Official Capitol hearing gives foes of Proposition 75 a forum to vent

One of the favorite tactics of Sacramento politicians is to boast that they
are speaking on behalf of “the people.” Yet if the people of California saw
their antics firsthand they would want to sue for misrepresentation. One of
the most extreme examples of this Capitol travesty occurred at a recent
“informational” hearing on Proposition 75, held in the state Capitol on
Tuesday, September 27th.

Prop. 75 would require public employee unions to get the permission of their
members to spend dues money on political activities. It’s a common-sense
and fair idea, and will not lead to cuts in education funding, as the union
bosses would have Californians believe. The entrenched and out-of-touch
political leadership in the public employee unions’ pocket will resort to
anything – even undignified grandstanding and public abuse – to stop Prop.

The state constitution requires that the Legislature hold hearings on
propositions appearing on the statewide ballot. The ideal purpose of these
hearings is to inform people about the substantive content of the
propositions and discuss their pros and cons. In the special
interest-ridden pit of vipers that is the Legislature, this ideal has been
transformed into a charade that looks less like an exercise in American
democracy than a Soviet show trial.

The Proposition 75 hearing was chaired by state Senator Richard Alarcon and
Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, both Democrats. In a fair hearing, proponents
of both sides of the issue are given time to make statements which are then
followed by questions from the assembled lawmakers. Alarcon and Torrico had
no interest in a fair hearing. What took place at their direction caused
even jaded reporters to wince. One said afterwards that it was the most
vicious display that he had seen in his career covering the Legislature.

The proponents of Prop. 75 who had been invited to testify included Lew
Uhler of the National Tax Limitation Committee, Jon Coupal of the Howard
Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Sgt. Lon Jacobs of the San Bernadino County
Sheriff’s Department, and me. Before we could finish our opening
statements, the Democrats on the committee interrupted with a series of
questions meant to assassinate the character of the individuals and
organizations testifying.

Jon Coupal was continually smeared as anti-worker because he supported Gov.
Schwarzenegger’s pension reform plan, a proposed program that had no bearing
on the merits of Prop. 75.

Sen. Alarcon badgered Lew Uhler over whether the provisions of Prop. 75
should be made to apply to his organization. This line of inquiry ignored
the fact that when people decide to support Mr. Uhler’s group they
voluntarily decide to “opt in,” rather than in the case of union members who
must ask for their dues money back, i.e. “opt out,” from their union’s
political funding activities. Doing a fine impersonation of Joe McCarthy,
Sen. Alarcon ultimately demanded of Mr. Uhler: “Are you trying to take
control of the government?”

Barely 30 seconds into my prepared two-minute statement, which focused on
the fundamental unfairness of forcing individual union members to have to
opt out of union political activities with which they disagree, both
Democratic chairs interrupted. Assemblyman Torrico claimed that opting out
was an easy procedure, an assertion disputed by legions of union members. I
replied that if opting out was as easy as opting in, the unions and their
legislative allies would not expend so much vitriol and expense to stop
Prop. 75. In a rare moment, Mr. Torrico was left speechless.
Sen. Alarcon, however, found his voice by repeatedly asking for the top
contributors to the Pacific Research Institute. This irrelevant questioning
was designed to move the focus away from the merits of the issue at hand:
ground on which he and the interests supporting him feel especially weak.

He repeatedly declared, “The people want to know.” It is interesting that
in view of this fascination with donors, not a word was heard about the
contributors to the legislative inquisitors. According to the California
secretary of state, in the 2003-04 election cycle alone, dozens of unions
contributed a total of more than $73,000 to Alarcon’s campaign coffers.

Perhaps more Californians would like to know that fact and its likely role
in Alarcon’s shamefully uncivil performance.

For all their huffing and puffing, Alarcon and Torrico could not suppress
the basic issue articulated by Sgt. Jacobs: “The only thing Prop. 75 will do
is give me, the union member, the right to decide where my money goes. Do I
want my money to go to things I am vehemently opposed to?” Basic fairness
says that Sgt. Jacobs and his fellow union members, not union bosses, should
have the freedom to decide where hard-earned wages go.

What a pity that in defending their union paymasters at all costs, Democrats
like Alarcon and Torrico have lost sight of their duty to defend true public

Lance T. Izumi is director of education studies and senior fellow in
California studies with the Pacific Research Institute.

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