Friday, November 11, 2005

Arnold's Special Election Flop

I've tried to keep bare-knuckled politics out of my blog, meaning that I could easily blog for hours about every political situation here, but then my blog would be no different than the multitude of political blogs out there, only far less in-depth and not nearly as good. People who do observe this blog would quickly abandon me completely (those who haven't already, due to my recent dearth of posting). However, some stories that are political of the "bare-knuckle" sort, impact directly on my life as a public defender. Those stories usually relate to political fights over judicial appointments and the Supreme Court, but here in California, the recent special election had special resonance for Public Defenders, and all other public employees statewide.

This special election we just had in California was only partially over the issues specifically named in the 6 "Republican" propositions. What it was really over was an attempt by Arnold and the Republican establishment to strip working people and unions of their power in Sacramento so that corporate interests could take control. One of the propositions that did not make it on the ballot because it was so poorly written would have ended the whole notion of defined benefit pensions, as most government employees presently have (yours truly included). There has been an assault on defined benefit pensions for a few years now, starting at the top, in Washington (attempts to turn social security into a 401k plan), and Arnold continued it here in California.

Defined pensions have become less popular over the years, in part due to very poor management of them by corporations (with corporate defined benefit pensions), state governments, and the employees who have received huge benefit increases in lieu of pay raises, knowing that the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation would cover any future losses.

Arnold almost put a proposition on the ballot here in California that would have done that for all new public employees, but failed when the terribly written proposition was found to also have stripped survivor benefits police and firefighter pensions. As I've always written on this site, if you want to fight a losing political battle, fight it against firemen and cops, because they rule the state and local governments (anyone in uniform with guns makes a perfect political prop - in the state and local government it's cops and firemen, ditto for federal officials, with the addition of the military). Arnold just messed up by going after the men in uniform (and nurses too, they are mildly popular, but not nearly as much so as police and firemen).

Public Defenders in much of California are tied in with the District Attorneys (so maybe those clients who say we are just DAs in other clothes are right? - Just kidding, of course not), so we make the same money. This makes sense, we work for the same agency, doing much of the same work (although I would contend that our job is much more difficult), under the same conditions. Defined benefit pensions are just one compensation for the fact that, as attorneys, we could easily go out and make much more money in the private sector than we do here, but we don't, in large part out of idealism. The compensation of a defined benefit pension is one of the carrots that keeps us in the county for a long time, rather than having a frequent mill of people moving in and out of the office, and thus having to constantly retrain people to do the job (an expensive prospect). Furthermore, our pensions are in large part self-sustaining, so that in good times, the county dips into our pensions to pay off their general fund, while in bad times the county has to fund our pensions through additional payments beyond what we already pay into the system. However, in our relatively well-run county (in contrast to someplace like San Diego), our pension system is doing very well without any need for a county bail-out on the horizon.

So, the rejection at the polls of Arnold's initiatives was a huge victory for Public Defenders, as well as for much of the rest of the working people of the state. I believe that if public employee unions could not as easily give large sums of money to political causes, then the only voice that would be heard in state and local jurisdictions (as well as the federal government) would be corporate voices, which already outspend public employee unions by huge amounts. Since the interests of union workers is generally the same as the working middle class and lower classes everywhere, the large amount of worker's interests are covered when public employee unions are heavily involved politically. Squeezing out that voice would result in the squeezing out of regular people who cannot donate $25,000 per person to sit with the governator, and would squeeze out their interests as well.

California's recent election results were a vindication of the working person, and since public defenders are squarely in that group, it was a victory for us as well.


J-CAT said...

Ah....How sweet it is...

CCPOA Member

PD Dude said...

Imagine, a member of the police union and a Public Defender making common cause. Maybe there's hope for the world after all :)