By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
While falling far short of undermining Schwarzenegger on workers’ comp reform, Alarc贸n in 2004 did succeed in protecting his law halting the schools’ use of money-saving workers in non-educator jobs.
Schwarzenegger and Bakersfield Republican Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy, backed by education groups including the California School Boards Association, sponsored a repeal of Alarc贸n’s law. As the school association’s director Scott Plotkin put it, “This bill was enacted over the objections of most school districts, county offices of education and community college districts.”
The authors of the repeal bill said a reversal of Alarc贸n’s law would save school districts “$300 million every year without a single layoff or service cutback.” A California School Transportation Association sampling of districts statewide that were still using cheaper drivers and other workers — because the private contracts were set before the Alarc贸n ban kicked in — revealed that those schools are saving “approximately $1 million per 20,000 students’ enrollment.”
Transportation association director Kinney says of Alarc贸n’s law, “Schools used to have a choice. Now they have no choice. Schools have to get money elsewhere or eliminate service.”
Kinney’s group estimates the extra cost to public schools for transportation alone is $252 million each year. A 2000 study by the Los Angeles Unified School District found that if the district were allowed to contract out all its transportation jobs, it would recoup $1 million in annual savings per 14,500 students.
Tiny districts say the same: The 14,000-student Hesperia Unified School District saved $900,000 annually by hiring less expensive non-classroom employees, while 15,000-student Folsom Cordova Unified School District saved $700,000 annually. And the Community College League of California says its annual costs due to Alarc贸n’s legislation are around $30 million — for transportation, landscaping, maintenance and food-service jobs.
With very, very little press attention, Alarc贸n and his labor allies prevailed easily on the schools issue. Meanwhile, Alarc贸n’s latest dream — of moving further up in the Senate — was not going to happen, because Oakland Democrat Don Perata was firmly ensconced as Senate leader.
While Alarc贸n had indulged in the politics of grandiose gesture — establishing a Senate Select Committee to End Poverty in California (with apologies to Upton Sinclair) with himself as its chair, and winning a “Local Hero” award from The Nation magazine — the state Senate was a dead end for him.
So in 2005, he ran for mayor of Los Angeles. It went badly. In the first round, Alarc贸n finished a very distant fifth, with less than 2 percent of the vote. While Antonio Villaraigosa and Mayor James Hahn advanced to the runoff, Alarc贸n was left trailing far behind the also-rans — former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg and former Los Angeles police Chief Bernard Parks.
Perhaps worse than the grim results was his series of odd TV commercials. In one, he stood Sam Spade–like in a trench coat at a purported crime scene. In another, he dissed special interests while riding in a Lincoln Town Car. After his trouncing, Alarc贸n had better success opposing Schwarzenegger’s ill-fated 2005 special-election agenda. But even there, he got in some trouble, earning sharp criticism for using taxpayer resources to fight Proposition 75 — an initiative that would have made it harder for public-employee unions to dominate many campaigns through the use of members’ dues.
Prop. 75 would have required that government unions get specific permission from union workers to deduct money from their paychecks for political use. Alarc贸n used the Senate Labor Committee he chaired to sponsor a “hearing” on Prop. 75, which swiftly turned into an anti-75 event. Asked Alarc贸n, “Is this Prop. 75 nothing but a sham under the guise of workers’ protection, but in fact an effort to whittle away the protections that the workers have by virtue of the advocacy that these organizations provide?”
“I don’t support this measure,” added Alarc贸n. “I’m vehemently opposed to it not only for the substance of the issue, which I believe undermines workers’ rights, but also I’m opposed to the proposition and initiative abuses that have taken place in the last decade or longer.” He went on to urge Californians “to say no to all of the measures on the ballot in November, including this one.”
Noted one Prop. 75 critic, Pacific Research Institute’s Lance Izumi, “California law prohibits the use of public funds or resources to advocate the passage or defeat of a ballot initiative. At his hearing on Proposition 75, Alarc贸n totally disregarded that.”
Prop. 75 was, at best, one-way campaign reform — it included no accompanying provision requiring that corporations get shareholder permission to use corporate money on politics. But Alarc贸n’s blatant use of his committee and government resources to promote the interests of his union patrons was widely seen as over the line.
Termed out of the Senate, Alarc贸n in 2006 easily won a seat in the Assembly — and quickly became a focus of intrigue. While Alarc贸n today is running for City Council District 7 on March 6, with the backing of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Assembly Speaker Fabian N煤帽ez, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the Sierra Club and a host of others, it hasn’t always been that way.