As a force in state politics, California’s Republican party is, for all practical purposes, dead. Republicans hold only 11 of 40 seats in the State Senate, and just 18 of 80 seats in the State Assembly. Not one statewide office is in Republican hands.
California’s Republican party is so ridiculously tainted that even the respected, undeniably capable Steve Poizner, a life-long Republican, running for state insurance commissioner in 2018 as an independent, could not get elected. He was beaten by the scandal plagued Ricardo Lara, whose stellar qualifications as insurance commissioner include an undergraduate degree in Chicano Studies, followed by years as an Assembly staffer.
Apparently, California’s voters prefer to elect anyone, so long as they are not now, and never have been, a Republican. How it came to this is a long story, but the outcome can be summarized in one fairly short sentence: Democrats have successfully stigmatized California’s Republicans as racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic bigots, who, as if that weren’t enough, want to destroy the planet in order to please their evil capitalist donors.
In response to what is, to put it mildly, a despicable lie, Republicans in California have tried desperately to prove they’re not racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic bigots who want to destroy the planet in order to please their evil capitalist donors. But it’s hard to prove a negative.
When they’re not busy denying that they’re bad people, California’s Republicans play defense, opposing an ongoing torrent of Democrat sponsored legislation guaranteed to make California less affordable, more hostile to small business, less able to offer quality K-12 education, with more homeless encampments, fewer new homes, less law and order, but ever more absurd laws and onerous regulations.
Playing defense against a predatory, clueless gang of utopians backed by statist oligarchs is an important job. But when you’re a party of incorrigible bigots that control less than 25 percent of the state legislature, it’s an exercise in futility. California’s Republicans have to go on offense.
When Money Talks, Vision Walks
Unfortunately, engaging in politics in California requires big money. Approximately 466,000 people live within the average State Assembly District; twice that many live within the average State Senate District in California. Congressional Districts hold around 747,000 people, less than a State Senate District. And the big money to pay for these big races is all leaning Democrat. So if you can’t beat them, join them? Become a RINO?
This might explain the actions of Republican Assemblyman Tyler Diep, representing the 72nd Assembly District in Orange County. Now accepting contributions for his 2020 reelection campaign, Diep has already accepted over $20,000 from unions, most of them public employee unions. In return, Diep has already publicly embraced these unions. In one recent Tweet, he stated he is “proud to represent the many members of the Orange County Employees Association.”
It’s worth wondering whether or not Tyler Diep, a 36 year old Vietnamese immigrant, is fully aware of the havoc public employee unions have wrought on California’s politics. The Orange County Employees Association, for example, is affiliated with the Costa Mesa City Employees Association, which was bitterly opposed to the reform coalition that for a brief time held a majority on the Costa Mesa city council.
These reform minded councilmembers attempted to rein in the out-of-control pension costs and other compensation gaming that was breaking the city. But they were eventually outgunned and driven out of office because of the relentless onslaught of public sector union money. Public sector unions collect and spend over $800 million per year in California. No other special interest comes even close. And their agenda, invariably, is more money, more benefits, more work rules, and bigger government.
Things are back to normal in Costa Mesa these days. A pro-union majority controls the city council. The average full time firefighter in Costa Mesa now collects $256,000 per year in pay and benefits. Let that sink in. Two hundred and fifty six thousand dollars per year in pay and benefits. Is that unbelievable? Then download the spreadsheet – if you find any inaccuracies, please comment. Can taxpayers afford this, particularly since those costs will rise sharply over the next few years as CalPERS enforces their plan to nearly double required pension contributions?
Did Diep, whose district is adjacent to the one that incorporates Costa Mesa, think about this when he launched this Tweet, showing him rubbing elbows with members of Firefighters Local 3631? Has Assemblyman Diep thought about how he’ll stare down these union donors, and tell them he’s going to support a state constitutional amendment to right-size public sector pensions?
Everyone respects and appreciates firefighters, but taxpayers cannot afford to pay them an average pay and benefits package worth over quarter-million dollars per year. Assemblyman Diep lives in the city of Westminster, where the median household income is $60,426 per year. That is less than one-fourth what Costa Mesa’s full time firefighters make. It is unnecessary and unfair to taxpayers to continue to pay firefighters a quarter-million per year, no matter how much we respect them.
The reason they are over-compensated, along with most public employees, is because of the money they spend on political campaigns to elect the politicians with whom they then negotiate their labor agreements. As a former city councilman living in Orange County once said: “If I vote against that contract, the unions will spend a million dollars to oppose me in the next election – who else is going to come up with a million dollars?”
The Leftist Agenda of California’s Public Sector Unions
If the political problems with firefighter unions were limited to arguing over compensation, that would be quite enough. But earlier this year, California’s firefighters, in an act of stupendous and misguided arrogance, actually marched in solidarity with the United Teachers of Los Angeles. Is it financial ignorance, or actual adherence to a leftist agenda that motivated these firefighters to commit what many of us would consider the ultimate act of betrayal?
California’s children are California’s future, and teachers union leaders have all but destroyed the quality of education these children receive. They oppose charter schools, they oppose school choice, they oppose vouchers, they oppose extending tenure requirements, they oppose reform of work rules governing layoff and dismissal policies, and they support curricula that indoctrinates instead of educates.
Public safety unions may be making public safety too costly, but they have not destroyed the effectiveness of their own professions. The teachers union is guilty of precisely that crime – they have destroyed California’s public schools. Firefighters should be ashamed of having anything to do with the teachers union.
And Assemblymember Diep, as a Republican, should be ashamed of having anything to do with public sector unions. He should never accept another dime in donations from any of them. And before he even talks or meets with them, he should ask THEM to sign the following pledge:
THE AMERICAN PUBLIC SERVANT PLEDGE
(1) Americans First: We recognize that the interests of the American citizens we serve come first; before the interests of the government, government employees, or non-citizens.
(2) Citizens Before Government: We understand that sometimes government policies benefit ourselves and our union more than they benefit the general public, and we will always put the public interest before the interests of ourselves or our unions.
(3) Shared Sacrifice: During times of economic hardship or declining budgets, we are willing to make reasonable sacrifices, proportionate to what the general public is enduring.
(4) Same Rules: We do not expect our union to protect us if we have engaged in behavior on the job – through incompetence, negligence, or criminality – that would get us fired in the private sector, and we expect our union to refrain from protecting bad behavior of any kind.
(5) Same Benefits: We realize that our pension benefits far exceed private sector norms, that they are financially unsustainable and unfair to taxpayers. Consequently, for work we have not yet performed, we support reductions to our pension benefit accruals to pre-1999 multipliers.
(6) Political Neutrality: As public servants our calling is to be nonpartisan and politically neutral, and we expect our unions to limit their activities to collective bargaining.
How Vision Can Overcome Money
Being a Republican in California has to mean something. If you take money from public sector unions, the chief engineers of California’s decline under the Democrats, then being a Republican means nothing.
There are two ways to cut through an overwhelming financial advantage. One is by being controversial. The other is by having a compelling vision. Controversy works quite well, as President Trump proved in 2016 when he beat 16 other candidates to secure the Republican nomination for President. Today Trump dominates the news cycle by feeding an infantile news corps Tweets that trigger Pavlovian responses which, if he were purchasing airtime, would by now have cost hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars.
You don’t have to be as controversial as President Trump to get air in California. Just tell the truth, then offer solutions, and let the media shriek and howl with indignation. Here are just few such nuggets:
(1) Truth: Public sector unions are an abomination to our democracy. Solution: They should be illegal.
(2) Truth: Overwrought environmental laws are the reason housing and utility costs are unaffordable. Solution: Many of them must be repealed.
(3) Truth: The teachers union has destroyed K-12 public education. Solution: School choice, school vouchers, charter schools, work rule reform, and eliminating teachers unions will restore quality and cost efficiencies to California’s K-12 educational system.
(4) Truth: Public sector pensions are too generous and too expensive. Solution: Public sector employee retirement benefits should be converted from pensions into Social Security, just like the citizens they serve.
Assemblyman Diep, along with every one of his Republican counterparts in California’s state legislature, all 29 of them, is invited to proclaim these truths, and these solutions.
Assemblyman Diep, along with the entire GOP gang of 29 state legislators, is also invited to offer the “public servant pledge” to anyone who wants to endorse them, especially the leadership of public sector unions.
Doing this would require personal courage and political vision. And while these steps are actually mild, moderate policy innovations, they would provoke vehement outrage from the establishment Democrats and their media allies. This unwarranted and very public outrage, in turn, would awaken California’s voters, who would realize they have been conned.
They would realize that rather than being the planet killing bigots they were told to fear, Republicans are actually the people fighting for THEM, and Democrats are the liars who hid behind slander, while they looted the resources of the entire state and oppressed its people.
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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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