Capitol Journal

Unions play hardball in Bay Area Senate race

Unions despise Senate candidate Steve Glazer, a former Brown strategist with business backing

 "Childish" aptly describes a hot legislative race to be decided Tuesday. No, it's worse. It's like mob bosses executing payback.

Actually, it's old-fashioned dirty politics. Think "Tricky Dick" Nixon in his early California campaigns.

This is an ugly throwback but with a difference. The candidates are relatively clean and classy. The culprits are some bankrolling special interests, mainly unions.

It's what can happen when the law allows unbridled campaign spending by interests independent of the candidates — by so-called independent expenditure committees.

These mobs too often end up reflecting badly on the candidates they're pushing while trying to whack the opponents.

The race is a special election to fill a vacant Senate seat in the east San Francisco Bay counties of Contra Costa and Alameda. If no candidate wins a majority of votes Tuesday — almost a certainty — there'll be a runoff between the top two May 19.

Voter registration mirrors the state, heavily favoring Democrats: 44% Democrat, 29% Republican and 22% independent.

It's an upper-middle-class region of highly educated white-collar commuters. It'll be interesting to see whether they fall for the blarney being spewed by a few win-at-any-cost political assassins.

The principal candidates are three Democrats: Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, 54, a former teacher, county supervisor and mayor; former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, 62, a longtime school board member; and Steve Glazer, 57, a mayor and political strategist.

Bonilla and Buchanan both have been quality legislators.

Bonilla attracts the backing of several interests, I suspect, because she heads the powerful Assembly Business and Professions Committee. It handles lots of regulatory legislation. She's heavily backed by dentists and also draws support from doctors and some unions, including firefighters and municipal employees.

Buchanan once chaired the Assembly Education Committee and is strongly supported by the California Teachers Assn. She also pulls other labor support, from municipal workers and carpenters.

Labor despises Glazer, who has business and charter school backing.

He's essentially a Jerry Brown Democrat. But unlike the governor, he doesn't hesitate speaking out even if his views rankle core party constituencies.

Glazer was a longtime Brown family political advisor. He worked on Kathleen Brown's failed gubernatorial race in 1994, and she now endorses him. He also was the chief strategist for Jerry Brown's gubernatorial victory in 2010 and his successful tax hike measure in 2012. But cowed by labor, the governor hasn't been standing by his former aide.

One reason Glazer angered labor is that two years ago he advocated a ban on transit strikes, as they are in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

Glazer's opposition to transit strikes, however, is being distorted by the California Teachers Assn., which implies in a mailer that he wants to ban all strikes by any union.

But the origin of this street fight dates back three years to a Los Angeles classroom. You probably remember a teacher being arrested and later convicted of spoon-feeding his semen to blindfolded children.

A bill soon passed the Senate making it easier for schools to fire such creeps. But it fell one vote short in the Assembly Education Committee because the teachers union adamantly opposed it. Then-Assemblywoman Betsy Butler of Santa Monica abstained.

Glazer had been advising Brown on politics, but the cheap governor wasn't paying him. So Glazer accepted a lucrative job with the state Chamber of Commerce helping it elect Brown-like, business-friendly Democrats.

The Glazer-aided chamber backed Butler's reelection opponent, Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom, and hammered the incumbent hard for refusing to support the teacher-firing bill. Bloom won. So did another moderate Democrat helped by Glazer: Marc Levine of San Rafael, who also ousted a labor-backed incumbent.

Blasphemous and disloyal, charged the teachers union and all of labor. The California Labor Federation blackballed Glazer and slapped him on its "do not hire" list.

Glazer last year ran for the Assembly and was smeared by labor. A liberal teachers union leader beat him in the primary, a payback victory for labor. But a moderate Republican, Catherine Baker, ultimately won the seat that Glazer probably would have, helping cost Democrats their supermajority.

Now Glazer is hoping to attract enough moderate Dems, Republicans and independents to get into a runoff against a more liberal Democrat. There's a Republican on the ballot, businesswoman Michaela Hertle, but she long ago gave up and endorsed Glazer.

That hasn't stopped some unions — including firefighters and municipal employees — from financing cynical mailers to Republican voters touting Hertle as "the real deal," hoping to draw GOP support from Glazer. How cynical? The union-funded mailer claims "there are just too many Democrats in the state Senate."

The flier was sent out by the Asian American Small Business political committee, headed by a longtime Democratic operative.

Vindictive unions also are financing mailers to Democratic voters claiming Glazer is a "sellout" for opposing — as Brown does — the extension of the governor's temporary tax hike. And they're sending conflicting mailers to GOP households blasting Glazer for being the tax increase "mastermind."

Retired Manhattan Beach businessman Bill Bloomfield, a political independent, has poured roughly $600,000 into promoting Glazer, he says, "to help a good man overcome the noise from the monied special interests."

One of two loud messages will be sent by the election results: Democrats no longer need to cower from bully labor. Or, they'd better fall in line or else.

Twitter: @LATimesSkelton

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