As the legislative session came to an end, some Capitol observers expressed a glimmer of hope that Gov. Jerry Brown would be the independent, reform-minded governor that he swore he would be when he ran for office. After the governor argued that not every problem deserves a government solution when he vetoed a nanny-ish ski-helmet law, I joined the “wishful thinking” chorus and urged the governor to heed his libertarian impulse.
But Brown was just playing games with those of us who believe that California must reform its government and take on the unions that are driving up costs and eroding public services. He vetoed a couple of egregious union-backed laws, but when the final bill-signing tally came in, it’s clear that he is nothing more than a front man for the unions and an enemy of reform.
The Los Angeles Times summarized the Brown signing and veto flurry with this headline: “Gov. Jerry Brown is giving unions most of what they seek.” Union leaders quoted in the story were crowing with delight.
For instance, the governor signed a bill that makes it nearly impossible for municipalities to declare bankruptcy, forcing them instead to go through a mediation process that is dominated by union supporters who would oppose bankruptcy at all costs. Brown signed another union bill meant to stop reform: SB202, which pushes initiative measures to the November general election ballot. The idea is to make it more difficult to pass initiatives by burdening the ballot with too many measures. Unions know that they own the Legislature and that real reform will come at the ballot box, so they want to throw a wrench in the gears of direct democracy.
As the Times pointed out, “At the urging of the food workers’ union, Brown agreed to crack down on the use of automated checkout machines in grocery stores. … He guaranteed wages for workers in public libraries that are privatized — a bill sponsored by another labor group.” These bills are about using government power to artificially protect union jobs, regardless of the costs imposed on business owners, consumers and taxpayers.
Brown vetoed a bill that had wide support in the Legislature (it received only four “no” votes between both houses) that would have overturned the state Supreme Court’s decision that allows police to wantonly violate civil liberties. If you are arrested for any reason, the court ruled that police can take your smartphone and rifle through all its many files, lists of phone numbers, photographs, tap into a reporter’s newsroom database and fish for incriminating evidence. The Brown veto came at the urging of police unions.
Brown also signed a bill that would stop localities from banning those union-monopoly project labor agreements that force nonunion contractors to hire union workers if they want to bid on public-works jobs.
The governor signed legislation and an executive order that attempt to stop contraband cellphones from making it into the state’s prison system. The efforts ignored the elephant in the jail cell — the prison guards’ union, whose members are a main source of the phones (some take bribes to smuggle the phones to gang members). The union has obstructed searches of employees that would cut down on this practice.
California won’t be competitive again until the government is reformed. Reform can’t take place until the unions are brought under control. At least we know for sure that Brown isn’t the man for that job.
Steven Greenhut is editor of www.calwatchdog.com; write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.