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Labor leader Willie Pelote joins

Many Capitol observers have dismissed the recall of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a political ploy cooked up by the state prison guards union to tweak the governor and help the embattled head of the union secure reelection. But a closer look at the recall petition filed last week shows some other labor heavyweights are interested in the possibility.

Willie Pelote, the head lobbyist for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees was among the 85 people who signed the recall petition submitted to the Secretary of State by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association last week.
“We’re in worse goddamn shape than when we had Gray [Davis], so you can make of that what you will,” Pelote said Monday.
But Pelote said his signature did not mean that his union was in support of the recall.

“Our union has not taken a position on the recall yet,” Pelote said. “I signed as a private human being, and a private citizen.”
Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Julie Soderlund said the recall is simply a prison-guard-union stunt. “It doesn’t appear there is support beyond CCPOA for this frivolous recall effort,” she said. “People see through this for what it is — one of the most prolific special interests in the Capitol trying to intimidate the governor.”

If Pelote’s union follows his lead, it could change the terrain for the recall. AFSCME was a supporter of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s health care proposal, even as some labor unions were conflicted about the final plan. AFSCME was also a large contributor to Proposition 93, donating $800,000 to the initiative that would have changed the state’s term limits law. In all, AFSCME spend $1.28 million in political contributions during the first half of this year.

Pelote is known for being outspoken. He was openly critical of Democrats and Republicans for the budget passed by the Legislature early Wednesday morning.

“It’s one thing for Republicans to follow Grover Nordquist’s edict that we should kill government by protecting tax cheaters, but to stand behind that when this state should be protecting seniors, children and other people who need is un-American.”

Pelote criticized Democrats, too, for jamming a bad, last-minute deal through the Legislature before anyone had a chance to read the budget.

“It’s anti-Democratic. It doesn’t allow for people to have a voice on each of the issues in that document. It’s not how our democracy should work. They should allow us to weigh in on it, and allow Californians to say what they feel.”

Other labor leaders have said publicly they are not focused on the recall effort. And many have said there has been such an intense focus on the state budget that nobody has given the Recall Arnold movement, such as it is, much of a thought.

“We have not had a conversation with CCPOA on this,” said Dave Low of the California School Employees Association. “At this point, it’s a CCPOA program, and if they are serious and move it forward, we’ll see what occurs after that.”

A new poll showed limited support for ousting Schwarzenegger. Though his approval ratings are at 38 percent, the latest Field poll showed only 29 percent of California voters would support a recall. That is much lower than the 46 percent of voters who said they would support ousting Davis in the early stages of that recall effort.

But with the budget now done, others have said the recall effort may be tempting for some unions to toy with. “It’s sort of like the storm forming in the Atlantic,” one labor leader said. “Nobody’s really to focused on it right now, nobody knows what direction it’s headed, and nobody knows if it’s going to just be a little rain, or a Category 5 hurricane. But a lot of us are checking the Weather Channel.”

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