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Prop. 32: What really scares California’s big unions

Teachers take part in a union-sponsored protest in downtown Los Angeles in 2008. Proposition 32 would ban direct contributions to California candidates by corporations and labor unions.
(Los Angeles Times)

Michael Hiltzik infers in his column Sunday that Proposition 32 is a big lie -- because it prohibits both corporations and labor unions such as the California Teachers Assn. from extracting involuntary political contributions from the paychecks of workers. Hiltzik argues that its prohibition of corporate deductions is of minor impact, but that union political fund-raising will be crippled.

He is amazingly untroubled by the fact that taking such payroll deductions for political purposes without consent is patently immoral. Why should a worker have some of his forced union dues spent on candidates or causes that he doesn’t agree with? As Thomas Jefferson said, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”

Oddly, Hiltzik seems concerned only that the CTA and other public employee unions maintain the ability to build massive political war chests so they can pour tens of millions of dollars into the same types of independent spending efforts that so offend him.

Does it trouble Hiltzik that the CTA’s inexhaustible tap on more than a quarter of a million teacher paychecks has deluded parents into the false belief that their kids are getting a good education? Does it bother him that California’s deteriorating public school system has cheated two generations out of a decent education?

Having been a teacher for more than 28 years, it troubles me. It also troubles Gloria Romero, the California director of Democrats for Educational Reform and the former majority leader in the state Senate. As a former teacher, she endorsed Proposition 32 because it’s California’s best hope for the implementation of urgently needed reform that would rescue the next generation of its children from bad schools that will cheat them of attaining their full potential.

What else can you call it but corruption when big government unions demand that the public officials they have put in office vote to spend money -- money that isn’t there -- on generous pensions and other unsustainable benefits?

Why are California cities declaring bankruptcy? Why did voters in San Diego and San Jose in June approve strong pension reforms by super majorities? Is it to avoid filing for bankruptcy like Vallejo, Stockton and San Bernardino have done? Why does the massive Service Employees International Union retaliate against lawmakers whom it “helped” put in office by threatening to end their political careers if they don’t do the union’s bidding?

Hiltzik ignores such blatant corruption; Proposition 32 does not. It attacks corruption by cutting the money tie between special interests and politicians, prohibiting both corporations and unions from giving contributions to candidates for state and local office.

When lobbyists for corporations or unions hand a check to a public official who is about to vote or take action on their special interest, what happens to the public interest? In April, a Times article on AT&T;'s enormous lobbying efforts showed that after contributing to every single Sacramento legislator, the company has succeeded in blocking any consumer protection effort that threatens its profits.

Hiltzik has the temerity to defame the reformers who put Proposition 32 on the November ballot, calling it the “fraud to end all frauds.” He notes two prior efforts to stop special-interest money corruption of state and local politics both were defeated.

Yes, they were defeated -- by being grossly outspent by union money making the same misrepresentation that Hiltzik has employed in his obtuse column. Hidden beneath a cleverly crafted attack on the credibility of Proposition 32 is Hiltzik’s central argument -- that the status quo must be protected from the power of the voters.

Public employee union bosses aren’t spending millions of dollars because they’re worried that the elected officials negotiating their benefits will become accountable to rich people. They’re worried that politicians might become fiscally accountable to the taxpayers.

The CTA bosses aren’t worried that education reform decisions will be made on behalf of corporations. They’re worried about reforms made on behalf of the parents and children of our state.

Accountability must be a very frightening thing to unions. If it wasn’t, they’d be a little less worried about allowing their own members to contribute political funds voluntarily.

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Larry Sand is a retired teacher who taught for more than 28 years in California and New York.

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