In a special election last week, Brian Dahle defeated Kevin Kiley in the race to become the next California State Senator representing District One, which sprawls north from the foothills east of Sacramento all the way to the Oregon border.
Both candidates were Republican members of the State Assembly, competing in one of the few safe Republican districts left in California. If you study their legislative voting records, all but the most committed conservative wonks would consider these men to offer pretty much the same positions on most issues. But Dahle had one decisive advantage – endorsements and financial contributions from public safety unions.
What is Brian Dahle going to do in return for this support?
In a perfect world, any organization of public servants would be non-partisan and politically neutral. But here in California, public sector unions don’t spend hundreds of millions every year to elect candidates like Brian Dahle out of political neutrality.
It would be bad enough if the only “political” agenda of public sector unions was to back pay and benefits packages that are, in the case of pensions, threatening to bankrupt every public agency in the state. But that’s hardly the case.
For example, earlier this year, why did International Association of Fire Fighters president Harold Schaitberger to lead 1,600 firefighters in solidarity with striking teachers in Los Angeles? Was his membership asked, or have they even thought about what unions have done to California’s public schools? Are they actually against charter schools, which often are the only hope for underprivileged children in California’s inner cities to get a quality education?
How does helping the teachers union continue to run our failing public schools somehow further the professional development and protects the pay and benefits of our firefighters?
When candidates seek the endorsement of public sector unions, it is common for them to complete a candidate questionnaire. The questions posed are fairly predictable. The teachers union may want to know the candidate’s position on, for example, charter schools or school vouchers. A public safety union may want to know the candidate’s position on the impact of recent criminal justice reforms.
But why shouldn’t the candidates question these unions?
Why shouldn’t a candidate, or a political party, reject union money and reject union endorsements unless they support the agenda and political platform of that candidate, instead of the other way around?
Why shouldn’t candidates offer a questionnaire to these public sector unions, and put the unions on the spot for a change?
Will these unions support ten percent of their pension system’s assets reallocated to fund revenue bonds for new in-state infrastructure? Will they support reducing their pension multipliers to pre-1999 levels for all future work?
And if the firefighters union can involve themselves in education policy, why should any political question be off limits? What about policies to lower the cost of living in California? Will the unions support CEQA reform? Will they support nuclear power? Will they support repeal of bleeding edge environmentalist mandates that have made homes unaffordable? As for education, will they support charter schools and school choice?
And why stop there? Will these unions support sensible immigration policies that emphasize merit over chain migration and the visa lottery? Will they reject and oppose all forms of discrimination based on group identity? Do they accept the necessity of getting tough with China, with all that entails?
Politicians in California have allowed public sector unions to become the most powerful special interest in the state. And the result is a state with crumbling infrastructure, mediocre public schools, and a public employee pension time bomb, along with the highest cost-of-living and the highest taxes in America.
Voters will support politicians that publicly challenge these unions to support across the board reform.
The recent Janus ruling has introduced another way to hold public sector union leadership accountable for the political agendas they support. Union members can quit. With that new leverage, conservative caucuses are being formed within public sector unions across America, including here in California. These conservative union members have been ignored for decades, but now they have a voice.
Public sector unions, which ought to be illegal, are going to be around for a long time to come. Politicians, voters, and union members should stop supporting the union agenda, and instead should demand these unions support the public agenda.
This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register.
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Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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