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Tonight is the Annual Dinner for the Orange County Labor Federation, which I plan to attend. I’m a longtime supporter of unions, which are one of our sole remaining bulwarks in protecting and growing the middle class. In my opinion, most of the good things that have happened in Orange County politics in the seven years since I returned here have come from the Labor Fed under the leadership of Rick Eiden, Tefere Gebre, Julio Perez, Gloria Alvarado, and others — none of whom, for all I know, may agree with my position on this issue or others. I want to recognize and celebrate their efforts tonight even if it becomes uncomfortable.
Chances are good, thanks to a letter from the LA/OC Building and Construction Trades Council to Democratic Party of Orange County Chair Henry Vandermier, that it will be somewhat uncomfortable — although less for me and more for them than they might expect.
This letter was pretty clearly timed to coincide with tonight’s Labor dinner. While it was sent to Vandermier, as I write I have not yet received it from him. Instead, someone leaked it to Dan Chmielewski of The Liberal OC, and published today, about seven hours before the dinner, where a friend saw it and alerted me. (Brilliant stroke, right? That tells you a bit about how things operate in this county.)
Dan C’s post adds little to the letter itself, so I’ll save you a trip there: here it is.
1. The Tail and the Dog
Ever since I joined the DPOC Executive Committee in February 2011, I’ve had people worry loudly about (and sometimes accuse me groundlessly of) my writing about issues that would best be left swept under the carpet. My rule has been that I can write (or provide new perspectives) about something that comes out of a meeting open to press, but not anything from a closed meeting such as the Executive Committee or committees.
Under this rule, I’ve technically been entitled to write about this rift in Orange County’s Labor movement, and in the Democratic Party, in the past, but I don’t think that I’ve done so in much detail. I’m still not going to go into much detail today, but I do feel entitled to respond to direct attacks.
Much of what I have to say here can be summarized in this sentence in a comment I wrote to a post of Vern’s about Sharon Quirk-Silva and the Poseidon plant: “I can’t blame them for wanting to create jobs in the building trades; the question is just whether that tail, however worthy the cause of job-creation is, can be allowed to wag the dog.”
In some cases, it can. The building trades, and unions generally, help to build a strong middle class — and money in the hands of people who will spend it locally, rather than spirit it out of the country, helps the local economy. That always enters into my analysis of such projects. But in other cases, because a project is ethically corrupted from the start, more environmentally destructive than we should have to bear, worsens class divisions, or just promises far fewer union jobs than asserted — I won’t support it. Despite the worthy goal of creating union jobs, an individual project that promises to do so may not be in the public interest.
2. The Convention Center Expansion
In the case of the Anaheim Convention Center expansion – which I and the group, CATER, for which I am General Counsel support if done legally — the jobs it would provide don’t justify it’s being done illegally. This is especially true, as I’ve written, when it has apparently been intentionally done illegally. The sale of bonds by the City is supposed to go to the electorate for a vote. That’s what the Anaheim City Charter — the document giving the Anaheim City Council SO MUCH power — requires. A public vote is a check on them. A public vote also shines a light on problems with the proposal — such as the nature of these particular bonds and why $80,000,000 of the $300,000,000 for a $200,000,000 capital project is going into refinancing previous bonds.
I don’t know why the City Council (and its staff) didn’t propose this expansion in time to get a measure onto the June ballot — the deadline was just a month ago. But they didn’t, and from what I know of how Anaheim does business, it’s likely because they have something unsavory to hide. So, they can go back, do it over again, and put it on the November ballot — as legally required. If the Building Trades want to get pissed at someone, they should focus on the people who chose an illegal path rather than the people that want them to follow the law — and withstand the sunlight on their own activities that a ballot measure is likely to require.
I expect to support that measure — in part, because I want to see it create jobs. Legally create jobs.
3. The Job of a Union Leader vs. the Job of a Political Leader
While the authors of the Building Trades letter are wrong about some important things, they’re right about a lot of important things too — and I want to acknowledge those. We do need jobs in the building trades — and I favor projects to provide them when I feel that the public is also getting at least a decent deal out of them. I don’t know Ron Miller personally, but I do know Jim Adams, and he’s a good person doing his job as he understands it. His motivation for writing this letter is surely pure: he will support any proposal that he thinks will bring union jobs to or keep union jobs in Orange County.
That’s his job. It’s not my job, as a party official and even less so as the elected official I hope to be next year, to support such benefits for union labor without considering their costs. This is especially true when the cost is not simply in money — but also in illegality. And I want to stress right here — when I speak of illegality I do not have the actions of the unions in mind.
One reason that I am an avid supporter of the OC Labor Fed is that in my experience it completely busts any old stereotypes one may have about the union movement. My sense of Orange County is that our unions are especially clean and our government is especially dirty. If people like Jim Adams and other excellent local labor leaders like Doug Mangione of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers support projects that I describe as boondoggles and giveaways, it’s because they see a desperate need for building trade jobs in Orange County. They presumably see little alternative to accepting what job-producing projects come forward without staring too closely at how they came about — and whose interests they serve, and who gets rich off of them. (It isn’t the unions themselves.)
What a political leader is supposed to do in considering a project is (1) to come up with something honest and beneficial to the public, (2) assess the benefits to the public — which in my view definitely includes the creation of union jobs, and (3) weigh them against the costs to the public — including costs of corruption and short-sighted economic planning.
Too often, in Orange County, political leaders don’t get past Step 1. What they provide to unions is the promise of projects that are corrupt or otherwise unacceptable — and they tell them to take it or leave it. It’s the job of union officials, presented with such deals, to take them if they can. But it isn’t my job to agree.
4. Hostages and Ransom
Many union leaders in the above situation may well take the following description as insulting, but I don’t mean it that way. They care deeply about their workers — but with a lousy government, their workers may only be able to get jobs only at too great a cost to the public good. In that case, I see them as, essentially, seeing loved ones seeking the release of hostages and imploring the negotiators to pay whatever price is necessary, regardless of its broader effects. Union jobs are, intentionally and cynically, kept hostage in Orange County — and it’s done precisely to force the unions to fall into line, and to use their influence over the Democratic Party in particular to whip our party into line as well.
Who can blame them for doing their job to support workers wherever possible, in a county that won’t tax its wealthy proportional to the services provided to them, but that will spend untold money (like buying the South County’s Toll Roads from developers when they start to lose money)? I blame the politicians and lobbyists who cook up these corrupt deals. The unions aren’t culpable — and the Democratic Party, reliant on union support, isn’t culpable when it members like me fail to keep it from joining in the game that shovels money to, by the way, mostly rich Republicans. We’re placed by others in a sick, twisted trap — and we’re doing our best.
5. My Track Record
So: when they write that I have “a miserable track record of opposing numerous construction projects in the Orange County Area: San Onofre, 241 Toll Road, Tesoro Extension, Poseidon Desalinazation, Alternative #3 [the toll roads] for the I-405 improvements, and the GardenWalk Hotels,” their main mistake is calling it “miserable” rather than “proud.” (Two other mistakes: I don’t recall the 241 and Tesoro coming up while I’ve been on DPOC — and I’m a little insulted that they left off the Angels Stadium Grounds giveaway, ARTIC, and the ARC Streetcar.)
But, in all of the above cases I’m familiar with except San Onofre (too dangerous), Poseidon (impossible to protect consumers), and the 405 (plain evil to impose free-flowing “Lexus Lanes” to serve the rich for most of western OC to stare at while they sit in traffic, aside from its other problems), my problem with them isn’t that I don’t like the projects, but that I don’t like the proposals – generally because they are set up to further enrich the already rich and I stand for the middle class, the working class, and the wealthy.
And, if our county government wasn’t so screwed up — thanks in large part to the failures of my opponent the District Attorney – I expect that these good men and women in Labor would agree with me. They would rather, I believe, see projects that were designed ethically and approved legally. There’s no good reason that GardenWalk, the Stadium Grounds, the Convention Center expansion, and other projects have had to be structured in ways to make them secretive and to funnel financial benefits into the pockets of multi-millionares; it’s done that way because that’s the way that Orange County does it.
Well, I’m sick of that. In court, in my party deliberations, and as a candidate, I refuse to play that game. If it costs me some support and endorsements among some unions, I regret it — but so be it. An informed electorate ought to appreciate it. And I hope and believe that they will appreciate unions that stand against public corruption, as well.
One example of where I want to see much more, taxpayer-funded, construction work is on water infrastructure, because right now too much water sinks through leaky pipes right back into the ground. That would cost money — and it would be money well spent. It would save us money in the future and it would most prudently be done with skilled union laborers. But no multi-millionaires are going to make future millions off of such projects — and so they don’t get proposed. Well, if you take the advantages out of offering mostly corrupt building projects, maybe there will be more money available for the projects that we really need.
6. The Crux of the Dispute Over the Convention Center
The dispute over the legality of the Convention Center bonds (and those questionably lumped in with them), which I will be trying to have a court invalidate, is discussed here.
What it comes down to is this. When Redevelopment Agencies existed, the Anaheim City Council set up a joint agency with the Anaheim Redevelopment Agency called the Anaheim Public Financing Agency — which, because it wasn’t the City Council, was (they argued) able to issue bonds in the City’s name without a public vote as called for in the City Charter. (As it turns out — much more on this later — this bond-issuing ability was apparently deeply abused. Not all of what was issued might have survived a public vote — and for very good reasons that, absent an election, never came to public light.)
Then the Redevelopment Agencies went away, thanks to Governor Brown (and, many say, in reaction to abuses of the Anaheim Redevelopment Agency itself. Yes, Brown’s Job Czar said otherwise; he didn’t have a vote.) The powers of the Anaheim Redevelopment Agency then devolved onto the Anaheim City Council itself. So what happened to the Anaheim Public Financing Agency itself? It was now, in effect, an agreement between the Anaheim City Council — and the Anaheim City Council. As an agreement between the City Council and itself, how could it evade the restrictions that the Anaheim City Charter put upon the Anaheim City Council? CATER’s position is that it couldn’t. Anaheim’s position is that it somehow still could.
Well, this sort of disagreement is why people go to court — and so we shall. Of course — all of this is unnecessary, because all the Council had to do was let the people vote on it. But they didn’t want to. Why?
7. Standing Up Even to My Friends
Again, I’m running for District Attorney. The OC Labor Federation and the Democratic Party of Orange County are the only two institutional endorsements that I’ve planned to seek — and I’m not even sure that it’s appropriate for a DA, who is supposed to be neutral, to seek a partisan endorsement, so I may not do so — even though my opponent did.
A number of people were surprised when mine was the only uncontested race listed as not receiving the OCLF endorsement outright. I had heard that this suit was an issue for them, so I wasn’t totally surprised, but I’ll bet that it’s one of the few times that someone has shown up to a Labor Federation talking about making protecting of the right to organize a major focus within the DA’s office — which I’ll do whether they endorse me or not, because I would not be doing it as a favor but because that’s what federal law requires — and been brushed off. (I’m told that I’m still eligible for endorsement by a supermajority of the individual locals — and this letter may also be intended to head off that possibility.
My position is that I think that I’ve earned their endorsement — but if they think otherwise then they can do what they want. It won’t change my behavior in office one bit. But I think that it does tell you something about me as a candidate and a prospective officeholder.
I’m going to go into the Anaheim Convention Center in a few minutes and honor a group a portion of which just asked for my scalp — perhaps as a portion of getting me not to file this lawsuit. And I’m going to tell them that, I’m sorry, but I’m going to file the lawsuit. I’m telling this to a group that is supposed to be part of my base — a group that I have supported on Prop 30 and Prop 32 and on and on, on issues that matter deeply to labor, the sorts of issues that they ask about on their candidate questionnaire.
I think that that says something good about the kind of DA I would be — because my opponent has been willing to promote unconstitutional measures to look good to the public. I wouldn’t — I can stand up to anyone, including my friends. I think that that would be pretty refreshing for an Orange County District Attoreny.