By Paul Gullixson
Those who were logged into the Santa Rosa Twitter world last week witnessed a heated word feud that reflects the divisions among Sonoma County labor groups in this election.
Here’s a sample: (Truncated Tweet-speech and all):
Brad Conners, vice president of the Santa Rosa Police Officers’ Association, responds to Lisa Maldonado of the North Bay Labor Council over her criticism of police and fire support of business-friendly candidates Scott Bartley, Jake Ours and Juan Hernandez for City Council.
Conners: “Very ‘labor advocate’ of you to attack ppl who WANT to wrk WITH labor to solve probs . . .”
Maldonado: “We met with you to try to get your association to support labor. U were not interested. UR priority is U. Ours is workers.”
Conners: “Ur invitation was ‘If u don’t like the way we do biz, join us to get a seat at our table.’ Hardly a warm invitation!”
At one point Santa Rosa School Board member Laura Gonzalez weighed, accusing cops and firefighters of giving the perception “that you care only to maintain high wages and pensions.”
Maldonado: “We won’t advocate for low-paying jobs for others so you can have everything you want.”
Conners: “We have no delusions about raises, etc. We need to save services! Pools, parks, sen ctrs, pub safety, roads . . . New biz is needed!”
Local labor groups have rarely been in lock-step agreement at election time. But the disagreements have rarely been this heated — and public.
The discord isn’t contained to the Santa Rosa City Council race either. A caller last week wanted to point out the “irony” of how our endorsement of David Rabbitt for the Board of Supervisors noted how he wanted to reform public employee retirement benefits. “But did you see that he’s endorsed by the Petaluma Police Officers Association and the Petaluma Fire Fighters Association?” the caller asked.
Yes. “So. Don’t you find that ironic?” he asked.
Well, not particularly. Certainly not in this election. Unions are all over the map — from city to city and from race to race. Pam Torliatt, Rabbitt’s opponent, is supported by the North Bay Labor Council and a number of labor groups including the Service Employees International Union, which represents a host of city and county employees.
Those of us on The Press Democrat Editorial Board have spent six weeks interviewing dozens of candidates. Although their ideas and experience differs, just about every one of them is campaigning on improving the economy and creating jobs. And not one has the magic bullet.
One conclusion: The central factor in this election will be trust. Will voters be more willing to trust the business-friendly candidates and run the risk, as critics contend, that they will allow too much development. Or will they support the slow-growth candidates and run the risk, as their critics contend, that economic development will get bogged down in process and won’t happen at all.
It will also come down to which endorsements will hold sway. Public safety unions, which traditionally are more conservative, are tending to support the more business-friendly candidates. They’re doing so on the basis that a growing economy will mean more tax revenue for the city and/or county. That, in turn, will mean fewer cuts in programs and jobs in the future.
The group pushing the idea the strongest is the Santa Rosa Police Officers’ Association, which has been more politically assertive than it has in years. Not only has the union endorsed the Bartley-Ours-Hernandez slate, it has been highly critical of the existing council majority and, in particular, Mayor Susan Gorin and Councilwoman Veronica Jacobi, both of whom are seeking re-election.
In a letter that was re-published in a 12-page campaign mailer sent to Santa Rosa residents last week, the POA said the current City Council majority “has not provided sufficient guidance and direction to steer us through this storm.”
Mayor Gorin has criticized the letter as “terribly unprofessional” and full of “personal attacks.”
Santa Rosa firefighters have supported the same candidates but were not as critical about incumbents.
A side note: That “Santa Rosa update” newspaper, which was paid for by the campaigns of Bartley, Ours and Hernandez, looked very similar, at least on the cover, to the traditional “Voter update” mailer that’s sent out by the city — and arrived in the mail on the same day. Coincidence? Not a chance. (For more on this, click here.)
Meanwhile, Bartley, Ours and Hernandez continue to draw mixed reviews for securing a promise from public safety unions that they would be willing to sit down with them and other city officials to discuss cutting retirement benefits.
Critics have called this a “backroom deal.” It’s not clear whether an agreement to talk qualifies as a quid-pro-quo “deal.”
Nevertheless, the move came across to many as overly presumptive on the candidates’ part, and it may have hurt their cause more than it helped it.
Still, it’s important to ask, what is driving some public employees to support candidates who appear most eager to cut spending and trim employee benefits?
And will voters, who began receiving absentee ballots last week, be willing to follow public safety endorsements as they have in the past?
We’ll find out in about three weeks.
Final thought: At one point during their Tweet tussle, Maldonado and Conners agreed to sit down over coffee. Noted Conners, “We agree on lots, and prob disagree on less than we’ll admit! (winking emoticon.)”
It’s a promising sign but don’t expect this to be the last of the intra-labor skirmishes. In many ways, this election is just getting started.
<i>Paul Gullixson is editorial director for The Press Demcorat. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call him at (707) 521-5282.</I>