Contra Costa Times, 4/11/15
They support Democratic touchstone issues such as environmentalism, gun control, gay marriage and abortion rights. But they’re often seen as party pariahs for espousing ideas like rolling back public workers’ pensions, banning transit strikes and making it easier to fire bad teachers.
They’re a new breed of Democrat politician, and they’re shaking up the state’s political landscape as business interests, independents and sometimes even moderate Republicans pour money into nasty Democrat vs. Democrat battles made possible by California’s new “top-two” primary. And with the state Republican Party still searching for a path back from decades of decline, some political analysts say it’s only the beginning of a long battle for the soul of the California Democrat Party.
“Until recently you had to toe the line for whatever the public employee unions wanted you to do,” said former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, one of the first Democratic politicians to poke Big Labor in the eye by fighting for pension reform. “The union leadership’s job is to look out for the interests of union members. Elected officials’ jobs should be to look out for the interests of residents and taxpayers. Those are very different jobs at times.”
The Golden State certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on ideological purity battles. Across the nation, establishment Republicans still engage in bitter feuds with tea party conservatives, while centrist Democrats such as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel face off with more liberal challengers.
In California, intraparty disagreements are no longer confined to the more conservative “blue dog” Democrats in rural parts of the state. In 2012, old-line labor liberals contended with new-wave moderates in Assembly races in Marin County and Los Angeles. In 2014, the phenomenon recurred in a Los Angeles state Senate race, the South Bay’s Ro Khanna-Mike Honda congressional race, and the contest for superintendent of public instruction.
And now it’s playing out again in a special election for an East Bay state Senate seat, as Orinda Democrat Steve Glazer’s calls for banning transit strikes and tightening teacher tenure rules have raised the ire of labor.
“Workers’ issues are historically what the Democratic Party is about,” said California Labor Federation spokesman Steve Smith. So if you’re not OK with protecting pensions and organizing rights, “you’re not a real Democrat.”
Now, he added, “we’re seeing ‘Democrats’ who clearly don’t share workers’ values being funded by folks like Bill Bloomfield and JobsPAC and other corporate interests.”
Bloomfield, a Republican-turned-independent laundry and real estate multimillionaire from Manhattan Beach, and JobsPAC — the California Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee — have invested heavily in some centrist Democrats’ campaigns since California’s top-two primary system and independently drawn legislative districts took effect in 2012.
The new primary pits candidates of all parties against each other and sends the top two vote-getters to fight it out in the general election regardless of affiliation, opening the door to intraparty battles. That puts pressure on candidates to woo voters from beyond their own party’s rolls, while a few more legislative districts have become competitive now that lawmakers can’t gerrymander “safe” seats anymore. The result is increasingly moderation, compared to the far-left and far-right opinions that used to win elections.
It also doesn’t hurt that Gov. Jerry Brown cuts a mostly moderate path, keeping an ear open to unions’ concerns but reining in legislative Democrats’ efforts to spend more. His example creates philosophical room for Democrats “trying to keep the center of gravity closer to the middle,” said Stephen Woolpert, a professor and political expert at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga.
With Democrats still firmly in control of Sacramento, some contributors who wouldn’t have dreamed of backing them under the old system now think again.
Bob Mulholland, a veteran California Democratic campaign adviser and Democratic National Committee member, said the chamber and similar interests have become more willing “to get someone who’s a friend on odd days of the week but take a hit on even days.”
“If it were a Democrat versus a Republican, you would see a lot of these groups backing the Republican, but now they’re biting their lip” to support Democrats less in line with the party establishment, he said. “It’s not something they hope for, but it’s the reality.”
The latest beneficiary is Glazer, now vying with union-backed Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, in the 7th State Senate District’s May 19 special election. Bloomfield has spent at least $846,000 on Glazer’s behalf this year and JobsPAC has spent at least $494,000, while a union-backed committee has spent at least $862,000 on Bonilla’s behalf.
Bonilla, who chairs the Assembly’s Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee, said in an interview that she sees herself as “a pragmatic and moderate Democrat,” her 100 percent score on the labor federation’s legislative score card notwithstanding. Being willing to work on tough issues with labor — as she did as a Contra Costa County supervisor to pay down a $2.1 billion unfunded liability for retiree health care, and as an assemblywoman to help enact pension reforms in 2012 — shows she’s not labor’s tool, she said.
“What it means to be a Democrat in California is … caring deeply about everyone having a fair shot at a good quality of life,” she said, adding that it’s too bad outside influences are spending so much to influence this race.
Bonilla said she sees “a fundamental difference” between a single wealthy individual from hundreds of miles away trying to influence the race and labor unions trying to do the same. The unions, he said, represent “our neighbors — these are actual voters.”
Glazer, a political consultant who helped run Brown’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign but now touts his GOP endorsements, insists he has never abandoned the core values that make him a lifelong Democrat. He said it’s labor’s with-us-on-everything-or-against-us tactics that are creating “a fracture within the Democratic Party” and “not allowing any place for reasonable, thoughtful differences.”
“I’ve never tried to be ‘anti-union’ — I’ve just tried to go to the issues,” Glazer said, describing an atmosphere of fear in which local Democratic activists and state lawmakers alike fear to voice opinions with which unions and their party’s leadership disagree. “What does it take to overcome that? You need to win these elections and begin to build a center.”
That’s what Bloomfield says he’s paying for. He and his wife spent $3.54 million backing moderate Democrat Marshall Tuck’s unsuccessful 2014 bid to unseat incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a union-backed Democrat. They also spent $1.6 million to help Democrat Ben Allen beat more liberal Democrat Sandra Fluke in Los Angeles’ 26th State Senate District.
Bloomfield said his “personal passion” is education, but he doesn’t see himself as a special interest. “I have no skin in the game,” he said. “There’s nothing I want from the Legislature other than good government.”
JobsPAC has plainer, pro-business goals. In fact, it was Glazer’s consulting work on two 2012 Democratic campaigns to unseat Democratic Assembly incumbents that put him in hot water with unions and his party in the first place — even though those new Democrats since have won high ratings and re-election endorsements from labor.
Still, the PAC sees returns on its investments. In 2011, four Democratic Assembly members scored 40 percent or higher on the chamber’s legislative score card; in 2013, 19 did. “When you get that many more members open to your arguments almost half the time, that’s pretty good,” said Marty Wilson, the chamber’s executive vice president of public affairs.
And those arguments are being heard: Of 129 bills the chamber deemed “job killers” in the past four years, only eight became law.
“There’s been a long history of business-friendly Democrats,” Wilson said, but the top-two system’s creation of more Democrat-on-Democrat battles “is truly a game-changer for us.”
Josh Richman covers politics. Follow him at Twitter.com/Josh_Richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.
DEM VS. DEM California’s top-two primary system has triggered a spate of Democrat-on-Democrat battles funded by people or groups who aren’t traditional Democratic backers. Here are some examples:
Defeated incumbent Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, D-Marina Del Rey, in November 2012.
Family Farmers Working for a Better California (the Western Growers Association) spent about $177,000 against Butler.
JobsPAC (the California Chamber of Commerce) gave the Family Farmers PAC $29,500 worth of polling data it had commissioned.
Defeated incumbent Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, in November 2012.
Family Farmers Working for a Better California spent about $143,000 against Allen.
JobsPAC gave the Family Farmers PAC $13,750 worth of polling data it had commissioned.
Defeated more liberal Democrat Sandra Fluke in the 26th State Senate District in November 2014.
Republican-turned-independent businessman Bill Bloomfield independently spent $1.6 million on Allen’s behalf.
Lost to incumbent state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson in November 2014.
Bill Bloomfield and his wife gave about $3.54 million in contributions and independent expenditures to support Tuck.
Lost to Democrat Tim Sbranti and Republican Catherine Baker in June 2014 in 16th Assembly District primary; now running against fellow Democrat Susan Bonilla in 7th State Senate District special election.
Bill Bloomfield so far has independently spent about $846,000 on Glazer’s behalf in the current election.
JobsPAC independently spent about $391,000 on Glazer’s behalf in the 2014 Assembly race, and $494,000 so far in the current state Senate race.
Link to original article: http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27895050/will-real-democrat-please-stand-up?source=rss