Editorial: Singing the Blues About Cal Dems

By Becky O’Malley
Friday September 08, 2006

Among the many depressing news items in a discouraging week was this one, as headlined in the San Jose Mercury News: 

“Prison guards’ endorsement could revive Angelides campaign.” 

Oh, swell. Phil Angelides, whose primary campaign was somewhat tainted by not-totally-untrue allegations that he’s always been bankrolled by a cavalier Sacramento developer, has now been endorsed, to the tune of perhaps $10 million, by the only force in California politics that’s even seamier than the big building industry. He could, of course, turn down their millions, but will he? Don’t bet on it.  

Just in case you haven’t been paying attention, it’s all too easy to find examples of how the prison guards’ union does its best to make the living hell which is the California prison system even worse. For just one example, an excellent article by Vicki Haddock in the San Francisco Chronicle described attempts to reform the treatment of mothers with small children, and noted that the guards’ union was the biggest opponent of a Schwarzenegger-backed proposal to place mothers in community-based units where they could be closer to their families.  

The state of California has the highest expenditures in the nation for prison spending, but ranks 43rd in funding for education. This is substantially the result of political efforts by the union, formally known as the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA). Its membership has grown nearly 12-fold, to more than 31,000 members, in the last 25 years or so. It spends more political dollars than any other state organization, perhaps $29 million dollars per year. The prison guards don’t just push for higher wages for themselves, although that’s certainly part of their goal. Many of their favored candidates have backed draconian counter-productive schemes like Three Strikes and You’re Out.  

Federal Judge Thelton Henderson, a Berkeley resident, has been working for years to clean up the mess that’s the California prison system. He’s appointed a  

special master, who recently asked for authority to investigate whether Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cooperation with the reform agenda has faltered since his acquisition of quasi-Democrat Susan Kennedy, former hatchetperson for the odious Gray Davis, famous for being the errand-boy of the CCPOA. 

So it’s the good news that the guards are backing Angelides? No, it’s not, for anyone who had any hopes for the Democratic Party in California. It’s a move that puts him right up there with the Gobernator, who thus doesn’t look so bad after all.  

But what’s even worse—after all, the guards do come bearing big bucks—is that Angelides has refused to endorse Sheila Kuehl’s single-payer health insurance bill, which passed both houses of the Legislature last week, even though Schwarzenegger has announced that he’ll veto it. Is there any explanation for Angelides’ wishy-washy behavior except cowardice?  

Despite the fact that this is an overwhelmingly blue state, once again it looks like we’re on the way to electing a Republican governor. If the state’s official Democrats continue to demonstrate that they have no particular principles, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see Arnold win again. Or even, really, much of a disappointment. 

We see the same kind of problems on the local level, where creative, bright officeholders like Nancy Nadel in Oakland and Kriss Worthington in Berkeley are squelched by the Perata-Bates machine in favor of hacks like Ignacio de la Fuente, who are not even liberal, let alone progressive. When the Democratic Party has become nothing more than a self-referential closed system for distributing patronage, why bother to vote? 

The excellent online alternative paper Beyond Chron this week has a scathing indictment of the Bates regime and what it represents by Berkeley resident and San Francisco affordable housing activist Randy Shaw, headlined “Berkeley Mayor’s Race Reflects a City in Twilight.” If you’re online, you can read Shaw’s piece today at www.beyondchron.org/news/index.php?itemid=3649#more. 

We hope to get permission to reprint it for our print-only readers in the near future. Just one stinging quote for now: “There is no better evidence of Berkeley’s political decline than the current mayor’s race, where incumbent Tom Bates is assured of re-election despite maintaining a record that would have him on the political ropes elsewhere.” 

From here, it doesn’t look quite like Bates is a shoo-in yet. Zelda Bronstein is waging a lively underdog campaign bringing up some real issues, and the other two candidates have made some points too. But tracking the interlocking directorates of Berkeley cross-endorsements, which Shaw doesn’t discuss, is a stomach-turning experience for any progressive voter. Just one instance: Councilmember Gordon Wozniak endorsed Bates early, but is also sharing headquarters with Kriss Worthington’s challenger from the right. Will Bates now endorse Wozniak, who after all does have a progressive student opponent, Jason Overman? Stay tuned. It’s all very cozy, and, as at the state level, principles have nothing to do with it.