Community Alliance Editor Mike Rhodes and his family enjoyed a trip to Europe in the weeks leading up to the publication of this month’s issue. In his stead, Associate Editor Michael Evans served as the guest editor for this issue. This month’s “From the Editor” commentary is therefore from Evans.
Fresno has become Ground Zero for the war on labor in California. Despite the success that anti-labor forces have had recently in the Midwest, in California we turned back Prop 32 last year. Prop 32 was a blatant attempt to make it difficult for unions to collect and spend funds in support of political candidates, thereby ensuring that working people would not be represented in legislative bodies. With that defeat, the anti-labor folks in California had to switch to a different tactic. And in Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearingen, they found a willing ally.
No friend of labor, Swearingen has long sought to solve the city’s budget woes on the backs of the city’s workers. High-level administrators still get their six-figure incomes, but the rank-and-file have to keep giving back.
So the effort to privatize residential solid waste service in the City of Fresno takes a lot more significance than simply preventing the privatization of one public-sector service department. If the mayor is successful in passing Measure G, a referendum on the privatization measure, she will undoubtedly move to privatize other city departments. I believe she would treasure nothing more than to leave office with a union-free city government and a minimum-wage workforce. Moreover, passage would embolden other municipalities in the state to proceed with privatization efforts.
But if we can draw a line in Fresno and stop this ill-conceived privatization effort now, the impact will be enormous. Anti-labor forces throughout the state are looking at Fresno. If Measure G passes, it will be open season on public-sector employees throughout the state. If, however, we stop Measure G, those opposed to organized labor and a living wage will have a different take-away: “Even Fresno refused to accept the privatization of an essential city service. If they can stop us in Fresno, we better think twice about trying this elsewhere.”
And we do have the capability to stop Measure G. The enthusiastic outpouring of support for the petition drive that put Measure G on the ballot was unprecedented in our city. The mayor was shocked; she didn’t have a clue that we could gather so many signatures in such a short time frame—especially after she engineered the window for collection of the signatures such that it would fall during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
But the community came together—labor, Democrats, progressive organizations, community groups, even a taxpayers’ group—to stop this assault on a city department that not only does an excellent job and is well-respected by the public (how many private-sector businesses can make that boast?) but is also a nationally award-winning public-sector entity.
We must come together one more time to deliver voters to the ballot box for the June 4 election. Special elections are notorious for horrible turnout; a recent special election in Los Angeles County had turnout of less than 10%. But this issue is far too important for any voter to stay at home. It is up to us to educate voters to vote No on Measure G and to encourage them to turn in their ballot via mail or vote on June 4. The stakes are too high to sit out the special election on Measure G.
Compounding the difficulty of getting sufficient turnout for the Measure G referendum is another special election that will take place to replace recently resigned Michael Rubio for State Senate District 16. That election occurs on May 21, and a good portion of the city of Fresno will be receiving ballots for both elections. These ballots must be returned separately.
State Senate District 16 includes much of southern Fresno County and extends south to Kern County, taking in all of Kings County and a small portion of Tulare County.
There are five candidates in the race, but the election is likely between two: Leticia Perez (Democrat), currently a member of the Kern County Board of Supervisors, and Andy Vidak (Republican), a farmer. Because of the short period of this campaign, the candidates have focused on shoring up their respective party bases rather than an in-depth discussion of issues. In fact, the candidates do not even have an issues section on their Web sites.
Perez has spent much of her time meeting people throughout the district and assessing the needs of the entire district. She is on record supporting high-speed rail and an increase in the minimum wage.
Vidak opposed Rep. Jim Costa (D–Fresno) in 2010 and ran a surprisingly strong race. If elected, he says that he “will oppose new taxes and fight for common sense reforms that reduce the size of government and bring back jobs to our region.” That prescription has failed us for the past 30 years and will not create jobs in the Central Valley.
Of the other candidates, Paulina Miranda of Fresno ran unsuccessfully for a State Center Community College District board seat in 2012. Francisco Ramirez of Riverdale is a registered Democrat but is running on a Republican agenda; he states that he “will repeal new gun control measures which would weaken the Constitutional rights of law-abiding Californians,” and his Web site even includes the text of the Second Amendment. Peace and Freedom candidate Muhammad Arif of Bakersfield is an immigrant rights activist who twice ran for governor of California (2003 and 2010).
We weren’t planning for any elections in 2013, and now we have two within weeks of each other. If you live in the City of Fresno or in State Senate District 16, I encourage you to treat these elections with the same urgency you would a presidential race. Your day-to-day lives could be substantially affected by the outcomes.