A Test for Union Leadership

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The LA Times recently published an excellent investigative story on Tyrone Freeman, the leader of California’s largest SEIU local, which represents home health care givers. It’s an outrageous tale of self-dealing, with money from union affiliates going to the business pursuits of Freeman’s wife and mother-in-law.

Freeman, 38, is a young and talented leader; I saw that firsthand as a reporter covering labor for the LA Times in 2006. Freeman is popular within the union movement, and close to SEIU’s international president, Andy Stern. (The last time I saw Freeman, he and Stern were sitting down to a meal at the Pacific Dining Car). So this is going to be a difficult test of the union movement in LA and nationallly.

But it’s a test. Freeman needs to step down and offer a full-throated apology. The union needs to ask for an independent audit of the local. And the public needs to hear immediately from union leadership — Stern, county labor chief Maria Elena Durazo, other top SEIU leaders such as janitors’ union chief Mike Garcia — about how such conduct must not be permitted in the movement. So far, the silence is deafening. Stern, in the story, refuses to address the conduct in question. That won’t cut it.

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Minimum Wage could be a dangerous game for the Governor

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

My first reaction to the leak that Schwarzenegger might sign an executive order cutting state workers’ pay: this wakes folks up around the state, puts much-needed attention on the budget problem, and prepares the public for the difficult changes — a tax hike that Republicans will hate and a rainy day fund or spending restraint that is not the Democrats’ cup of tea — that may be part of the final budget agreement.

My day 2 reaction: This is a dangerous game the governor is playing. Here’s one potential problem. Schwarzenegger had received some support from the big state workers’ union, SEIU Local 1000, for his suggestion to borrow against the future revenues of a modernized lottery. But now he’s scared those members. He could be risking that support. And more broadly, SEIU has been helpful to the governor.

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Could they all go down together?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The Field Poll has recently conducted surveys on 5 of the 11 initiatives — plus one bond measure — scheduled to appear on California’s November ballot. The numbers are all over the place, but there’s reason to believe that all six measures polled could be headed to defeat in November.

How’s that?

Well, the lack of initial support for a ballot initiative is almost always an indication that it won’t pass. Such measures are hard to sell even when they, at first blush, have appeal. To start out with less than 50 percent support and win requires a Herculean effort (and usually, very weak or non-existent opposition). On that basis alone, we can count out Prop 11, the redistricting measure, which shows only 42 percent in the poll, and Prop 4, parental notification, which has 48 percent.

The same is also probably true of Prop 8, the ban on same-sex marriage, which also has only 42 percent in a recent Field Poll. One caution: the politics of gay marriage, which are really the politics of marriage, are complicated and relatively new, and other polling has shown this to be a tighter race than that. This is likely to be a 51-49 kind of campaign.

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The mystery of Prop. 98

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

As a reporter on California politics and government, one becomes accustomed to wrestling with complicated laws and formulas. But nothing has been more difficult to explain to readers than Prop 98, which establishes a minimum funding guarantee for education.

I tried again in a piece that the LA Times ran on Sunday. Prop 98 is in many ways a great example of what plagues California: the education funding formula is so complicated you’d like to be able to simplify it, but the politics are too dangerous to change it. And why bother? Prop 98 does what it’s supposed to do, which is protect education. After thinking long and hard about it, I do offer one suggestion for reforming it–but the reform in question violates natural law. Enjoy.

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Paging Gov. Garamendi, Or Arnold’s Severe Case Of Potomac Fever

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Gov. Schwarzenegger used an appearance on ABC’s "This Week" Sunday morning to hint that he has interest in leaving his current job to serve in Barack Obama’s cabinet as some sort of energy-environment czar. The McCain-endorsing governor also talked about an Obama presidency as a fait accompli–he referred to "when," not "if," the Illinois senator is president. I suspect you’ll see an effort in the hours and days ahead by the governor and his aides to try to back away from what he told interviewer George Stephanopoulous and talk about his commitment to Californians. They’ll note that he called the discussion "hypothetical" and was merely explaining his desire to serve American governments of either party. But I defy anyone to watch the show or read the transcript and tell me with any confidence that this governor intends to serve out the rest of his term, which runs through the end of 2010.

Here’s the exchange. Stephanopoulous showed a clip of Obama praising the governor’s environmental "leadership."

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Dude, Where Are All Our Cars??

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The estimate from the moving company seemed outrageous, $2542, to move my wife’s compact Mazda from the DC suburbs to our new apartment in Los Angeles.

I decided to see if I could do better.

In the process, I got a glimpse of California’s economic meltdown.

First I tried calling other major moving companies, places that had shipped cars for my friends. The competition immediately produced gains — a series of estimates between $1,400 and $1,600 — for the identical service. But on the phone, a kindly mover noted my itinerary — “going to California, eh?” — and suggested I might do well by submitting my particulars to a web site used by companies in the business of transporting autos.

I did. And immediately, I found myself to be a hot commodity, at the center of a bidding war between auto transport companies. They emailed twice a day. They called the house. With each email and call, the prices dropped further and further.

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If… if… if…

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The arguments on redistricting offered earlier this week by Joel and Tony really amount to a series of hypothetical statements that don’t square with California’s political reality:

If the “yes’ campaign” were to convince voters that the redistricting ballot initiative is something it’s not (populist and anti-politician)….

If the redistricting issues were to attract detailed, thorough coverage from a shrinking California media that now shuns serious topics…

If Don Perata were the Easter Bunny…

I’m not a doctor, but I enjoy practicing medicine without a license. Recently, I’ve begun diagnosing a California disease called Redistricting Fantasy Syndrome. Most of the population doesn’t know enough about redistricting to be susceptible to the disease. But in certain elite precincts, RFS has become a minor epidemic, striking down otherwise sensible moderate “goo goos” who persist in the belief that good process is good for you.

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Redistricting is doomed to failure

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Here are some immutable truths about California. The sun sets gloriously in the West. The Clippers lose more games than they win. And redistricting ballot initiatives fail.

The measure was doomed the moment the California Democratic Party opposed it last weekend. The Democrats will call it partisan, and it will go down in the Obama onslaught. To have any chance at succeeding, a redistricting initiative needs more than bipartisan support. It needs partisan acquiescence. And this measure doesn’t have that.

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Is Arnold Schwarzenegger the most conservative, anti-tax governor in the history of California?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Those who followed the recent California Forward panel, and accompanying LA Times pieces, on how four previous governors — Earl Warren, Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson — resolved budget difficulties might have reached that conclusion. A different author described how each governor had had the courage to raise revenues to support a growing state.

The tax numbers on Reagan, offered by biographer Lou Cannon, are jarring in light of today’s debate. Please tell the Republican kids, if there are any Republican kids anymore. Taxes on corporations went from 5.5 to 9 percent; the tax on banks from 9.5 percent to 13 percent, and the highest rate on personal come tax jumped from 7 percent to 11 percent.

If Reagan rose from the dead and tried that today, Republican lawmakers would shun him, and every anti-tax group in the state would be racing to the attorney general’s office with recall papers.
What about other governors? Deukmejian held the line, sort of. He supported a temporary sales tax increase that was repealed — because of a surging economy — before it ever had to go into effect. Gray Davis cut taxes at first, but then raised the dreaded vehicle license fee, or "car tax."

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My Kingdom for a Legislature

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Whenever I think about California and its problems, my mind fills with questions, unanswered questions about the state’s various messes and how we got into them. The press is dying, but sometimes I think how nice it would be if the state had some entity … you know… a body… a group of folks… maybe elected by and accountable to voters… you know, with subpoena power… the ability to call hearings… ask all kinds of questions — investigate.

You know. If we had a legislature.

Oh, that’s right.

If we had a real legislature.

If we had a real legislature, we might get to the bottom of any number of campaign finance scandals.

If we had a real legislature , we might learn what’s really going behind the scenes at CalPERS and CalSTRS.

And if we had a real legislature, we might figure out what exactly the state did wrong — or didn’t do that it should have done — to prevent some of the worst problems in the mortgage business.

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