Supporters of a ballot measure designed to limit union influence in California state elections are hopeful that it will even the balance of power in Sacramento.
Proposition 32 would prevent union dues raised from automatic payroll deductions being used for political donations. Unions have spent nearly $60 million in attempts to defeat it.
A poll by Reason-Rupe this month showed 48 percent of likely voters oppose the measure with 45 percent supporting and 6 percent undecided. The polling organization said it showed the race is “too close to call.” A University of Southern California poll two weeks ago showed 44 percent opposed to 36 percent in favor.
One of the proposition’s main backers is pro-labor former Democratic state Sen. Gloria Romero, who said she realized the power the unions have in the state during her term as Senate leader from 2001-08.
In August, Romero told The Wall Street Journal of the abuses she saw while in office. For instance she said Democrats opposed sentencing reform because more inmates meant more members for the prison guards union.
She said that on almost every issue, her Democratic colleagues wanted to know which side the California Teachers’ Association stood because the union was their “sugar daddy.”
She pointed out that the CTA even killed a bill allowing teachers who molest children to be fired, claiming it infringed on due process and the teachers’ First Amendment rights.
And she said the nurses’ union used its power to derail a bill that would allow non-nurses to give medicine to epileptic children in an emergency. "They'd rather see a little kid go into a coma possibly, wriggle on the floor," she said. "Nobody can help. Just call 911. It's heartless.
"Everything is a jobs issue, and more than that, it is a membership issue, and more than that it is a dues issue. Pure and simple. How do you grow dues?" Romero said.
"If we don't deal with how the beast is fed, and what maintains that, and what gives it status and opportunity to run roughshod over the educational lives and futures of 6 million kids in California, then shame on us," Romero said, claiming many Democrats agree with her in private, but “are just afraid to come out" publicly.
Similar measures went down at the ballot box in 1998 and 2005 as unions poured in money to defeat them, and the same could happen this year. Opponents say it would allow contributions from business and wealthy individuals to dominate politics.
"What Prop. 32 is trying to do is to eliminate one speaker from the conversation," University of California Irvine Law professor Catherine Fisk told the Orange County Register, which supports the measure.
However the state’s largest paper, the Los Angeles Times is urging a no vote, calling Proposition 32 “a deceptive measure that would disproportionately weaken some special interests while leaving others essentially unaffected.”
While the unions have spent millions to defeat the measure, money has also poured in from supporters. Charles Munger Jr., the son of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway partner, has donated a reported $23 million in a bid to get the measure passed.
Other supporters include hedge fund manager William Oberndorf who has given $1.3 million, and former Univision Chairman and CEO Jerry Perenchio who has given $250,000. The nonprofit American Future Fund has donated $4 million.
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