Opinion: Yes on 32
October 31, 2012
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When Californians go to the polls this November, they will have to consider eleven ballot propositions on topics ranging from the state’s infamous “Three Strikes Law” to the death penalty. But by far the most important is Prop 32, an ambitious attempt to hand control of Sacramento back to the people of California. The essence of the initiative is relatively simple: stop the flood of special interest money to California’s politicians. The reality of the law, however, is more complex.
Prop 32 prohibits corporations and unions from contributing directly to politicians’ campaigns and prevents them from deducting from employees’ payrolls for political activity. Political action committees, or PACs, render the former rule largely ineffectual. Both unions and companies will use PACs liberally to continue to influence state lawmakers. Instead, debate centers on the latter require that paycheck deductions for political activity be voluntary. Unions, who draw much of their political war chests from involuntary deductions, are predictably outraged. They complain that Prop 32 will dramatically reduce their power, but to those who have witnessed unions drive Sacramento and local governments to their knees, this isn’t such a bad thing.
Not long ago, public sector unions, and teachers’ unions in particular, played a fundamental role in advocating for the rights of women and African-Americans. Unions can still be a powerful force for positive change, but too many have surrendered this role to become arch-defenders of the status quo.
The prisonguards’ union has pushed through morally bankrupt and economically demanding bills such as the “Three Strikes Law”, which has led to dramatic overcrowding of California’s prisons. These laws provide jobs for prisonguards, mainly at the expense of California’s minorities (the incarceration rate for African-Americans is nearly 10 times that of the general population). The Supreme Court ruled that the poor care in California’s facilities constituted a breach of the rights of its 163,000 strong prison population, and ordered the state to release 30,000 inmates.
Consider two proposed laws: one would have made it easier to fire teachers who molest their students and another that would have allowed teachers to volunteer to have a performance review only they would see. The average citizen would be hard-pressed to come up with any reasonable arguments against these bills. Yet the California Teachers’ Association, one of the most powerful state special interests in the nation, spent millions to bury both bills. Arguing shamelessly that any change at all is unacceptable, the CTA has opposed any and all measures aimed at helping California’s children.
Alone among countless proposed reforms, a “parent-trigger” bill slipped past the CTA’s political machine. This law allows parents to vote to take over failing schools and gives them a powerful tool to advocate for their children. When parents at Compton’s McKinley elementary school met and surpassed the required number of signatures, they thought the hard part was over. Blatantly disregarding all relevant law, the district intimidated undocumented parents with the threat of deportation and instituted screening policies reminiscent of the Jim Crow South. These situations will continue to unfold across California unless something can be done to change the pervasive corruption that dominates our political system. Prop 32 promises to be that change.
Unions and their allies have used their enormous funding advantage to argue that the initiative will silence the voices of working class Californians. In reality, Prop 32 will hold unions accountable to their constituents. Middle-class union members would be able to choose whether or not to support their union’s political activity, and how much of their money to contribute. Those who wholeheartedly support their unions would be free to continue to do so. Those who don’t wouldn’t have to. Yes on 32.