Opinion

Right wing agog over SJ Mayor’s pension reform plan

In mid-October, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed announced he was taking steps to put a measure on the November 2014 ballot to give local politicians the power to break their promises to teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees to provide them with a secure retirement.

Reed, a Democrat, chose a telling venue for the launch of his initiative: Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, whose mission, notesRightWingWatch.com, is “Forging strong ties between right-wing ideologues, right-wing think tanks and right-wing policy makers.”

Reed spent the next 35 minutes union-bashing from a TelePrompter, outlying his plans for astatewide ballot measure. So it was no surprise that at the conclusion of his remarks, an audience member piped up and bluntly told Reed: “I’d like to offer you the opportunity to become a Republican.”

Actual Democrats are Opposed: But alas, there is no rift. Right out of the gate, the state’s leading Democrats blasted the proposal. And aside from Reed himself, not a single big city mayor – Democrat or Republican — joined Reed’s effort.

Two weeks later, when Reed officially filed his request for a title and summary with the Attorney General, rolling out “The Pension Reform Act,” it was all about being a progressive. He framed the measure as a quest to save social services at the local level. Three Democratic mayors joined him in the rollout, along with one Republican.

Conservative San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Steven Greenhut could hardly contain himself. “Progressives for Pension Reform” and “Democratic Mayors Lead Pension Reform Effort” were the headlines on two of his pieces. The state’s leading conservative papers chimed in as well with fawning editorials noting a rift in Democratic ranks.

Actual Democrats are Opposed: But alas, there is no rift. Right out of the gate, the state’s leading Democrats blasted the proposal. And aside from Reed himself, not a single big city mayor – Democrat or Republican — joined Reed’s effort. In fact, one of the Democratic mayors that Reed initially had on board renounced his support this week when Reed turned in another version of his plan.

One of the reasons – and perhaps Reed’s biggest dilemma – is that the only money behind the measure is likely to come from right-wing ideologues. The state’s business community has little interest in changing the pensions of public employees (after all, they don’t affect the private sector). And the smart money in the state sees it as a sure loser.

Privately, leading Republicans are having heartache about putting it on the 2014 ballot. With what’s shaping up as a lackluster gubernatorial race, they’re counting on a low, targeted turnout to pick up seats in the Legislature and deny Democrats their supermajority.

Last week, Inside San Jose exposed a $200,000 payment made at the behest of Reed to lay the groundwork for the ballot measure from a Texas-based group. “I’m not going to reveal names, because they’ll end up in your newspaper and people might cause trouble for them,” Reed told the website’s reporter.

Though Reed won’t say where he’ll get his money from. But the fingerprints of right-wing and Wall Street money already have stained the measure. The bulk of his cash is from groups tied to John Arnold, a Texas billionaire who earned his fortune as an Enron trader during California’s energy crisis. That in itself gives Reed’s opponents a Big. Fat. Target.

Reed’s only other reported behests also will give opponents ammunition: $50,000 from former LA Mayor Richard Riordan (who recently abandoned a pension measure in his city after union pressure)

Reed hasn’t decided whether he’ll try to put the measure on the ballot. “Whether it’s 2014 or 2016 is really a political call.”

Privately, leading Republicans are having heartache about putting it on the 2014 ballot. With what’s shaping up as a lackluster gubernatorial race, they’re counting on a low, targeted turnout to pick up seats in the Legislature and deny Democrats their supermajority.

The thought of unions launching a full-scale organizing war around this ballot measure – where the pensions of nearly three million public employees stand to be slashed – is probably making GOP Chairman Jim Brulte lose sleep at night. He knows that labor will throw the kitchen sink – and everything else in the house – into this battle, just as they did in their successful Prop 32 fight in 2012.

Ed’s Note: Steve Maviglio, former press secretary for Gov. Gray Davis and principal at Forza Communications, is spokesperson for Californians for Retirement. Parts of this piece originally ran in Calbuzz.com.


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