Unions use malleable Sidhu to flex power

MAY 28, 2010

By Steven Greenhut:

Orange County Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh issued in January what OCers are calling the “Baugh manifesto”: a warning to local candidates who are seeking the party’s influential support that they must first reject union funding and also support a now-dead Paycheck Protection initiative that would have limited the ability of unions to tap members’ dues for political campaigns.

Baugh’s speech is “perhaps the riskiest and most courageous I’ve heard by a local politician – and I say that without passing judgment about whether he’s in the right,” reported Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit. “No matter where you stand on the influence of public employee unions in elections, it’s undeniable the Baugh Manifesto has the potential to reverberate through O.C. politics for a long time.”

Sure enough, the reverberations are now being felt in Orange County and could well be felt statewide. Baugh has said that he has thrown down the gauntlet, but even in conservative Orange County, the unions have so much power that they have decided to throw the gauntlet back in Baugh’s face. The big showdown is ongoing in the run-up to the June 8 election that will fill the supervisorial seat vacated by Chris Norby, now an Assemblyman who represents a large portion of north Orange County.

Fullerton Councilman Shawn Nelson is favored by Baugh, the OC Republican Party and the state party. I know him and have written extensively about his guts in standing up to a stealth union proposal to massively and retroactively hike pensions for government employees in his city. He is the candidate who would most convincingly replace the principled, cantankerous and small-government Norby on the board.

Nelson embraced Baugh’s manifesto and did not solicit union support. But the unions have nearly limitless access to their members’ cash, so they have decided to back Harry Sidhu, an Anaheim council member who desperately wants to win higher office. He moved into the district — from his Anaheim Hills mansion to a modest apartment — so he can run for this seat. Sidhu is a nice enough sort, and he has the support of those local Republicans who put access and deal-making ahead of principle.

Sidhu has no obvious principles that I can detect. He has agreed to drop OC’s lawsuit against the 2001 retroactive pension hike for deputy sheriffs, which has earned him the unending loyalty of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs. He supports the high-speed rail boondoggle. He would not support the Prop. 90 eminent-domain reform. He talks like a conservative at times, but that’s typical in OC — talk like a conservative, then vote like a liberal on the really important stuff.

Chip Hanlon of Red County had it right: “Even his supporters say Harry Sidhu would be ‘pretty good, voting-wise, if elected. What that means is: he’ll generally vote like a conservative but don’t be surprised if he blows it on the big issues. With supporters like the public employee unions and these particular consultants, I am not comfortable with the folks who will have his ear when he needs to cast those big votes.”

Hanlon does a great job detailing the role of powerful OC GOP political consultants who want nothing more than access to the Board of Supervisors. They talk about conservative principles, but they seem to care most about enhancing their bottom line — and that comes through access to malleable candidates who aren’t always so solid on limited-government principles. Some of these good Republicans, by the way, had previously backed the very liberal Democrat Tom Daly for the seat.

I also like how OCWeekly’s Scott Moxley explained Sidhu’s supposed conservatism: “He has also said he backs serious government-employee pension reform, though apparently not enough to offend the unions.” [emphasis added]

Having covered OC politics for more than a decade, I can guarantee that virtually every Republican sings the “I’m a conservative” song and very few of them actually govern like conservatives. There’s a reason previous Republican boards voted to retroactively spike pensions twice in the past decade. There’s a reason OC has the same union and pension problems as liberal counties.

Sidhu is loved by the unions and loved by the deal cutters.  And Hence the pro-Sidhu union onslaught continues. Day after day, voters get the pro-Sidhu and anti-Nelson hit pieces. The GOP has launched some pro-Nelson IEs, but the unions have more money, even in OC.

Some of the hits and statements are particularly despicable. Orange County Employee Association President Nick Berardino, the union activist whose forces have previously had much control over the board, told the Weekly, “We [OCEA] represent county employees who try to get sex offenders off the streets. Shawn Nelson wants to put them back out on the street. Should he be in charge [as a supervisor] over the budget that is related to catching sexual predators? No.”

Talk about a vicious and absurd attack. Nelson’s law firm does some criminal defense work. Some of Sidhu’s Republican supporters have been making that case also. Sidhu’s consultant, Tim Clark, throws in the term “defense lawyer” when referring to Nelson at opportune moments. So is Clark arguing that there is something wrong with being a defense attorney?

If I were unjustly accused by the government of a crime, I would certainly want a defense attorney, and a darn good one, too. Apparently, big-government toadies such as Berardino and Clark believe that the government (and its employees) never get it wrong.

None of this has anything to do with the issue at hand. The unions know the threat when they see it. By the way, Sidhu did tell Baugh that he would not take union money, but he has sat back and said nothing as the unions pound out one independent mailer after another on his behalf.

The Baugh manifesto needs to get tougher — to deal with candidates such as Sidhu who claim to disavow union support, even as they enjoy as much of it as they can get.

If Sidhu wins in Orange County, then the unions will have won an enormous victory in arguably the most union-unfriendly area in the state. They will have made their point loud and clear: If you stand up to us, we will defeat you and will elect our own hand-picked candidate. Forget about pension reform and other union reform issues if they hold sway.

Those interested in union issues across the state need to pay close attention to the Sidhu vs. Nelson race in the OC and to the results on June 8.

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