If you weren't thrilled by Arnold Schwarzenegger's surprise announcement of his gubernatorial candidacy last week, you either have no heart or work as a lobbyist for a California public-employees union. His jumping into the race was an adrenaline shot for a recall effort that, if successful, will be the most bracing act of political hygiene since Theodore Roosevelt took on the meatpackers.
If you were to distill all that is worst about American politics into one man, he would have perfectly combed hair and he would answer to "Gray." A cautious political hack whose only strength is selling out to unions and trial lawyers, Gov. Gray Davis is Bill Clinton without the conscience, Al Gore without the charm.
It would be a mistake, however, to overpersonalize his failings. The populist upheaval in California is the result of a chapter in state government that will be compared to the robber baron era. It is a tale of how unions and trial lawyers can ruin a state's economy with assistance from a very willing governor.
Essentially a paid agent of the public-sector unions, Davis has increased the numbers of state employees and their wages and benefits. The $78 billion budget is up about $20 billion during the past four years. As indispensable Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub has reported, Davis and the legislature approved -- after 45 seconds of debate -- a pension giveaway to public employees a few years ago that is now costing the state another $500 million a year.
Davis has forced tens of thousands of university employees to pay union dues as part of a push to extend the reach of unionism in all areas. He has done the teachers unions' bidding on nearly everything, working to choke off experimentation with charter schools. He famously asked the union for a $1 million political contribution during a discussion of policy last year.
The prison-guards union so tightly controls Davis, it might as well have him in lockup. Some prison guards make as much as $100,000 a year. Last year, even with the state in fiscal meltdown, Davis gave them a 34 percent five-year pay raise, with plenty of other goodies attached -- and got a quick $251,000 union contribution in return.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the California firefighters union has devoted major muscle to defeating the recall, which would potentially deprive them of a governor in their back pocket. A Davis-controlled commission, stacked in the union's favor, recently approved a change in the building code that will cost businesses hundreds of millions, but make more jobs for firefighters, plumbers and pipe-fitters.
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