March 23, 2015
By Gloria Romero
It didn’t take long for “the brotherhood” of status quo politics to pile on. Within hours of former Assembly member Joan Buchanan having lost her election bid for Northern California’s 7th Senate District seat in last week’s special election to fill the vacancy, she endorsed labor-embraced and fellow Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. Together, they joined the panoply of monied special interests led by public sector unions that are largely funding the Democratic Party, to defeat a third Democrat – independent Steve Glazer.
Glazer describes himself as “fiscally conservative, socially progressive.” He is the mayor of Orinda and former political aide to Gov. Jerry Brown. Glazer brandishes “blue” credentials in California, having worked for decades to support Democratic candidates and causes.
But a funny thing happened on the way to governing California: Glazer ran afoul of the Democratic Party establishment when he started challenging the power of public sector unions on municipal and state government. Glazer supported banning strikes by public transit workers, embraced pension reforms and campaigned to elect more business friendly Democrats.
Millions of dollars were spent to try to bury Glazer on Election Day, prompting questions on whether there is a zero tolerance policy in the Democratic party against independent-minded Democrats.
Yet, on Election Night, Glazer not only survived, but emerged as the top vote-getter. A May runoff is scheduled.
Glazer stands out because it is rare for Democrats to “go rogue” and support labor-opposed changes to teacher tenure or curbing government pensions. Despite the “big tent” image, discourse and dissent is disallowed, despite growing public support for these reforms. Party-supported candidates are reminded that the hand that feeds them comes with a demand of loyalty.
If not, as was done to Glazer, they become labeled with the equivalent of a political red-letter A: abandonment of the Democratic Party for not remaining subservient to the interests of those who fund them. Forget 50 shades – can Democrats even be allowed to display more than one shade of blue? Yet, the dirty laundry of adherence to blind allegiance has erupted into public view in recent election cycles.
Indeed, in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama lost favor with the National Education Association for his support of holding teachers and schools accountable and linking student outcome data to teacher evaluations. Since then, he and his Education secretary have largely earned the wrath of national teachers unions.
In the most-recent Los Angeles mayoral election, Eric Garcetti defeated a fellow Democrat largely by portraying his opponent as blindly subservient to the city unions that had endorsed her. Today, Democratic Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel faces a re-election runoff due to his willingness to battle Chicago’s powerful teachers unions.
Meanwhile, in Orange County’s special election to fill another vacant state Senate seat, two Republicans battled each other. Former county Supervisor John Moorlach – the candidate who refused to accept campaign contributions from labor unions – claimed outright victory in that Republican stronghold district. His opponent, Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Tustin, was financed by labor unions who perceived him to be more allegiant to the state’s public sector unions.
The outcomes of both elections – one in a Democratic and one in a Republican stronghold district – send strong signals that voters desire to reclaim their party, and not allow candidates to be constricted to only one shade of red or blue. The challenge now is to seek independence in California’s remaining 38 Senate districts, 80 Assembly districts and every statewide and constitutional office.
Staff opinion columnist Gloria Romero is an education reformer and former Democratic state senator from Los Angeles.