OAKLAND, CA: Some may downplay the election of Democratic Senator Steve Glazer over major union opposition as just another isolated event in the world of California politics.
But the event is very significant and could help usher in a new era of open mindedness and reform in California politics, a truly revolutionary concept in the current two-party system.
Historically speaking, the two roots of power in the California political landscape have been characterized as labor vs. business. The labor unions, particularly the public employee unions, choose the candidates on the Democratic ticket and then help get those candidates elected. Similarly, the business community chooses Republican candidates, and then helps get their candidates elected.
Newly elected candidates come to Sacramento with an established power base or constituency to which they are largely dependent on for their political future and survival.
An analogy that is commonly used is that there is the union/Democratic side of the street, and the business/Republican side of the street. Most political alliances break along these lines in political battle after battle, such as major legislation and ballot measures.
Democrats who stray too far from the party line are chastised, and can even be ran out of office by competing candidates or a huge opposition campaign orchestrated by organized labor.
Last year Steve Glazer, in his bid for an East Bay State Assembly seat (AS-16), ticked off organized labor by publicly denouncing the BART strike, and proposing that transit strikes should be banned altogether due to the economic damage and inconvenience they cause to commuters, among other reasons.
Organized labor mounted a multi-million opposition campaign and succeeded in defeating Glazer in the June 2014 primary.
But when a State Senate seat opened up shortly thereafter, due to Rep. Mark DeSaulnier moving to Congress, Glazer declared his candidacy and was ultimately successful in a May 2015 special election over Susan Bonilla (54.5% Glazer to 45.5% Bonilla, a resounding 10 point margin of victory), despite millions of dollars being spent in opposition from organized labor, according to a Contra Costa Times report. It was reported that labor spent $3.5 million trying to keep Glazer out of the State Senate, according to Fox & Hounds.
Glazer the “First of His Kind” in California Legislature
Glazer is really the first of his kind in recent California history in that he is both a Democrat and a perceived outspoken critic of organized labor. But most importantly, he won and is currently a standing member of the California Senate despite organized labor’s all in effort to defeat him.
Moderate Democrats, sometimes also called “business” or “mod” Democrats, have been elected in greater numbers in recent years, who commonly side with business over the labor unions on some key economic issues. But no moderate Democrat has crossed the union line on one of the most critical issues to organized labor—the right to strike.
“Glazer was far more provocative in his critiques of organized labor than most moderate Democrats,” states a May 19, 2015 Contra Costa Times report.
Interestingly, a closer look at Glazer and his position on the issues reveals that he is not even anti-labor and has really been painted by the left as a villain just because he does not believe that BART workers should be able to bring the whole Bay Area to a stand still over a contract dispute.
Furthermore, Glazer is really a common sense moderate Democrat who better reflects the values of his district and the general electorate than the labor unions who oppose him (review where he is on the issues at: http://www.glazerforsenate.com/issues ) Glazer is also a longtime ally and former employee of Governor Jerry Brown—so he knows how business is done in politics and around Sacramento.
For example, Glazer does not believe in banning the right to strike across the board for organized labor, just for essential transit agencies. Furthermore, this should be viewed as reasonable position given the events of 2014 regarding the BART employee shutdown of the Bay Area which cost the region hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic output. The Bay Area Council Economic Institute estimates that each day of a BART strike costs the Bay Area economy $73 million, according to a Council report.
One reasonable alternative, commonly used in other jurisdictions such as the City of San Francisco with success, is to require binding arbitration prior to the contract deadline. This gives an impartial arbitrator the right to settle the dispute without a strike by giving both parties some, but not all of what they want.
So Glazer really is not anti-labor at all, just anti-transit strikes, and a proponent of examining more desirable ways to mediate labor disputes short of a costly strike. And also a candidate who was forced to defend himself and his position while under a major onslaught by the labor unions.
“I’m a fiscal conservative with socially progressive values. I have the record of proven independence to stand up to the powerful special interests that dominate the State Legislature. I believe that state government needs to live within its means, curb pension abuse and make tax dollars work harder and hold the line on new taxes,” states Glazer on his website for Senate.
Closer Look a Poll Data Proves that Glazer’s Position on Issues Helped Him Win Special Election
A closer look at the voter registration data for Senate District #7, to which Glazer was elected, shows that the district actually closely mirrors the composition of the statewide electorate in terms of party affiliation and decline to state voters.
Data produced by the California Secretary of State’s Office on February 10, 2015 shows that Senate District is 43% Democratic, 28% Republican and 22.5% “decline to state.”
As previously stated, Glazer won by a resounding 10 points, 54.5% to 45.5%, according to the California Secretary of State’s Office. The vote in the March 17, 2015 Democratic primary for the seat was 33.7% for Glazer, 24.9% for Bonilla, and 22.4% for Joan Buchanan—a bit tighter than the General Election.
A December 13, 2013 Field Poll, shows that Republicans and independents are significantly more critical of labor unions and the “right to strike” for public agencies. So Glazer’s position on the BART strike helped him in the general election by appealing to these voters. A similar analysis and case could be made on the pension abuse issue.
But if Glazer alienates too many Democratic voters while in the Legislature he could face a tougher challenge in 2016—less than a year from now—where he will almost certainly face another onslaught from organized labor. But he also does not want to veer too far from the centrist path that helped him win the votes of Republican and independent voters in the General Election.
California no longer has partisan primaries, so both Republicans and independents will be able to vote for Glazer in the 2016 June Primary, should they choose to do so, according to election expert Allan Hoffenblum, who publishes the California Target Book, an insiders guide to California State elections (link to CA Target Book). (see comment posted below)
Glazer Walks “Political Tightrope” in California Legislature
In his first weeks as a California State Senator, Glazer was forced to navigate a deadline crush of more than 200 bills for which he had only days to prepare, according to a Sacramento Bee Report.
Glazer supported new ambitious renewable energy goals for the state, voted against a measure marked as a “job killer” bill by the California Chamber of Commerce to expand guaranteed family leave, and refrained from voting on legislation to increase the minimum wage and unionize child care workers, which are major priorities for organized labor, states the Sacramento Bee report.
“Certainly, I am brining a different view than, I would say, a typical Democrat,” he said about his first days in the Legislature, according to the Sacramento Bee report.
Glazer Revives “Third Way” That Has Successful Roots Throughout History
Glazer’s emergence as a new kind of Democrat, who is not afraid to cross organized labor on key issues such as transit strikes and public pension abuse, is reminiscent of the successful political strategies used by former Democrat Bill Clinton and new Labor Party champion and former Prime Minister Tony Blair in British Politics.
After veering too far left in his first half term as president, then President Bill Clinton returned to the political center through a strategy called “triangulation” where he positioned himself in the political center between the relative leftist Democrats of his own party in Congress and the Republicans who swept into office as a result of the Gingrich revolution.
Similarly, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair broke with the leftist wing of the labor party and reformed the labor party into an electable alternative to the Conservative Party in 1997—widely considered as one of the most historic elections in recent history.
Current Governor Jerry Brown (D) has also pursued a strategy of “triangulation” between the leftist wing of his own party in the California Legislature and the conservative Republican caucus on major issues such as the state budget and pensions.
Glazer’s Third Way Has Potential to Spark Followers in California Democratic Party
California politics is as polarized as it is because so few members are willing to break with entrenched party lines on nearly all major political issues such as labor policy, tax policy and education policy.
For example, the right to strike is a sacred cow that no Democrat prior to Glazer, would go near under the current Democratic regime. The pension issue is another sacred cow for organized labor that few Democrat lawmakers discuss publicly, but the data shows that a plurality of voters does not support the current level of many public pensions as well as widespread pension abuse cited by grand jury reports, among others.
A new poll commissioned by some pension reform groups found that “a solid majority of voters” in every region except San Francisco (where it’s evenly split) “agree that pension reform should come before the consideration of any tax increases,” according to a UTSanDiego.com report.
“The data from this study also shows that support for pension reform can ‘disrupt’ normal partisan support levels and create an environment where it is possible to elect more pro-reform candidates,” states the pension poll. For example, 50 percent of likely voters would support a candidate from a different party than their own if that candidate supported pension reform. Even 46% of “partisan Democrats” hold the same view, according to the UTSanDiego.com report.
In future reports, the Kersten Institute will be providing significantly more evidence to support the contention that the public pension issue is far more serious and far-reaching than commonly understood by elected officials as well as the public.
What the California Legislature needs is more free thinkers such as Glazer who are not afraid buck their party line when it comes to important populist issues such as transit strikes and pension abuse. Furthermore, the organized labor position on both issues is significantly more out of step with the views of voters in Glazer’s district, as well as the statewide electorate.
Glazer was elected to represent his constituents, not organized labor or the Democratic Party, and it is refreshing to see him do this in a way that has rarely been done before.
Perhaps Glazer’s success in beating the organized labor machine will encourage other Democratic candidates to do so in future elections—which would spark a true revolution in California politics.
David Kersten is an independent consultant on public policy issues. The Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy is a private non-partisan organization dedicated to achieving government reform and public policy change.