to Palm Springs last weekend, President Obama reportedly stayed once again in the Rancho Mirage home of a gay couple.

If the Obamas buy a retirement home in the Desert, as is rumored, it surely will be in part because of the hospitality and good taste of his Thunderbird Heights hosts: Ambassador James Costos and his partner, White House decorator Michael Smith.

That’s a long way from 1953, when President Dwight Eisenhower signed an executive order banning gays and lesbians from working for the federal government. Ike’s edict also forced private companies who did business with the government to fire gay employees.

But this is a very different country.

costos-smith homeSome of my best friends…A CBS News poll taken in 2010 found 77% of Americans know someone who is gay or lesbian. That number has surely risen in the years since then, as more people come out of the closet.

None of this, of course, is news to millennials, who have grown up among close gay friends. But it remains a dilemma for Republican presidential candidates, every one of who opposes same-sex marriage, and several of who immediately and aggressively pledged to fight Friday’s ruling.

But their fight is likely to not only turn off Democrats and Independents, but many members of their own party.

The Washington Post earlier this year reported on what the paper called “the most surprising gay marriage poll we’ve seen in a long while.” The survey, by NBC News and Marist College, showed half the likely GOP voters in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina say opposition to gay marriage is “unacceptable” in a Republican candidate.

What’s good for business… Their position also puts the Republican candidates at odds with some their biggest financial backers: keeping and attracting customers is why CEOS of 379 U.S. corporations authorized support for the the Supreme Court case seeking marriage equality – a record number of amicus briefs in any case.

It can’t be comfortable for Republican presidential candidates to be at odds with names like ConAgra, Dow Chemical and General Electric?  Not to mention millennial sacred shrines like Apple, eBay and Google.

HankPlante2Of course there is more to be done.  Twenty-nine states still allow LGBT people to be fired or denied housing simply because they’re gay.  To put that another way, thanks to the Supreme Court, a gay person can get legally married in the morning and fired in the afternoon if he or she talks about it.  But Friday’s ruling should give new impetus to a bill to rectify that, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Bottom line: Gays, lesbians — and those 77% who know them — are feeling their power today.  What was once called “The love that dare not speak its name” at Oscar Wilde’s indecency trial today won’t keep its mouth shut.

Hank Plante is an Emmy and Peabody-winning journalist who has spent three decades covering California politics for the CBS TV stations in San Francisco and Los Angeles.  He is the Palm Springs Bureau Chief of Calbuzz.