Rusty Hicks, L.A. Labor Official, Trades Political Battles For War In Afghanistan

The L.A. County Federation of Labor has some major election battles coming up. There's the mayor's race in March, but even more important is the November campaign against Prop. 32, the "paycheck protection" initiative that threatens labor's ability to fund elections.

But the Fed will be fighting those battles without its veteran political director. Rusty Hicks, who has held that job since 2006, has been called up by the U.S. Navy Reserve. He will be deploying to Afghanistan in August for a one-year tour.

"Obviously, it's not the best of timing," Hicks told the Weekly. "I'm sad to leave at this point in time when there are big fights in front of us.... At the same time, I'm proud to step forward and do my duty."

Hicks is not well known outside L.A. political circles, but within that world he's seen as a capable political operative. He was a key player behind the passage of Prop. 28, the measure on the June ballot that extended term limits, allowing legislators to serve up to 12 years in either house.

"Rusty probably was the glue that held that thing together," said Doug Herman, a political consultant who worked on the campaign.

Hicks was also credited for his behind-the-scenes work on an $8 million independent campaign to elect Mark Ridley-Thomas' as county supervisor.

"He's an extraordinarily talented political mind," said consultant Parke Skelton consultant. "He understands how to mobilize his base."

During his tenure, the Fed has also had its share of missteps. Most recently, the organization backed City Attorney Carmen Trutanich for D.A., despite his history of working against a unionization campaign as a private lawyer. Trutanich finished a surprising third in the June election, failing to make the runoff.

The relationship between Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Fed chief Maria Elena Durazo has also frayed recently. The union group recently fought a losing battle to secure an $890 million railcar contract for Siemens. Villaraigosa -- whose support would have tipped the balance -- abstained from that vote.

Hicks is expected to be succeeded -- at least for now -- by Gerry Vaughan, who works for
Assembly Speaker John Perez's Office of Member Services. Before that, Vaughan was a top official at SEIU Local 721, one of the key bargaining groups at L.A. City Hall.

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