Connecting the Dots Between Props 30 and 32: What’s the Union Busters’ Real Agenda for Education?

Last week in the New York Times Adam Nagourney noted in his article on Proposition 32, “California Is Latest Stage in the Battle Over Unions,” that:

By design or not — and some union officials said they believed it was by design — the fight has forced unions to divert money from what had been their top priority: winning approval of an initiative by Gov. Jerry Brown to pass temporary tax increases to head off nearly $6 billion in new cuts in state spending.

“Labor has to stop everything it is doing to defend against this,” said Peter Dreier, the director of the Urban and Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. “It’s pretty effective in forcing the unions to spend a lot of their resources to stop this from passing.”

And labor certainly has gone all in to defeat Proposition 32, making that their top political priority this fall, not the passage of Proposition 30.

It is clear why those on the right who loathe government and taxes with a purple passion and want to make the Golden State the Wisconsin of the West took this tack.  They want to gut unions and stop a tax measure that takes ninety percent of its revenue from the top 1% of earners on principle.

That alone would seem to be a sufficient explanation of their motivation, but it goes further than that.

Indeed, as Matthew Fleischer points out in a recent Huffington Post article, there is more than just anti-tax zealotry at work here.  The gutting of unions and starving the public education beast are the means to a different end:

[If] there’s a common philosophical through-line connecting Prop. 32’s moneyed donors, it’s that almost all of them advocate some version of the full or partial dismantling and privatization of California’s public schools and its higher education system. And, above their Prop. 32 efforts, hovers the ghost of a far-right education ballot initiative that was decisively rejected by voters 12 years ago.

The initiative that Fleischer refers to is Proposition 38 of the year 2000, a radical school voucher effort that would have cost California taxpayers $3 billion dollars within five years in order to subsidize private schools with public money while draining educational dollars away from public schools.

Timothy Draper, one of the main funders for the failed voucher initiative, is also a big money donor to Proposition 32.  Along with Draper, the Koch brothers and a large network of other anti-union/pro-privatization money sources are bankrolling the union-busting initiative.  In addition to pushing for vouchers, prominent Proposition 32 backers are also advocating for the expansion of standardized testing and for-profit charter school companies.

These moneyed right-wing interests are even joined by some Democrats, like state senator Gloria Romero, who are so blinded by corporate education reform rhetoric that they are willing to risk throwing the educational baby out with the bath water.  As we saw with Paul Ryan’s guest appearance at Rahm Emanuel’s side during the Chicago Teachers’ strike, union-busting makes strange bedfellows.  Let’s hope most Democrats and fair-minded independents are not so easily duped into paving the way for the privatization of public education and the corporate domination of California’s politics.

While it seems at present that the all-hands-on-deck labor campaign against Proposition 32 may very well defeat the measure (it is trailing in the most recent polls), the fate of Proposition 30 is still up in the air as that initiative is holding steady in the mid to low fifties in the last three major polls.  Thus it will be close.  Millionaire Molly Munger’s doomed rival education tax measure, Proposition 38, doesn’t help either.

However well intended, Molly Munger’s $30 million dollar pet project, Prop. 38, which is currently losing badly in the polls, would not stop the $5.35 billion in immediate trigger cuts to education and does absolutely nothing to address higher education funding down the road.  Thus while seeking to help K-12, Proposition 38 sacrifices higher education, a shortsighted move to be sure.

It would be painfully ironic if Proposition 38 lost but managed to confuse voters and sank Proposition 30 along the way, while Molly’s brother Charles, who is a big Proposition 32 backer/30 opponent, succeeded in helping to pass 32 and paved the way for the privatization plans of his right-wing friends in the aftermath of 30’s failure.  Perhaps it was the enticing thought of this prospect that motivated Charles Munger to drop $20 million of his own money into the Small Business PAC to support 32 and oppose 30.

Suffice it to say, the Mungers are one family of arrogant mega-rich busy bodies California could do without.

Despite all of this intrigue, if I had to wager, I’d bet on 32 failing and 30 passing, by the thinnest of margins (knock wood).  Perhaps that’s just wishful thinking, but Jerry Brown has managed to raise $41 million for the Proposition 30 campaign while the opposition is currently sitting on significantly less money (around $23 million if you add the Munger money to the $3 million that was already dedicated to killing our public education system’s best hope).

It turns out that, as of this writing, more of the big national conservative Super PAC money is getting poured into Mitt Romney’s crusade against President Obama than is being dropped into ballot measure campaigns.  It also appears that many business interests and wealthy folks in California just aren’t that interested in gutting our educational infrastructure in the service of a nihilistic anti-tax jihad.  Good for them.  Kudos for enlightened self-interest and long-term thinking.

Here in California we rebuffed the red wave in 2010 and, if we do it again by passing 30 and defeating 32, it will be a very good day for our children and California’s future.


Jim Miller

Jim Miller, a professor at San Diego City College, is the co-author of Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See and Better to Reign in Hell, and author of the novel Drift. His most recent novel on the San Diego free speech fights and the IWW, Flash, is on AK Press.


  1. avatarbob dorn says

    For how long have we known that the referendum process was taken over by those same bazillionaires that controlled California politics back in the days of Standard Oil and the land cartels, a robber baron oligarchy that the referendum process was supposed to reform? Money subverts democracy. Union workers and members of progressive organizations really can’t field teams in numbers to those paid “petition gatherers” who set up outside the supermarkets.
    The only way to counteract them is through public education, and thank you, Jim Miller, for pointing out that the referendum questions on public education funding are crucial. Let’s hope we all get educated, again, and again.

  2. avatar says

    Yet another terrific piece from Jim Miller.

    It was only a matter of time before corporations plunged their snouts into the sea of (mostly well-spent) money we allocate to educate our children. Teachers stand in their way by 1) pointing out the catastrophic consequences of eviscerating public education in favor of for-profit schools, and 2) demanding decent wages and benefits that would come right out of corporations’ projected bottom lines.

    Thus the ceaseless attacks on teachers and teachers unions: They’re blocking the golden path to mega-, ultra-, gi-normous profits. That’s a tough spot to be in, and teachers have taken — and are taking — a lot of seriously damaging hits. (Just for example: How would you like to receive a tentative pink slip damn near every year?) We have to stand with them. We WILL stand with them.

    • avatarmicaela shafer porte says

      Go Teachers!
      let us advise the school district’s huge financial percentage of ADMINISTRATORS to STAND DOWN; they are pumping all the “school”money to bureaucratic paperwork, construction projects, re-decoration, pretty petty projects to enhance the “looks/security” of the school instead of the education process through the TEACHERS!!! PAY your teachers… pay your lifeguards, pay your police, stop “re-decorating” your stupid offices”!!!!!! tired of and suggest retiring, without pensions, all bureaucrat rats,
      yours sincerely,

  3. avatar says

    The referendum process, which was suppose to extend democracy directly to the people, instead has been subverted into something which is controlled by moneyed interests. It would be better if the whole proposition process were eliminated altogether or at least get rid of the TVads pro or con.