News

Labor took aim at Glazer — and fired

Assembly candidate Steve Glazer, Gov. Jerry Brown's former campaign manager. (Photo: CCSA.org)

With Steve Glazer’s defeat in the 16th Assembly District, organized labor fired a warning shot to any other Democrat thinking of deserting the base.

“That’s the lesson I think was learned here: Having a lot of money from corporations may help you produce nice TV ads, but it doesn’t convince voters that you’ll stand with working people once you get into the legislature,” said Steve Smith of the California Labor Federation.

In response to two BART walkouts in 2013 — which cost the Bay Area an estimated $73 million per day — Glazer made banning public transit strikes the centerpiece of his campaign, something no serious Democratic candidate in California had previously attempted.

Critics of the unions said the 16th AD race exemplified the pervasive political and financial clout of labor in state politics.

The $4 million contest, dominated by labor and business interests, was one of the costliest campaigns of the top-two primary, according to financial disclosure records on file with the secretary of state. The lion’s share of the spending reflected payment by independent committees played a crucial role in the campaign.

Attorney Catharine Baker, the only Republican vying for the seat, came in with 36 percent of the vote. Democrats, although a majority in the district, split their vote: Their battle was between two Democrats, Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti and Glazer, an Orinda city council member, whose competition for the seat divided the Democratic Party into centrist and left-leaning voters. Sbranti won handily, by more than a seven point margin.

Glazer ran into trouble early.

In response to two BART walkouts in 2013 — which cost the Bay Area an estimated $73 million per day — Glazer made banning public transit strikes the centerpiece of his campaign, something no serious Democratic candidate in California had previously attempted.

“Public employee unions largely control everything that happens in Sacramento,” said Aaron McLear, a former Schwarzenegger press secretary and a consultant with Redwood Pacific. “They proved that once again in this race.”

In response, labor unions launched a costly campaign to keep him from advancing to the November general elections.

Glazer’s position was “a real concern,” said Chuck Idelson, spokesman for the California Nurses Association. “If working people are not standing up for public safety issues, then where does that leave the general public? They really count on people who have a voice to be advocates on those issues.”

Independent expenditures played a large role in the outcome in the 16th AD.

Labor-backed Tim Sbranti, who had formerly served as the chair of the Political Involvement Committee of the California Teachers Association, benefitted from many independent expenditures from the CTA, while much of Glazer’s funding came from independent expenditures associated with realtors, investors and other business interests. In a 2013 interview, Glazer noted that “not one drop” had come from labor.

“All of Glazer’s money came from big corporations,” Smith said, contending that “Walmart, hedge fund managers, realtors, coalitions of tobacco and chemical companies spent about $3 million to get Glazer elected, and failed to do so.”

Glazer has been a longtime supporter and adviser of Gov. Brown, having worked for him intermittently since the 1970s; many expected him receive Brown’s endorsement. However, the governor declined to endorse Glazer or anyone else in the race.

Brown, addressing the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board, said he couldn’t recall the last time his backing made a difference in a California contest, said,“I’m not going to get into that race,”  the San Francisco Chronicle’s political blog reported on May 16.

“Still, he noted with a smile, that Glazer has ‘plastered my name all over’ his campaign literature. ‘I don’t have intellectual property on my image or my words,” he said.'”

Campaign officials say that the year’s low voter turnout magnified the effects of union efforts and increased the proportion of voters on the right and left, putting Glazer in a particularly poor position. Only 18% of California’s 17.7 million registered voters cast ballots in the election, with similarly low percentages of residents voting in both Contra Costa and Alameda counties.

“Public employee unions largely control everything that happens in Sacramento,” said Aaron McLear, a former Schwarzenegger press secretary and a consultant with Redwood Pacific. “They proved that once again in this race.”

Ed’s Note: Recasts 13th graf to drop language “realizing the power of the unions,” adds 14th-15th grafs for detail on Brown declining to endorse.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: