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Analysis: With Newsom vetoing three state bills co-sponsored by the California Teachers Association, will the new governor be ‘Brown’ or ‘Gray’ for unions?

Mike Antonucci | October 23, 2019

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Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears weekly at LA School Report

Gov. Gavin Newsom (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By all accounts, it’s a great time to be a California union activist. Statewide political offices are in Democratic hands. The legislature is solidly liberal. The state GOP shows no signs of life. Government revenues are up. Government spending is up.

Where is there a dark cloud in the Golden State?

Apparently it sits over the governor’s office, if we take recent reports at face value.

Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have regulated hospital closures, prompting the president of the California Nurses Association to accuse him of “abandoning both patients and communities” and the CNA government relations director to likening the veto to “a death sentence for many Californians.”

On the education front, Newsom vetoed a union-supported bill that would have required public schools and colleges to provide at least six weeks of paid maternity leave for all employees.

A California Teachers Association representative called the veto “unfortunate.”

In fact, Newsom vetoed three of the six bills CTA co-sponsored this legislative session.

SB 468 would have required the state to reevaluate tax credits and exemptions that do not have a sunset date. AB 258 would have provided grants to school districts for additional student support services. AB 1322 would have established a state Office of School-Based Health Programs.

Newsom also vetoed a CTA-supported bill that would have standardized paid release time for union work.

That’s not to say Newsom is an impediment to the union agenda. He signed bills to further regulate charter schools, and on CTA’s most important issue — spending — well, let’s just say the union has nothing to complain about, according to this slide behind the governor that shows education spending over the years. But Newsom’s own wishes have become a consideration, which is not something the teachers unions had anticipated.

Newsom seems to be trying to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Jerry Brown, in delivering on high-profile legislation while refusing to sign on to every item on the liberal wish list. He is clearly worried that another recession could jeopardize not only the state’s economy, but the political fortunes of himself and his party.

He should be equally worried about following in the footsteps of former California Gov. Gray Davis, who ended up being recalled in 2003. Davis was expected to sign whatever came across his desk, but he ultimately vetoed more than 1,100 bills during his five years in office. There were others that he signaled he would veto, leading to their demise in the legislature.

Two of these were heavily union-supported measures to expand the scope of collective bargaining and to require charter schools to be unionized.

Davis tried to buy union support with increased school spending, but when he opposed a union-proposed tax increase ballot initiative, then-CTA President Wayne Johnson called him a “tightfisted, penny pinching, shortsighted bureaucrat.”

Davis was described as an “incrementalist,” and that was his downfall, because the state’s interest groups wanted instant gratification. When voters recalled him and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Davis was philosophical.

“You can’t just sit in Sacramento and talk to other legislators, well intentioned, lobbyists from the AARP or Consumers Union, again all well intentioned, and think that is the universe in which we function,” he said.

Even in a state dominated by one political party, the governor often has to walk a fine line between the desires of the majority of Californians and the desires of those who show up in his office. Jerry Brown was able to keep his balance. Gray Davis was not. How will Newsom do?

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