The big story tonight from early results is what voters have to say about public employee pensions: Fix the mess.
That’s why Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker beat back a recall challenge, forged after he ended union bargaining rights for most public employees in the state, as part of his effort to curb state spending. Walker’s move made him the favorite of conservatives and tea party reformers around the country, and indeed Republican money poured into the recall election to combat union spending and money from the Democratic party. More than $66 million was spent on the recall election.
Walker prevailed easily, despite the ferocity of the debate in Wisconsin, keeping his office with 55 percent of the vote over Democrat Tom Barrett, the same candidate Walker defeated in the 2010 governor’s race. The upshot is that Walker becomes something of a star in Republican circles and Democrats, already worried about the economy’s drag on President Obama’s reelection chances, have something more to worry about.
And, at least early on, it’s why San Jose voters are voting for Measure B, which cuts and changes benefits for public workers in the city. Early returns, with about 15 percent of the vote tallied, showed Mayor Chuck Reed’s pension reform proposal leading 71-29 percent. A similar measure in San Diego was showing similar results.
San Jose’s measure, bitterly opposed by government employee unions, will bring the following changes:
- Current employees can keep pension credits already earned but will pay up to 16 percent more for the present pension plan — or choose a more modest and affordable plan for their remaining years on the job.
- Retirement benefits will be limited for future hires by requiring them to pay half the cost of a pension.
- Current retirees’ 3 percent yearly pension raises can be limited up to five years if the city declares a fiscal crisis.
- Voters would have to approve future pension increases.
- Only those workers whose injuries prevent them from working could claim disability retirement.
The measure was proposed a year ago after Reed forecast the city faced a massive budget shortfall, even after job cuts and pay cuts for city employees. San Jose’s yearly pension costs more than tripled over the past decade, from $73 million to $245 million.
By the way, here’s what we had to say earlier this year about the lack of progress in California on pension reform. And here’s our award winning series on how local governments are dealing with public employee benefits, “Pension Precipice.”
In other election musings, here is the Sentinel Editorial for June 6, 2012, on the plight of third parties in American politics:
Why don’t independent parties win elections in California, much less the rest of the country?
It wasn’t that long ago third-party candidates in presidential elections made a difference, even if the electoral system is stacked against them.
In 2000, Ralph Nader. running on the Green party ticket, may well have cost then Vice President Al Gore the presidency, by siphoning off enough liberal votes to send the election into the now famous hanging chad, Supreme Court aftermath that elected George W. Bush. Nader, however, got far fewer votes than H. Ross Perot received in 1992, when Perot’s chart-driven takes on issues of government spending and waste resulted in the independent candidate getting about 20 percent of the popular vote. Whether that led to incumbent President George H.W. Bush losing the election to Bill Clinton is still debated, but it appeared for a while Perot’s “United We Stand” political movement had the financing and support to begin to chip away at the dominance of the Democratic and Republican machines.
Not so. Within a few years, the Perot organization morphed into the Reform Party, which … well, you get the point.
Now, in 2012, despite widespread dissatisfaction with the direction the country is headed and with the two major party candidates for the presidency, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, no third-party or independent candidate has yet surfaced.
Third parties have a long history in this country, without ever gaining enough influence and stature to truly change government. Today, with the astronomic cost of running for office, third parties have even less chance of competing. The major parties are able to raise huge sums and get more media attention from their high profile primaries and then run showy national conventions paid for by taxpayers. Third-party candidates are usually shut out of national debates — although Perot had enough support in ‘92 to gain entrance.
The most recent example of the fate of American third parties came when the well-financed Americans Elect was unable to persuade a candidate to take up the group’s invitation to run for president.
Americans Elect actually had a plan to reform politics by first gaining access to state ballots then holding an online convention to nominate a candidate. Didn’t work. In the end, no candidate was able to clear the relatively low 10,000-vote threshold to “win” the Americans Elect nomination.
Political analysts noted that to break the iron grip of the two major parties, a third party needs to be associated with either a compelling cause or a candidate who can stir the masses. Just using technology and gaining access isn’t enough.
California voters sent a crushing message to minor parties in 2010 when they approved the open primary for Tuesday’s election. Because the new system sends the top two finishers in state races, regardless of party affiliation, onto the November ballot, this effectively ends the chances of the Green, Libertarian, American Independent and Peace and Freedom parties in those elections. With no statewide presence on the general election ballot, these parties will essentially be invisible to voters. And that means they’ll be even more invisible to the real difference makers in American politics: Donors.
Voters who approved the open primary in 2010 probably weren’t intending a message they support the ever more dysfunctional stranglehold the two major parties have on government. But that’s what’s happened.
Third parties nationally and minor parties in California have a purpose: To bring independent ideas and candidates to public attention.
Their presence has been severely diminished, and it’s a loss.