News

Labor splits in secretary of state race

Republican Secretary of State BruceMcPherson’s election bid has received a
boost from an unlikely source–several of the state’s leading unions,
including the powerful California Teachers Association, which has endorsed a
statewide Republican for the first time.

Three unions, which in the last two years have spent more than $50 million
opposing Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, have endorsed and
contributed to McPherson, a Schwarzenegger appointee. A fourth union
endorsed and donated to McPherson in his unopposed primary, but remains
neutral in the general election.

“I just think that they recognize that I have been a bipartisan legislator
and listened to what their concerns have been through the years,” said
McPherson, a former assemblyman and senator. Unlike the other statewide
races, where unions have almost exclusively sided with the Democratic
candidates, organized labor has split in the secretary of state contest.

McPherson faces Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey, this fall. This race is
expected to be closely contested, after Bowen won the Democratic primary
handily–by more than 20 points–despite late polls that showed her trailing.

McPherson, the former editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel, is a moderate
Republican. In the Senate, he was the only GOP chair of a major policy
committee, public safety, and introduced legislation in 2000 to transform
the post of secretary of state into a nonpartisan job, a policy position he
still holds.

“I would like to not be identified as a partisan politician,” says
McPherson.

This fall, McPherson is expected to count the wellheeled California Teachers
Association ($11,100), California Professional Firefighters ($1,500), and
the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) ($5,600) in
his corner. All those groups are members of the labor coalition that
spearheaded the 2005 campaign against the governor. Another member of that
labor alliance, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association
($5,600) endorsed McPherson in the primary.

PORAC, which counts 58,000 members, has not officially endorsed McPherson in
the general election, but supported McPherson and Bowen’s opponent, Sen.
Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, in the primary. The same is true for the
firefighters.

“I would say he is going to get endorsed by us again,” said PORAC vice
president Kip Ringen.

Carroll Wills, a spokesman for the firefighters union, sounded a similar
note, “We are haven’t made a formal decision in the general election process
but he figures to have the inside track.”

Bowen’s campaign counters with the labor endorsements of the California
Federation of Teachers, the California Nurses Association ($3,000), AFSCME
($6,000), the United Teachers of Los Angeles ($2,000), and the State Council
of Laborers ($10,000).

Bowen says that fighting through a tough primary has prepared her–and her
campaign–for the general election.

“I have already created an energized grassroots and ‘netroots’ presence,”
she said.

Some, more cynical Republicans, say the unions’ endorsements of McPherson
are only token support for a statewide Republican to give the left-leaning
groups political cover for their solidly Democratic agenda. It doesn’t hurt
that McPherson, the only GOP incumbent besides Schwarzenegger, has a solid
chance in the fall, they add.

“Every once in a while these unions want to show that they are not a
complete, 100-percent tool of the Democrats,” says Mike Spence, president of
the conservative California Republican Assembly. “The secretary of state’s
office doesn’t impact how much money the union bosses can get out of
Sacramento.”

McPherson is the first Republican statewide candidate the teachers union has
ever endorsed. He is also the only statewide Republican to even interview
with the union for a potential endorsement.

McPherson endeared himself to labor leaders when he refused to endorse
governor’s special-election agenda in 2005, despite having been appointed by
Schwarzenegger earlier that year.

Teachers union spokeswoman Sandra Jackson said that was important because it
showed “he didn’t feel obligated to take a position just because he was a
Republican.”

Few policy differences separate McPherson and Bowen, a long-time legislator
who has earned a reputation for her tech-savvy and even-handedness.
“Hard to say,” McPherson said when asked what the differences would be
between the secretary of state’s office under his watch or Bowen’s.

Bowen has criticized several of McPherson’s moves in his brief tenure, most
recently challenging a new voterregistration database he instituted that she
says threatened to remove thousands of Californians from the voter rolls.

Bowen, who was the first legislator with a Web site and wrote the law to
create an official online presence for Legislature, says she will make the
secretary of state’s office more open and has the “under the hood know-how”
to effectively run the office.

The sharpest contrast of the campaign has come on the issue of electronic
voting machines. McPherson certified electronic voting machines for use in
California, including granting a contract to Diebold, a controversial firm
for Democrats who see the company as pro-Republican.

Bowen has said she will steer the state away from electronic voting until
the process is more reliable.

“We are increasingly seeing the vindication of those with concerns with
touchscreen voting,” says Bowen.

McPherson takes issue with Bowen’s criticism of his record as secretary of
state.

“The proof is in the pudding,” says McPherson. “The proof is in the
elections that have been held. … We haven’t seen one vote lost.”

Appointed in the wake of the scandalridden resignation of Democrat Kevin
Shelley, McPherson says he plans to run on his record of turning around the
standing of his office.

But Bowen–with or without the backing of all the state’s labor groups–says
she could do better.

“I am much better suited to get the things done that need to get done,” she
said.

Bowen raised $500,000 for the primary, but has spent almost all of it.
McPherson had raised nearly $600,00 as of late May.


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