Union Chief, to the California He Helped Drive Into the Ditch: "I think democracy is an ugly thing"

My former colleagues at the L.A. Times editorial board, perhaps in an act of unconscious penance for writing one of the worst single editorials (about Tuesday's special election in California, natch) that I have ever read in my life, do the nation a solid by publishing the transcript of their conversation with Service Employees Union International chief Andy Stern, one of the most powerful Americans you might not have heard of. Read (and weep at) the whole thing, but this section in particular was telling, given the link between public sector unionism and California's ongoing breakdown:

Robert Greene, L.A. Times:  As an editorial page, we found it relatively easy and straightforward to support the organizing effort for the security officers and locally for the contract that they won. Speaking for myself, I'm finding it more and more difficult to get excited about the union in the context of representing government workers in both Los Angeles city and county, especially in difficult budget times when the government has to play off a union contract against steep cuts in services. I'm getting increasingly concerned about the unions' influence -- I mean, congratulations for it, but I'm getting increasingly concerned about the unions' influence and ability to support candidates and to get the backing of candidates. I realize that from your perspective that's a great success, but what's your response to --I'm not alone in this -- what's your response to people who are expressing that concern?

Stern: Democracy is an ugly picture sometimes, people do have rights, the business community does similar things from the outside. We used to always complain about how many of our members can give a $5,000, $25,000, $30,000 check to a candidate. How many people have the same ability to get their contract, subcontract? I think government has always been a place where a variety of interests -- if you go to Washington there's a whole K Street group of people that spend their life trying to shape policy. The fact that we're organized from inside as opposed to organized from outside you may think has more advantages, but any organized voting bloc of any kind, or any organized financial bloc, honestly impacts democracy. That's just the system we've set up, and no one seems to mind that the Chamber of Commerce can fly 100 people in and threaten to not elect people if they don't do things because they either don't have a union contract or they're not government employees. I don't know how you stop people from participating. ...

So you really have to get to the question, are we going to ban public employees from participating in the political process, because it's not the fact they have a contract, it's the fact they have an organized amount of power to impact things. I don't think we're ready to ban that in this country. ...

Greene: There was a time 100 years ago where Californians were so concerned about the influence of a particular interest -- in that case it was the railroad -- that they completely changed the state Constitution and the way elections are run in order to blunt that influence. It seems to me that there hasn't been any interest until SEIU that has even approached that kind of influence, and there are folks talking about changing the Constitution now to plug that interest in a similar manner.

Stern: There have been attempts for a long period of time to do a number of things about electoral reform. ... There are obviously people like me who believe there should be ... only public financing of campaigns. Anything else really distorts the system. There are people like me who believe the initiative process has been perverted by special interests who can afford to buy signatures to put things on the ballot. So I think we have a political process that has lots of different issues. I would say in a time of crisis people will focus on why did the unions do certain things. ... I think there's another question of how did the government get bought and paid for by George Bush so that our regulatory apparatus didn't function and we ended up sort of crashing the entire American economy. ...

I think democracy is an ugly thing at times; it just happens to be the best thing we've found, and I think there will always be a debate about what's the right financial support involvement that people are allowed to have.

Hat tip to Bret Jacobson. 

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  • MNG||

    Democracy is an ugly thing? Well, no H&R poster has ever made comments to that effect, so I await the stone pelting of Stern from many, assumingly taking a break from shining their glass houses...

  • MJ||

    "There have been attempts for a long period of time to do a number of things about electoral reform. ... There are obviously people like me who believe there should be ... only public financing of campaigns."

    Besides the practical problem of a bankrupt state government being called on to fund yet another thing, government only financing of campaigns is incompatable with the principle of free speech and equal protection of the laws. It would necessitate making illegal any group buying any kind of platform to support a particular candidate from, with exceptions for "official" news organs.

  • Untermensch||

    MNG, that might mean something if libertarians had helped drive California into the ground...

  • MNG||

    His comments read fairly seem to say this: well, in a democracy to the extent that organized interests like us can affect the outcome then so can organized interests, such as the Chamber of Commerce, on the other side do the same thing.

    Don't get me wrong, this is actually a good reason to like libertarianism: if you are one of the many people that doesn't seem to have such an organized interest you get to pay for goodies for those who do, extracted from you by government in the name of "the public interest."

    "It seems to me that there hasn't been any interest until SEIU that has even approached that kind of influence"

    This is nutty McNuts, are you gonna tell me that combined union giving in CA elections outstrips combined business giving? I'm too lazy to look that up, but not likely I'm willing to stake...

  • MNG||

    "that might mean something if libertarians had helped drive California into the ground..."

    Nahh, just California's energy sector a few years back ;)

  • robc||

    Nahh, just California's energy sector a few years back ;)

    BZZZZT.

    If we had been in charge, there would have been energy deregulation instead of energy refuckingregulation. Who REQUIRES power companies to buy on the spot market and bans future contracts? I mean, other than idiot California? Not libertarians.

    (and yes, I saw the wink)

  • ||

    LOL< typical political Mumbo Jumbo!

    RT
    www.whos-watching.se.tc

  • KipEsquire||

    News flash: Democracy IS an ugly thing. Heard of Prop 8?

    Shoot the messenger, not the message.

  • ed||

    Democracy is indeed ugly. That's why the Framers created a republic.
    Too bad their intellectual descendants are bent on destroying it.

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    Anonymity bots are an ugly thing.

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  • Ryan||

    Interestingly, democracy IS an ugly thing. It allows for the majority opinion to terrorize or oppress contrary opinion.

    As ed says, thisi country was created as a republic, not a democracy, because the framers knew that the tyranny of the majority is a very bad thing.

    Sadly the concepts have been blurred and even our own "leaders" continue to call us a democracy over and over and then claim that other nations deserve democracy too. Maybe that's why other countries are so pissed at us!

    But that aside, a perfect example of why democracy and the tyranny of the majority is causing harm, look at smoking bans. People continue to claim (quite gluttonously at that) that smoking bans are a victory of democracy because the majority got their way and "crushed out those evil smokers." Sadly, despite the fact it sounds so wrong, they gild it under the name of democracy and call it right.

  • ||

    I find it amusing that a union capo is talking about how the government got bought and paid for by Bush. Still, who would know more about buying yourself a government?

  • JB||

    This is the slave-owner that purchased Obama for $60 million:

    "We spent a fortune to elect Barack Obama - $60.7 million to be exact - and we're proud of it." - Andy Stern

    http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2009/may/10/stern-unplugged-seiu-chief-labor-movement-and-card/

  • MattXIV||

    MNG,

    You make the common mistake of assuming that unions serve as a counter to business somehow. They don't. The only place they actually clash is in labor law that applies to the private sector (and in this particular area, the unions definetly have more pull than business in CA and at the federal level, although not in some states). In other cases, they either have no interaction, such as in matters involving unionized goverment employees, or can actually be cummulative with business influence (see auto bailout).

  • ||

    You make the common mistake of assuming that unions serve as a counter to business somehow.

    Not a counter...Just that they are another competing interest. (Like the Chamber of Commerce)

    In some instances their interests will align, and in others they will go head to head.

    Now I didn't read the whole interview, but I fail to see how this seems to put Stern and the SEIU in any sort of negative light (as Mr Welch implies)

    Basically Stern is right. Democracy is an ugly thing, and there are many organized interest groups out there trying to influence policy/elections. Why should the unions influence be more concerning than any other groups/lobbies?

  • Matt Welch||

    I fail to see how this seems to put Stern and the SEIU in any sort of negative light (as Mr Welch implies)

    It's that, when asked about the fact that many smart (and labor-sympathetic!) Californians think labor is helping ruin the state, the dude basically shrugs and says "that's democracy." He's not even trying to defend himself anymore. This is indicative of something, and it ain't something pleasant.

  • ||

    This is nutty McNuts, are you gonna tell me that combined union giving in CA elections outstrips combined business giving? I'm too lazy to look that up, but not likely I'm willing to stake...



    Makes sense to me. California politicians is overwhelmingly Democrat, and unions give overwhelmingly to Democrats. Sure Google doles out cash to Democrats by the bucket, but I'm still fairly certain the unions have more clout than corporations in elections.

    But no, if you're not going to look up the actual numbers, neither will I.

  • B||

    A union boss thinks democracy is an ugly thing? Well that would explain why unions want to get rid of the secret ballot nationally.

  • ||

    Scratch a liberal, find an autocrat.

    -jcr

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