Those who would like to see the (once-)Golden State glitter once more should hope that we have a Scott Walker waiting in the wings. We need someone to bring real change to the state which once defined innovation and opportunity. Since that Republican’s much-maligned reforms passed the Wisconsin Legislature, the Badger State has been able to close its budget gap, see new jobs created watch school districts across the state renegotiate teacher contracts, saving taxpayers’ hundreds of thousands of dollars.
All this achieved because Walker stood up to the public employee unions who had, before the current legislative session, wielded considerable power in the state capital, preventing real cost-saving reform. They tried to wield that muscle in the recent recall elections, pumping millions into Democratic coffers and even walking precincts on behalf of Democratic candidates. All to little avail.
The unions, however, have been far more successful in California than they were this year in Wisconsin. Here, every Democrat has a built-in advantage over his Republican and not just because of the state’s demographics. Our public employee unions funded directly by the taxpayer, with employees’ dues siphoned off from their paychecks, provide the Get Out The Vote (GOTV) infrastructure for Democratic nominees as they support their favored political party with television ads and campaign contributions.
In return, the unions exercise considerable influence over elected Democrats, preventing them from enacting real reforms. As Joel Kotkin put it in his (must-read) piece on the decline of Los Angeles:
It’s a familiar story: because Democrats are almost assured of victory in L.A.’s general elections, candidates must win only the low-turnout, union-dominated party primaries. John Pérez, a longtime union political operative and now speaker of the California State Assembly, won the Democratic nomination in 2008 with fewer than 5,000 votes and then easily crushed the GOP candidate. Pérez’s predecessor as speaker was Fabian Núñez-another L.A. labor official. No wonder the Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters calls the labor movement “the closest thing to an omnipotent political machine anywhere in the state.”
. . . .
Meantime, business-strangling regulations proliferate. Many of these originate with the environmental movement, which [Los Angeles Mayor Antonio] Villaraigosa and other Democrats count on for political support and media validation. . . .
Also harmful are various labor-friendly regulations, such as the city’s effort to expand unions’ presence from the docks to the entire network of trucks serving the port—essentially forcing out independent carriers, many of them Latino entrepreneurs, in favor of larger firms using Teamster drivers.
If we could just eliminate these stifling regulations, then California could once again become the dynamic source of growth and innovation it had been for the better part of the last century. But, first, we have to have someone come forward who is willing to take on the unions.
If with their resources and infrastructure, these unions couldn’t pull out a victory yesterday in Wisconsin, there is hope yet for the once — and future — Golden State.