Thursday, January 20, 2011

Good advice for Democrats from a Democrat

Douglas Schoen, who was the pollster for President Clinton, has a column in the WSJ with some very good advice for his party. He tells them that they mus "break the stranglehold that government-employee unions have on the party on policy, as well as in financial and political support." The Democrats are losing working-class families who resent paying higher taxes to fund public employee pensions.
These working-class voters see that public employees are continuing to receive more generous benefits and enjoy greater job security than they are. Support for the Democratic Party is now well below 40% with working-class voters who are unionized, and as low as 33% with whites who are not college educated.

By providing Democratic candidates the bulk of their campaign funding, public unions have essentially bought control of the party. This is particularly true when it comes to the politicians who control union contracts and pensions at the state and municipal level.

At the national level, public-employee unions spent more than $200 million to defeat Republican candidates during the 2010 midterm election. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—the main union of state employees—spent over $90 million during the campaign, and it was the top donor to the Democrats' efforts to win gubernatorial and state-legislative races.
As he writes, it's clear that public employees are becoming the mainstay of today's Democratic Party. And they're making it difficult for Democratic politicians to espouse the sorts of policies that are necessary in this era of massive state budget deficits.
In California, public-employee unions spent about $25 million to elect Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. And they've seeded California's state legislature with union operatives from the highest levels on down. One union leader was caught on tape telling elected officials: "We helped to get you into office, and we got a good memory. Come November, if you don't back our program, we'll get you out of office."

In New York, public-employee unions effectively run their own political party dedicated to defeating measures such as wage freezes, benefit cuts and tougher work rules. The Working Families Party, an alliance of labor unions, community groups and politicians, has disproportionate influence in the state assembly. A majority of members were endorsed by and appeared on the Working Families Party ballot line. So far, assembly speaker Sheldon Silver has resisted all efforts to make the kind of cuts in public-employee benefits that would make a meaningful dent in the state's $9 billion deficit.
California and New York now have Democratic governors who need to adjust massive budget deficits. There is no way for California to trim its $28 billion deficit or New York to close its $10 billion budget gap unless the public employees give way on wages and benefits. These Democratic governors will only be able to succeed if their own party shows the fortitude to stand up to the unions, the same unions which have guaranteed their victories in election after election.

Mr. Schoen advises his party to pry themselves free of the public-employee grip or their states will sink further and the entire party will suffer in comparison to Republican governors who are making successful the necessary tough decisions in the states that they govern.
Republicans are already making hard choices around the country: reducing union benefits, weakening their influence and limiting their right to strike and even their right to bargain collectively. Unless the Democrats engage in similar efforts, there will be a powerful new campaign issue for the Republicans to rally around going in 2012 and beyond.
Despite his plea to his party, I don't see Democrats out there who are willing to buck the public-employee unions. Certainly not President Obama or the Democrats in Congress.