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Jon Fleischman

Guest Column: Dave Kieffer, Executive Director, SEIU California State Council

[Publisher’s Note: When I was approached by a mutual friend on behalf of Dave Kieffer, the new boss over at the state’s largest public employee union, SEIU, about whether I would be willing to feature a column from Kieffer here on the FlashReport, I have to admit I was taken a bit off guard.  It is probably impossible to actually count up the number of times that contributors to this website, including yours truly, have derided the influence of public employee unions — often citing the SEIU specifically in critical commentaries.

It didn’t take me long, however, to determine that if the SEIU wants to take a direct message to the conservative statewide community, it would be both provocative and entertaining to open that forum to them.  Just to double check my gut instinct, I reached out to some advisers who all agreed — run the piece.  So without any further introduction, other than to say that the content of this column should really cause some angst for those who believe, as I do,  that a broadening of the political influence of public employee unions is a bad idea — Flash]

New Opportunities For A New Coalition
Dave Kieffer, Executive Director, SEIU California State Council

Dave Kieffer, Executive Director, SEIU California State Council

On the face of it, the 700,000 Service Employees International Union’s California members would seemingly have little impact in solid red Republican districts. After all, the purple T-shirt wearing nurses, security officers, child care workers, and janitors don’t fit the Republican demographic, right?

Wrong. Here’s the dirty little secret: More than 40 percent of SEIU’s California members are registered either as Republicans or decline-to-state voters that lean Republican.  All told, we have 87,000 Republicans in our ranks and 93,000 DTS voters.  That amounts to tens of thousands of voters in key swing districts as well as in GOP strongholds.

Yet despite those impressive numbers, SEIU has rarely dabbled in districts where Republicans were likely winners.  Frankly, before the advent of the Top Two primary and the drawing of competitive districts by the Citizens Redistricting Commission, there was little incentive to do so – even though a significant chunk of our members were voting Republican. More conservative forces dominated what were GOP primaries.

But the Top Two election and what is expected to be the creation of more competitive districts, particularly in the Inland Empire and Central Valley, brings new opportunity.  And we’re prepared, along with a not-so-strange coalition of bedfellows, including healthcare providers, public safety unions, teachers and the mainstream business community, to make a significant difference in the 2012 elections. Starting now.

Why would our organization play in the GOP sandbox?  Do the math.  In many districts two Republican incumbents are going to be pitted against each other.  In many cases, it will be a match-up between a Republican who is likely to vote against another $12 billion in cuts, and one that has taken the Grover Norquist pledge.  In the past, the Norquist Republican would have had the advantage in the primary, and then thumped the token Democrat on the ballot in November.

No longer. With the Top Two primary, even in the most Republican of districts, when matched against another Republican supported by a coalition of public safety, business, and our organization in an election where Democrats and DTS voters will make up 40 percent of the electorate or more, the ultra-right candidate will be hard-pressed to have a cakewalk to victory.

Exhibit A: The Stanislaus County Assembly district that is likely to pit freshmen Assemblymembers Bill Berryhill and Kristen Olsen against each other. Berryhill has said he’s against an all cuts budget; Olsen has chosen not to be part of an effort to avoid it.  With the Democrat in the race expected to be a non-factor, those two will face off in a November contest where a solid third of the voters will be Democrats and 20-30 percent will be DTS voters. Add the moderate GOP base that Berryhill will have from the first round of the election, and it’s easy to see a path to victory.

That same calculus can be applied to several other Senate and Assembly districts around the state, including the State Senate seats held by Republicans Tom Berryhill, Bill Emmerson, and Anthony Canella and the Assembly seats of Cameron Smyth and Katcho Achadjian.  All will benefit from the new alliance we’re participating in to elect legislators who do not want to see significant cuts in public safety, education and services to the elderly.

This week, we launched an all-out media effort in those districts, as well as targeting obstructionist legislators including Sen. Tony Strickland and Assemblymember Tim Donnelly.  It includes direct mail (positive and negative), radio, print ads, and social media. (For a sample, click here).

We’ll have a ground game too. Last week, for example, we unleashed hundreds of walkers in upscale Huntington Beach, knocking on the doors of homes valued in the seven figures.  I’ll have to admit that our walkers were skeptical of taking our budget message to high income households. But they found a receptive audience there after residents learned that their crown jewel, Huntington Beach State Park, could  be on the next round of state parks slated to be shuttered because of state budget cutbacks

Lastly, we’ll intensify our registration drives, particularly in counties where Latino voter strength is surging. That includes areas in the Central Valley, Inland Empire, and exurban Los Angeles. Many of these districts still will tilt Republican, but a voting bloc that would not have had much of an effect in a November election in 2010 will put many districts into play in 2012 for moderate candidates.

All these efforts will be designed to allow Republican legislators who want to do the right thing know there will be political backing to do so. No longer should they fear being tarred and feathered in a Republican primary or have their head on a stick.  We’ll have their back if they oppose an all-cuts budget.

And for those who suggest that this an effort by union bosses, it ain’t so.  This is about mobilizing our members who are already Republicans and Republican-leaning DTS voters to support candidates that align with their political philosophy, but also care about delivering basic government services that serve families, such as In-home Support Services, a money-saving program backed strongly by then-Governor Ronald Reagan and now opposed by the ultra-right.

It’s a new day in California’s electoral politics. And our Republican and Republican-leaning members, aligned by the Chamber of Commerce and public safety, intend to make a difference so that those legislators who stand up for California won’t have to fear political ramifications from those would like to see government services crater.

4 Responses to “Guest Column: Dave Kieffer, Executive Director, SEIU California State Council”

  1. Robert Bosich Says:


    Only fools and traitors would bargain away our itsy-bitsy. influence over this pathetic budget enriching unions even more so than in prior years…

    It is time for unions and Governor Brown to back off…not Republicans!

  2. Dave Mulligan Says:

    OK, I’m back… just got out of the shower and splashed some disinfectant in my eyes.

    This is PRECISELY why we need Wisconsin in California, to cut the pipeline from our paychecks to the union bank accounts and get this dirty union influence out of state governance.

    Alas, I am not optimistic. Unfortunately California has passed the tipping point. The unions have so much power over all three branches of the state government that it will probably never be able to recover. Perez recently said, “It’s absolutely clear the only permanent solution for California’s problems is to elect a two-thirds majority of Democrats in each house of the Legislature.” This will remove the only remaining hint of a check on the unions’ power over the state government.

    Since they have packed the new redistricting commission with union democrat operatives, and with the idiotic new primary election scheme, in most districts you’re going to have two democrats facing off in the general elections, Perez has all the pieces in place for his Final Solution.

    It’s sad. Inherently corrupt one-party rule has run the state into bankruptcy, and is causing the tax base to flee. This is precisely what destroyed Detroit. The union democrat goal is to get the California death spiral to move faster. They will probably be successful.

  3. Robert Bosich Says:

    Optimism or Pessimisim or Don’t Worry Be Happy!

    Millions of Californians have fallen off various tax rolls; Magically 6.6 billion more dollars will go into California coffers? SKEPTICAL? You better sleep with one eye open…..

    Who believes who?

    This budget trist only reaps 3 dollar bills, script, I.O.U.’s, spin, pandering, rope-a-dopes and the fog of politics.

  4. Phillip Coonley Says:

    For too long the crazies have been running the psych ward. It’s about time extremists that would cut taxes until crime is rampant and class sizes reach 50 are peeled off by the voters. I’d rather live in a state that educates its young than one which spends badly needed billions on prisons while cutting taxes from those who can best contribute to the privelage of living in the kind of state we can all be proud of.