By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Sunday's rally afforded a glimpse of some of those volunteers. About 100 red-shirted members of the United Farm Workers stood alongside about 50 purple-T-shirted members of the Service Employees and perhaps 50 other union volunteers, chanting in the noontime break between precinct walks. At the same time, similar rallies were taking place in other locations around L.A., since labor had targeted five Assembly districts within the county in which to concentrate its efforts. In the last four days of the campaign, roughly 2,500 unionists turned out in these districts to carry literature door-to-door and to talk with the union members who lived along the route. Still another core of volunteers staffed the five phone banks, with between 60 and 100 phones apiece, that the unions had put together for the campaign.
The Eastside effort had particular significance for the L.A. County Federation of Labor's ongoing efforts to mobilize newly registered immigrant voters. In this East L.A.-Alhambra-Monterey Park Assembly district, labor was campaigning not just against 226, but also for Gloria Romero, a longtime labor-left activist who was embroiled in a hotly contested election for an open Assembly seat. The unionists who turned out for the Sunday walk were part of a campaign to reach not just the district's 9,000 union members, but also the 14,000 newly naturalized voters who'd registered over the last 18 months - an effort modeled on labor's successful campaign last winter to elect Gil Cedillo to a downtown-area Assembly seat on the strength of union and immigrant voters.
By Wednesday morning, it was clear that labor's efforts, both in one Assembly district and across the state, had paid off big-time. In the race for the Eastside Assembly seat, Romero swept to victory. Statewide, 226 was defeated by a 54-to-46-percent margin, and L.A. County rejected it by a 60-40 margin - the fourth highest "No" vote among the state's 58 counties, a stunning achievement for the local labor movement. A statewide poll of AFL-CIO members conducted on election night showed that 71 percent had voted against 226 - and union members familiar with their union's position opposed it by an 81 to 19 percent margin. Perhaps most impressive - indeed, astonishing - was the finding of the CNN/L.A. Times exit poll that fully one-third of Tuesday's voters came from union households. In a state where the rate of unionization is just 18 percent, that means labor's mobilization of its own members succeeded on a scale seldom achieved in elections.
Proposition 226 was the most serious attempt to shift the balance of class forces in American politics in decades. Its defeat attests to the remarkable success that the Sweeney-era labor movement has had in reconstructing its political program and political clout (even while its efforts to revive the culture of organizing still have a long way to go). The hope inside the labor movement is that its efforts against 226 have positioned unions to wage even more effective campaigns in the years to come. "Grover Norquist and Pete Wilson did us a favor," Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern observed during the Eastside rally on Sunday. "They woke up the movement and connected it to our members. I've never seen so many members phoning and walking precincts - and we have to find a way to build on this in November and beyond."
II. THE GOVERNOR'S RACE AND OTHER TRIVIALITIES
It is time, I suspect, to bid farewell to the economic stimulus (at least for California TV stations) and political candidate known as Al Checchi. While Jane Harman has established herself as a plausible candidate for some future statewide contests, Al Checchi finishes the campaign with a political future that - as Marlene Dietrich said of Orson Welles' future in Touch of Evil - "is all used up."
In the end, Checchi got less bang for his buck than any statewide candidate in California history: By my calculations, Checchi probably ended up paying at least $55 per vote in Tuesday's primary. (Gray Davis, by contrast, paid about $4.50 per vote.) On a number of levels, Checchi ran an admirable campaign - most especially, in his Robert Kennedy-like appeal to low-income and nonwhite voters. But Bobby Kennedy brought to his campaign a record of intense and high-level engagement in the civil rights and economic-justice issues of his time. Checchi combined the strategy of Robert Kennedy with an attempt to evoke the manner of John Kennedy and with the record - or should I say baggage - of old Joe Kennedy. It didn't take.
Even worse, it will not be Checchi's Kennedy-like platform for which he'll be remembered. Checchi may have been just the latest of thousands of candidates to go negative on his opponents, but only Checchi had the resources to transform a campaign tactic into an act of indelible self-definition: Al Checchi will forever be linked to negative campaigning. It's a gratuitously sad end for his brief political career. He coulda' been a contender; instead, he got a one-way ticket to Palooka Estates.
Invested with whatever mystique attends the tortoise who beats the hare, Gray Davis emerges from his smashing victory in Tuesday's primary with a decent shot at becoming California's first Democratic governor since his old boss, Jerry Brown. That Brown connection, surely, is a cross that Republican nominee Dan Lungren will force Davis to bear, though Davis is so boringly straight and centrist that he may be able to inoculate himself against charges of his complicity in Jerry's presumed eccentricities. Davis' record of headlong zeal in the cause of fund-raising for himself, however, presents Lungren with another, more plausible avenue of attack.