Last week in California, Chuck Reed and Carl DeMaio announced that they would no longer move forward with a measure to gut retirement security for hundreds of thousands of hard-working California firefighters, nurses, and social workers. Their stated reason for postponing the measure until 2018 is laughable.
The fact is, on all fronts, they lack support to move a measure attacking public employee pensions.
But, they tried hard.
Reed and DeMaio drafted three different versions of anti-pension ballot measures in hopes of finding one that would resonate with voters. No matter how much they tinkered with language, however, the public was not buying what they were selling. Public polling from Capital and Main in December 2015 showed that two of the measures would garner 40 and 42 percent of the vote. Reed and DeMaio are at least smart enough to bow out of a fight they cannot win.
Right-wing, anti-pension ideologues who have bankrolled similar efforts in other states were also unwilling to fund the efforts this time around. John Arnold, the Houston-based, former-Enron billionaire who has spent more than $50 million attacking pensions across the country, did not jump on board to fund the Reed/DeMaio efforts this year. In 2014, Arnold gave more than $1 million in support of a measure to move city of Phoenix employees into a risky 401(k)-style system. With $1.43 million total spent on the measure, Arnold was the major funder.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected the Arnold-backed measure.
In Phoenix, as in California in 2005 and 2012, voters have endorsed pensions as the best way to provide retirement security for firefighters, police officers, nurses, and other public employees. These workers contribute a portion of every paycheck to their pension, and in many states are not eligible for Social Security benefits; they rely on pensions as their main source of income in retirement. California lawmakers have also recognized the need to expand retirement security for six million Californians with no retirement plan offered through their employer. While a broad coalition of lawmakers, faith groups, and social justice organizations fight to expand retirement security, Reed and DeMaio continue their attacks.
In 2014, Reed abandoned a similar measure due to inadequate financial backing. A 2012 attempt from other individuals also failed due to "difficulty raising the funds needed to gather qualifying signatures." That begs the question: who does actually want to gut retirement security of public employees other than a handful of California elites whose political careers have otherwise been a failure.
As mayor of San Jose, Reed pushed Measure B, which cut retirement and health benefits for current and future public employees. Police officers and firefighters sued and Reed lost in court. Recently, the new mayor of San Jose worked with public employees to strike a deal that was agreeable to all sides. This new agreement on pensions in San Jose undoes the most painful cuts of Reed's Measure B. Reed's efforts have been rejected by the courts and his statewide grandstanding against teachers, firefighters, and police officers has been rejected by the electorate, as the 2016 story shows.
DeMaio's track record is no better. While on City Council in San Diego, he supported a measure to shift city employees there into a 401(k)-style system. The State Public Employment Relations Board has since ordered the city to rescind the changes. After serving his single term on the San Diego City Council, DeMaio ran for Mayor in 2012. And lost. He then ran for Congress in 2014. And lost.
When will they learn? Should Reed and DeMaio decide to move forward, yet again, in 2018, that will make six straight years that out of the mainstream activists have pushed changes that neither right-wing donors nor the general public want for the state of California.