Union delegation unexpected sight at GOP convention

March 4, 2013

By Mark Stefanos

Leaders of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of San Diego County, a labor organization representing 2,200 law-enforcement officers, toured the California Republican Convention in Sacramento last weekend, attending sessions and meeting with elected officials.

They were an uncommon sight, given California labor leaders’ historic alliance with Democratic candidates and organizations. It is far too soon to see this as significant. But for a Republican Party looking to widen its umbrella after significant losses in the 2012 election cycle, the union’s overture was a reminder that California’s police and fire unions haven’t been as rigidly predictable or ideological as other public-employee unions.

Matt Clay, president of DSASD, said his delegation was received warmly. “We have felt like we’ve been included in the party,” he said. “I feel that we are on the same sheet as the Republicans on an overwhelming amount of issues.

Union reps have ‘a tall order ahead of them’

FleischmanBut not all were thrilled about DSASD’s presence. Jon Fleischman, veteran GOP official and publisher of the conservative news site Flashreport.org, was skeptical of the labor group’s ability to sync with Republicans’ policy agenda.

“We have 99 percent of our issues in common with law enforcement, but these guys will have a tall order ahead of them if they think they will be able to move our party on the issue of pension reform,” Fleischman said.

Historically, public-safety unions have often walked a fine line between Republican and Democratic affiliation. Firefighters and law enforcement officers tend to be law-and-order conservatives. However, they belong to the public employee unions with the most generous pensions, and those pension systems are more likely to be underfunded at the local and state levels.

On the issue of pension reform, Clay said the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of San Diego County does not face the same challenges seen in other counties.

“In San Diego, the county is in very good shape fiscally,” he said. “Our public employee retirement fund is very well funded — it’s AAA rated and it should be a model for counties across America. By 2018, it will be paid 100 percent by employee contributions.” Clay added that the fund is currently 80 percent funded and said more than 90 percent of the members of his board of directors are registered Republicans.

Public-safety union support for GOP should be ‘natural’

In San Diego, public safety unions maintain strong relationships with some individual Republican lawmakers, though not the highest-profile GOPers like defeated San Diego mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio. The Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of San Diego County contributed approximately $350,000 to Republican candidates in the last two election cycles, making it among the largest single donors. It gave no money to Democratic candidates.

DSASD leadership had an official convention itinerary which included meals with state Sen. Joel Anderson, a Republican whose district is mostly in east and northeast San Diego County, and Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, as well as coffee with Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista. The union officials also were given a tour of the Capitol by Assemblyman Brian Jones, R-Santee.

“Five of my 10 delegates are law enforcement from San Diego. The bottom line is Republicans need to find a way to reach out to groups that, on the natural, should be supporting us,” Jones said. “Let’s face it, the Republican Party in California right now is broken. I saw this as an opportunity to begin a dialogue between the party and law enforcement on areas where we can unite and areas where we can work together.”

‘Not all labor groups are created equal’

Clay echoed this message. “We hope our Republican friends can realize that not all labor groups are created equal and some labor groups are a model for working cooperatively with their employer to help make the pension system sustainable for the future. We want to end this pension issue once and for all.”

On whether labor groups like DSASD would be able to maintain permanent alliances with Republicans, Fleischman remained hesitant. “The idea that someone should retire at the age of 50 and have a public retirement until the day they die is so unsustainable that it’s tragic,” he said. “I’m fine with them being here, we agree on so many issues concerning law enforcement. I suspect the only area for which we’ll find disagreement is on appropriate compensation for their jobs.”

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