The other day I heard Tim Sandefur of Pacific Legal Foundation on the radio talking about a variety of issues, but in particular he explained the story of the Praetorian Guard.
The Praetorian Guard started when Julius Caesar, the first Roman emperor, selected a group of loyal and elite soldiers to act as his bodyguards. Caesar picked them carefully, but the order of the Praetorian Guard lived on for future emperors. As one member of the group passed away or retired, another would be brought on in his place. As time passed, though, the Guard realized that emperors only lasted so long. They became cynical, and became the only true link of continuity between the current regime and the next. With their cynicism, their willingness to act grew as well until eventually they were the gatekeepers to any potential emperor. For the right price, the Guard would assassinate the emperor and install you in his place, they began to demand wealth and titles from potential emperors until they were essentially kings of their own little districts of the Roman Empire.
The Founding Fathers were familiar with the story, and they strived to make sure that no agency or group had the unfettered power to be in a position like the Guard had. While Mr. Sandefur believed that the federal bureaucracy in itself had become the new Guard, I believe it is a far more apt analogy to the balance of power in California.
Labor unions served an important role in modernizing the economy 30 to 60 years ago, but union membership has now been on the decline for decades in every industry except one: the government. Yes, unions have found a boon of membership in workers that make 10 to 30 percent more than the rest of the economy to begin with and California has the largest state bureaucracy by raw numbers in the United States. Plus laws designed to hold workers captive in the union whether they want to be members or not, deducting dues straight out of their paychecks.
Not only do public employees make markedly more than private sector workers, but their union bosses have become the Praetorian Guard that the founders warned us against. Early on, the union bosses of public employee unions figured out that the politicians were not the enemy. Politicians are just tools that can be bought and used. Why fight an anti-union politician when you can just fund his opponent to the tune of $250 million, what public unions spend in California on political efforts every election cycle?
For example, look at the newly opened mayoral seat in Sacramento. When Mayor Kevin Johnson announced he would not run for a third term, one councilwoman who had a respectable record and had come up through the proper channels announced her candidacy. Despite her ample qualifications, all the buzz about the election has been manufactured by an outpouring of union money to "draft" former California State Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.
Yes, Steinberg is a former councilman, but he's also a union darling for all of his years of loyal service to them in the Assembly and Senate. Now, the state's public unions are paying him back by paying people to go to rallies and wave "Run, Darrell, Run!" signs and create buzz. You may have noticed that none of the local TV stations interview random people from the crowd about why they're there. That's because these cash "employees" of the unions are coached to not talk to media and refer any questions to either the other politicians involved or to Democratic operatives spaced throughout the building.
I mean really, how many die-hard Darrell Steinberg fans do you know? Falling over themselves to get their hands on a "Draft Steinberg" sign? Please. This is political theater for those who don't know better. The strongest grassroots are the ones found on rolls of astro turf, I guess.
The public union bosses decide who gets elected in California, with the exception of the foothills, Jefferson, and the Inland Empire. Do what they want, and you will receive money and hired campaign workers to get reelected, fight them and you will be facing a strong challenger in your primary with a surprising amount of monetary backing that mysteriously just appeared in their campaign accounts.
As time goes on, the hubris of the public unions just grows and grows. Just two weeks ago, union-backed Democrats in both state houses passed, and I am not kidding, The CRONEY Act. That is not a conservative hit piece nickname for the bill. That is literally the acronym ascribed for it in the first section of legislation.
Most cities conduct collective bargaining in closed meetings and then must ratify the agreement at a public meeting. But because union reps are smart and cunning, they put off the negotiations or make unreasonable demands so that cities go up against the deadline and only have one possible meeting in which they can ratify the agreement and no time to renegotiate if the public has a beef with it. In seeing how messed up and immoral that is, some cities have adopted ordinances allowing the public to attend certain negotiation meetings so that they could chime in and exercise their first amendment right to petition the government before the union reps backed the city into a corner.
The CRONEY Act, which was basically written by the public unions, essentially punishes local agencies (cities, counties, and special districts) that changed their ordinances to allow their residents to have a say before the deadline.
Is it any surprise that Jerry Brown signed it?
It's easy to get cynical, but really we all need to get angry. We cannot let the union bosses keep taking money out of our pockets and then giving us the finger after they do it. It's time we changed the conversation and stopped letting the union bosses of this state steal however much they want from us, especially when the workers they're supposed to represent already make more money and will live a far more comfortable life than most taxpayers can dream of.
Devon Minnema is a 20-year-old Woodland College student and author of his upcoming book "One in a Millenial: 10 Solutions for the Nation They Left Us."