Earlier this week former state senator Gloria Romero published a lengthy article in the San Diego Union-Tribune entitled “Fixing California: The union chokehold.” Reprinted with permission onUnionWatch, it describes how public sector unions, virtually unopposed, have undermined the effectiveness and overpriced the costs of government at all levels in California.

Romero, a liberal Democrat who served for seven years as senate majority leader in California’s state legislature, knows what she’s talking about. Her focus is on education, where the teachers unions have blocked meaningful reforms for years; protecting bad teachers from being terminated, promoting based on seniority instead of merit, taking over local school boards with hand-picked, union-financed candidates, attacking charter schools, prioritizing teacher compensation and job security over student achievement, and pushing a social agenda in front of academic fundamentals. Romero considers it a civil rights issue, since the negative impact of the union takeover has disproportionately harmed public education in low-income and minority communities.

What Romero discusses publicly, criticizing not only teachers unions for undermining public education but also public safety unions for pricing their services beyond the ability of cities and counties to afford them, is privately echoed by Democratic lawmakers throughout California. And it should come as no surprise that Romero – along with virtually all Democratic lawmakers – places equal if not greater blame on the corrupting influence of corporate special interests in Sacramento. But they are missing a crucial connection:

Public sector unions have an identity of interests with those elements of capitalism they decry the loudest, the crony capitalists and the casino bankers. If this is understood by Democratic legislators, or even Republicans, it is rarely articulated. And to the extent it is understood, awareness has yet to translate into proposals, much less into action.

The alliance between public sector unions and entrenched private sector elites is not an adjunct point to be recognized, acknowledged and forgotten. It is the primary underlying cause of some of America’s most challenging threats, including economic stagnation, increased stratification of wealth, financial insolvency, mediocre education outcomes, and eroding civil liberties.  As we explain in “Why Public Sector Unions are Special Special Interests:”

This reality, that public sector unions operate at the heart of the corporate and financial elite, that they broker, enable and corrupt corporate and financial power, is the tragic irony that is lost on California’s electorate. Public sector unions are the foot soldiers of corporatism, because without their blessing and support, crony capitalists would not successfully lobby for anti-competitive laws, pension bankers would not have a taxpayer-guaranteed virtually unlimited source of funds to invest, and bond underwriters would not be collecting commissions on hundreds of billions in bond issues necessitated by spending deficits. Public sector unions are also the facilitators of authoritarianism, because every new law and every new intrusion on civil liberties is accompanied by a need for more unionized government workers.

Evidence of the connection between public sector unions and crony capitalists is everywhere:

This is the context in which one of California’s teachers unions produced a video cartoon a few months ago, showing the caricature of a rich tycoon urinating onto a crowd of poor people. The irony is only matched by the hypocrisy.

Senator Romero distinguished herself last year by supporting Prop. 32, which would have merely required anyone collecting political contributions via payroll deductions to ask for permission once a year. Because passage of Prop. 32 would have threatened the money pouring into public sector unions, Romero’s support was an act of extraordinary courage. But Romero, and her fellow Democrats – along with Republicans – who are too intimidated to come forward, should emphasize this startling fact: By undermining the power of public sector unions, you are undermining the entire apparatus of corruption. You are weakening the entire nexus of government power and financial greed.

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Public Policy Center, and the editor of UnionWatch.org.