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Some Democrats Willing to Fight Public Sector Unions

The latest battle in the intra-party struggle between moderate and more leftist California Democrats comes from the East Bay, where a state Senate seat pits Orinda Democrat Steve Glazer, who has championed banning transit strikes and higher standards for teacher tenure, against union-backed Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord.

The race between the two Democrats is the latest in a burgeoning number of races between Democrats who differ politically on whether to blindly support labor causes, whether public workers’ pensions, teacher’s unions, or, as in Glazer’s case, banning transit strikes. Those races have been triggered by California’s top-two primary system, which allows two members of the same party to vie for a legislative seat in the general election even if they come from the same party, as long as they are the top two vote-getters in the primary.

Traditional Democratic supporters of labor issues are angry with the Democrats who want to moderate their support; California Labor Federation spokesman Steve Smith told the San Jose Mercury News, “Workers’ issues are historically what the Democratic Party is about,” adding that if a candidate did not protect pensions and organizing rights, they would not be “a real Democrat.” He stated, “We’re seeing ‘Democrats’ who clearly don’t share workers’ values being funded by folks like Bill Bloomfield and JobsPAC and other corporate interests.”

Bloomfield, a former Republican who now terms himself an independent, has spent at least $846,000 backing Glazer’s campaign, while JobsPAC, which represents the California Chamber of Commerce, has added at least $494,000. Meanwhile, a union-backed committee has invested at least $862,000 for Bonilla.

More moderate Democrats have been given cover by Gov. Jerry Brown, who had occasionally bucked the Democrats who want so spend more than he deemed necessary.

Bonilla, who has registered a 100 percent score on the labor federation’s legislative score card, railed against Bloomfield’s support of Glazer, asserting that there is “a fundamental difference” between someone far away trying to influence an election and labor unions who represent “our neighbors,” whom he says “are actual voters.”

Glazer is certainly not that far from the party’s leftist slant; he helped run Brown’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign, but he openly speaks of his GOP supporters, insisting to the Mercury News that labor’s uncompromising positions catalyze “a fracture within the Democratic Party” and does not permit “any place for reasonable, thoughtful differences.” He added, “I’ve never tried to be ‘anti-union’–I’ve just tried to go to the issues,” and he stated some Democrats fear to differ with labor. He said, “What does it take to overcome that? You need to win these elections and begin to build a center.” According to The Sacramento Bee, Glazer was “blackballed” by union supporters during his 2014 campaign for an Assembly seat in Contra Costa County.

Bloomfield has been actively supporting more moderate Democrats; he and his wife invested $3.54 million to support Marshall Tuck against labor-supported incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in 2014 and $1.6 million for Ben Allen against Sandra Fluke in Los Angeles’ 26th State Senate District. Tuck lost. Allen won.

JobsPAC feels that its support of more moderate Democrats is paying off; only four Democratic Assembly members scored 40 percent or higher on JobsPAC’s legislative score card in 2011, while 19 did in 2013. In 2013, 19 did. The Chamber of Commerce pointed out that only 8 of 129 bills it viewed as “job killers” in the past four years passed into law, including 25 of 27 in 2014.

Other recent victories by more moderate Democrats include Richard Bloom’s defeat of incumbent Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, D-Marina Del Rey, and
 Marc Levine’s defeat of incumbent Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa. Both occurred in November 2012.

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