Jumbo gov't unions ply The Strip for Clintons

With Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama eager to win the Democratic caucuses in Nevada next Saturday, labor unions backing Mr. Obama are in a surprisingly intense, expensive fight with those supporting Mrs. Clinton.

Several pro-Clinton labor unions with small memberships in Nevada have thrown major resources into the state to counter pro-Obama unions with big memberships there. This has caused leaders of the pro-Obama unions to complain that one pro-Clinton union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, is bumping against the limits of the law by sending nearly 100 paid employees to Nevada to mobilize its roughly 3,000 members in the state.

Under federal rules, paid union campaign workers are limited to communicating with members of their own unions, although after their paid hours, they can, as volunteers, reach out to anyone.

Officials with two pro-Obama unions — the service employees with 17,500 members in Nevada, and the culinary union — questioned this week why the pro-Clinton union of state, county and municipal employees would need nearly 100 paid employees to work with just 3,000 union members.

“That would be the most intense member-to-member campaign I’ve heard of in the labor movement,” said D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of Culinary Workers Local 226 in Las Vegas, a 60,000-member local — by far the state’s largest union — which endorsed Mr. Obama on Wednesday.

Larry Scanlon, the political director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said it made sense to have nearly 100 employees in Nevada because it is a large state, with much territory to cover. In addition, Mr. Scanlon said the paid political workers were needed to teach union members how the caucus process works. Only about 9,000 people participated in the 2004 caucuses, and the state’s Democratic Party is preparing for far higher numbers this year.

“We’re going in there full-bore,” Mr. Scanlon said. “It’s a big state. We have members in Laughlin, Elko, Reno. We’re leaving no stone unturned. We want to talk to every member in the state and make sure they get to the caucuses. Our goal is to make sure that every member gets touched personally, repeatedly.”

Officials of the state, county and municipal employees union said one reason so many paid employees were needed was to train the union’s roughly 3,000 members in Nevada to reach out, on their own time, to 10,000 nonunion government co-workers to urge them to back Mrs. Clinton at the caucuses.

The union is also backing Mrs. Clinton, of New York, by spending $214,000 this week on television commercials in Nevada. Those broadcast spots are sponsored by a group that is financed by the union’s political action committee, potentially providing her campaign with a much-needed lift to counter Mr. Obama, of Illinois.

But Mr. Obama’s union support in Nevada is formidable. Culinary Local 226 is the most politically powerful labor union in Nevada, and the unions backing Mrs. Clinton, as well as former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, are trying hard to counter its efforts. Union officials backing Mrs. Clinton note that many members of the culinary local are not American citizens and therefore cannot participate in the caucuses.

Chuck Rocha, the political director of the United Steelworkers, which backs Mr. Edwards, said his union had 42 paid workers in Nevada to mobilize its 3,500 members, including 900 Las Vegas cabdrivers.

“We’re playing a dual role,” Mr. Rocha said. “We do member-to-member beginning at 7 a.m., going to factory entrances, for instance. When their eight-hour workday is over by 2 or 3, we have this army of 40 people who become volunteers for the Edwards campaign, who have a bigger impact.”

In another dispute among the unions, the Nevada State Education Association, the union representing teachers, filed a lawsuit Friday in federal court against the Nevada Democratic Party, asking a judge to ban caucuses at hotels and casinos, where thousands of culinary workers will be on the job Saturday.

The association’s president, Lynn Warne, said it was unfair for culinary workers to participate in caucuses at their workplace when teachers and other employees could not.

The American Federation of Teachers, which is backing Mrs. Clinton, has 15 paid campaign workers in Nevada, with dozens of volunteers from California expected this weekend. On Monday, that union’s president, Edward J. McElroy, will be in Las Vegas to oversee a session to train teachers and retired teachers how to participate in a caucus.

Mr. McElroy said this interunion battle showed the vibrancy and importance of organized labor. “When you look at the turnout in Iowa and turnout in New Hampshire, it’s a testament to organizations like ours that work hard to get out the vote,” he said. “It’s great for democracy.”

But some labor leaders argued that it was wasteful for unions to spend millions of dollars battling one another on behalf of three primary candidates, all considered pro-union. These officials say those millions should instead be spent in the general election campaign or to organize nonunion workers.

“We’re working hard to make sure that Hillary Clinton is the candidate,” Mr. McElroy said. “But when it’s all said and done and there is a candidate, our hope is that all of labor will get behind that candidate.”


Clintons' unions press lawsuit to curb Obama

A teachers' union filed federal suit late yesterday trying to shut down nine Democratic caucus sites to be held next Saturday in casino halls along Las Vegas's famed "Strip", arguing that those sites give unfair advantage to union workers who are backing Sen. Barack Obama.

The suit was widely expected by state party officials as well as Obama's campaign and the powerful Culinary Workers Union 226, which earlier this week endorsed the Illinois senator in advance of the Jan. 19 Nevada caucus. That endorsement had been eagerly sought by Obama as well as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.), and by yesterday afternoon culinary union leaders told the Washington Post they expected an outside group with ties to Clinton to file a motion seeking to quash the casino caucuses.

The Nevada State Education Association, some of whose top leaders have individually endorsed Clinton, filed the suit and is using a law firm with close ties to the onetime front-runner, Kummer, Kaempfer, Bonner, Renshaw, and Ferrario. Former congressmen James H. Bilbray (D-Nev.), a lawyer at that firm, has endorsed Clinton and is stumping for her in the Silver State.

"The Democratic Party of Nevada has violated the principle of 'one person, one vote' by creating at-large precincts for certain caucus participants, based solely on the employment of such participants," the suit alleges.

The contention surrounds the nine casinos that have been selected as at-large sites for tens of thousands of workers who will be working midday next Saturday inside the many casinos in Las Vegas, a town whose dynamic energy is fueled by shift workers whose work patterns don't fit into the Monday-through-Friday schedule of most cities. All nine of those casinos have employees organized by the culinary union, giving Obama's campaign a large edge in terms of proximity and ability to get his supporters to those caucus sites.

In a first-of-its-kind arrangement, executives at culinary union-backed casinos have largely been cooperating with their employees to allow them to take a break just before noon Saturday - when the caucus begins - to participate in the political event. The teachers union contends this set up is specifically for just those union workers.

But those sites are also open to any shift worker, from cab drivers to employees at non-union casinos, on duty midday Saturday within a 2-½ mile radius of the nine casino caucuses. They must present identification showing that they work on or near Las Vegas Boulevard, as the "Strip" is officially titled.

However, the logistical reality of the casino haven - where mega-size casinos can be a half-mile long and the Strip is clogged with cabs hustling gamblers around town -- is that it will be very difficult for workers in non-union casinos to be able to take the time to walk or drive to the casino caucus sites.

There will be 10,000 delegates to the state nominating convention available to the candidates among the more than 1,700 normal precinct sites, but as many as 650 delegates will also be up for grabs in the "at-large" sites inside the casino ballrooms that are being retrofitted into political halls for the caucus. Some estimates are that these casino precincts could produce 10 percent of the total statewide participation in the caucuses.

The state party quickly dismissed the lawsuit. Going back to last spring, every presidential campaign was involved in setting up the unusual casino caucus sites while state party officials and the Democratic National Committee ironed out the details. "This is a fair, legal and proper way to choose delegates under established law and legal precedent that has been reviewed by attorneys....The time for comment or complaint has passed," the party said in a statement.

The union was more blunt, contending the arguments are only a political effort to muddy the waters in case Clinton loses. "It's strange [the suit] is coming after our endorsement," said D. Taylor, the secretary-treasurer of the local labor group, told the Washington Post in an interview last night after an Obama rally in his union hall.


Destructive writers likened to Act of God

ABC Studios on Friday afternoon became the first TV studio to terminate overall deals under the force majeure provision in its producers' deals.

In a major house-cleaning sweep, close to 30 writing and nonwriting producers -- most of them well-known -- who don't have active projects have been axed. The list includes the writing duos of Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia, as well as Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah, director Larry Charles, producer Sean Bailey, the producing team of Nina Wass and Gene Stein, writers Jack Kenney and Bill Callahan and actor-producer Taye Diggs, who landed a producing deal a year ago when he signed on to star on the ABC/ABC Studios drama "Private Practice."

"The ongoing strike has had a significant detrimental impact on development and production so we are forced to make the difficult decision to release a number of talented, respected individuals from their development deals," an ABC Studios spokeswoman said late Friday.

While force majeure action by TV studios had been inevitable as the writers strike entered its third month, few expected that many deals to be axed at a single studio. Rumors are that Warner Bros. TV will terminate about 5-6 overall pacts next week, with other TV studios expected to follow.


Out-of-state gov't unions tell Florida how to tax

Cash from teachers, government workers and service employee unions is funding the campaign against the Jan. 29 proposed property-tax amendment.

Florida Is Our Home, the umbrella group formed to oppose the amendment, raised $535,000 over the last 10 days -- mostly from unions -- bringing total contributions to $855,000, according to reports filed Friday.

Even so, the group has been out-raised three-to-one by Gov. Charlie Crist, whose Yes on 1 group has pulled in more than $3.3 million from Realtors, Disney, utilities, business groups, car dealers and other industries eager to please a sitting governor.

Florida Is Our Home reported receiving $200,000 from the Washington, D.C., umbrella of the Service Employees International Union; $230,000 from the Public Education Defense Fund, a political arm of the Florida Education Association; and $100,000 from the state's largest public employee union, AFSCME Florida Council 79.

"We just kind of explained the problem we were facing to our national affiliates and saw what they could come up with," said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow.

The money has financed two mailers calling the amendment "dangerous" because of its potential effect on police, firefighter and other public safety agency budgets, with a third planned to hit mailboxes next week.

The group has also drawn volunteer support from the AFL-CIO and FEA to staff phone banks and plans to kick off a "Tell the Truth" tour of the state next week.

"That's what you do when you don't have money, and can't run TV ads, and aren't the governor," said Karen Woodall, a Tallahassee social services lobbyist chairing the group.

Crist, who on Friday urged a crowd at Orlando's Tiger Bay Club to back the amendment, has called out the unions over their assertions that layoffs would follow if the $9.3 billion tax cut package passes.

"Five or six years ago, before the run-up in real estate prices, we had police officers. We had firefighters. How did we do that?" Crist asked, adding that governments had to prioritize spending, just as families do.

After Crist spoke, a woman asked whether services would be cut as suggested by the fliers she's getting in the mail, saying she was getting a lot of "stuff."

"'Stuff' is the word for it," Crist said. "All that doom and gloom stuff is just a bunch of stuff."

The proposed amendment would expand the $25,000 homestead exemption by roughly $15,000; cap annual appraisal increases for second homes and commercial properties at 10 percent; and allow most homeowners to transfer their Save Our Homes tax savings when they move, up to a $500,000 limit.

Many groups with a major stake in the property tax debate have also been generous givers to the state parties.

The Florida Realtors association -- the single largest contributor to Crist's Yes on 1 campaign at $1 million -- also was the single largest giver to the Republican Party of Florida during the October-December fundraising quarter, giving $256,000, state reports show. The Realtors also gave $61,000 to state Democrats.

Florida Power & Light, which gave $100,000 to Republicans and $60,000 to Democrats, has given $750,000 to Yes on 1.

In all, the state GOP reported $4.3 million in the fourth quarter, bringing its 2007 total to $15 million. That compares to $11.94 million in 2005, the last off-election year.

Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO, firefighters and teacher unions accounted for at least $84,000 of the Democrats' party fundraising. Total receipts for the quarter were $1.57 million, including money from gaming interests, Realtors, Publix and Democratic trial lawyers Wayne Hogan of Jacksonville and John Morgan of Orlando.

For the year, the take was $4.99 million -- just more than the $4 million the party raised in 2005.


Police want unionism display on uniforms

It's a uniform, as in uniformity, as in "the quality or state of being uniform." Or as in "of the same form with others: conforming to one rule or mode."

That's one reason why we endorse the plan of the Portsmouth (NH) Police Commission to enact a "non-adornment policy" for city police uniforms. Such a policy would list the only adornments allowed — or required — on uniforms, most likely a badge, name tag, rank, flag and the Portsmouth Police Department insignia.

The move comes as part of a continuing dispute over whether officers should be allowed to wear union pins on their uniforms.

The commission's position is that not all members of the department are members of the union and, therefore, some officers shouldn't have something on their uniforms that others don't.

This is not a radical concept.

Members of the military certainly can't wear unauthorized insignia on their uniforms. And police departments are structured in much the same way as military units.

Unfortunately, the New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board doesn't see it that way.

It ruled that the Portsmouth police union members could wear the pins and rejected an appeal by the city to reconsider.

Labor boards historically are more prone to agree with union grievances than management positions, and that appears to be the case in this instance.

Union and management often disagree on wages and benefits, but this is more political than economic.

If it's OK for the police to make a political statement by wearing a pin on their uniforms, would it also be all right to wear a Hillary for President pin?

Of course not.

The police have every right to be supportive of their union and to wear its pin proudly on their civilian clothing, but not on their uniforms.

When they are on duty and in uniform, they are police officers first and foremost. Union business should be left for a different time.

It remains to be seen what the union's reaction will be when this new policy is enacted. Its president has said they are waiting until the police commissioners "actually do something."

The odds, given the nature of this fight, are that the union will challenge the policy.

If so, we hope a conclusion will be reached quickly.

There has been too much time and expense devoted to this issue of internal politics and a battle of wills.


Rich Lowry on 'Liberal Fascism'

The f-bomb of American politics is the word “fascist,” routinely hurled by the left at conservatives. Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater were smeared as incipient fascists, and George W. Bush now receives the honor, along with practically anyone to the right of Rosie O’Donnell on a college campus.

The operational meaning of the word “fascism” for most liberals who invoke it is usually “shut up.” It’s meant to bludgeon conservatives into silence. But many on the left also genuinely believe that there is something fascistic in the DNA of contemporary conservatism, as if Republican Party conventions would get their rightful treatment only if they were worshipfully filmed by Leni Riefenstahl.

In his brilliant new book Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg (a colleague of mine) demonstrates how the opposite is the case, that fascism was a movement of the left and that liberal heroes like Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were products of what Goldberg calls “the fascist moment” in America early in the 20th century. How we think of the ideological spectrum — socialism to the left, fascism to the right — should be forever changed.

Benito Mussolini was a socialist and earned the title “Il Duce” as the leader of the socialists in Italy. When he founded the fascist party, its program called for implementing a minimum wage, expropriating property from landowners, repealing titles of nobility, creating state-run secular schools and imposing a progressive tax rate. Mussolini took socialism and turned it in a more populist and militaristic direction, but remained a modernizing, secular man of the left.

The Nazis too were socialists, “enemies, deadly enemies, of today’s capitalist economic system,” in the words of the party’s ideologist Gregor Strasser. The party’s platform sounded a lot like that of the Italian fascists. The Nazis wanted to chase conventional Christianity from public life and overturn tradition, replacing them with an all-powerful state. Both Hitler and Mussolini were revolutionaries, bitterly opposed to “reactionary” forces in their societies.

By what standard, then, are they considered conservatives who took things to extremes? The left points to their anti-Semitism and militarism. But anti-Semitism isn’t an inherently right-wing phenomenon — Stalin’s Russia was anti-Semitic. As for militarism, these regimes looked to it as a way to mobilize and organize society, something deeply anathema to the anti-statist tradition of postwar American conservatism.

On the other hand, the progressive movement of the early 20th century looked to Mussolini as an inspiration and shared intellectual roots with European fascism, including an appreciation of the “top-down socialism” of Otto von Bismarck. Goldberg eviscerates Woodrow Wilson as the closest we have ever had to a fascist president. Wilson and his supporters welcomed World War I as an opportunity to expand the state, instituting “war socialism” and a far-reaching crackdown on dissent.

FDR picked up where Wilson left off. The crisis of the Great Depression was the occasion for reviving “war socialism.” The man who ran the National Recovery Administration was an open admirer of Mussolini, and the alphabet soup of New Deal agencies had their roots in World War I and the classic fascist impulse to mobilize society and put it on a war footing.

Goldberg sees the fascist exaltation of youth, glorification of violence, hatred of tradition and romance of “the street” in the New Left of the 1960s, still the subject of the fond memories for the liberal establishment in this country. Goldberg argues that “liberal fascism” — the phrase was coined by H. G. Wells, and he meant it positively — is a distant heir to European fascism. The liberal version is pacifist rather than militaristic and feminine rather than masculine in its orientation, but it also seeks to increase the power of the state and overcome tradition in sweeping crusades pursued with the moral fervor of war.

Goldberg’s keen intellectual history is, at bottom, a profound cautionary tale about the perils of state aggrandizement and of revolutionary movements. If nothing else, it should convince liberals that it’s time to find a new insult.


Florida establishment sides with gov't unions

The drumbeat of opposition to Amendment 1 grew louder Friday, when the Florida League of Mayors and the business-backed Florida TaxWatch added their names to the list.

Speaking at a Tallahassee news conference, Sunrise mayor and league president Steve Ferren accused the $9.3 billion property tax-cutting measure on the Jan. 29 ballot of making a broken tax system worse.

"This proposition takes an unfair, inequitable tax system, as it already exists, and makes it more unfair," Ferren said.

The measure would continue to give long-term homesteaders a bigger tax break and continue to shift the burden to businesses and second-home owners, he said.

Noting that supporters have raised $2.8 million for their campaign largely from industry groups, Ferren took a swipe at Palm Beach millionaire Donald Trump. Amendment 1's chief supporter, Gov. Charlie Crist, recently met with Trump on a fundraising trip to New York.

"We know that Donald Trump is used to saying, 'You're fired,"' Ferren said. "He doesn't care. He's just interested in saving money on his mansion."

The press conference was held the same day that Florida TaxWatch issued a scathing report.

The measure would further enshrine the Save Our Homes 3 percent assessment cap for homesteaders in the Constitution by allowing homeowners to take their accumulated protections with them when they move. The report warns that the change could invite a legal challenge and a potential Supreme Court ruling that could wipe out a benefit that homeowners have come to rely on since 1995.

"Sound advice for amending the constitution is 'when in doubt, leave it out.' For Amendment 1, we are convinced it is more than just doubt," said TaxWatch president, Dominic Calabro. "There is plenty of evidence that this is not the right thing for Florida's taxpayers and economy."

Vivian Myrtetus, a spokeswoman for Yes on 1, countered with endorsements by two more supporters, the Florida Bankers Association and the Construction Executives' Association.

Crist, a former attorney general, has had legal experts review the measure and is satisfied that it will stand up in court, she said.

"He doesn't see where there will be a legal challenge that will be successful," she said.

If the mayors want to suggest additional tax reforms, Crist will be happy to consider them, Myrtetus said.

"The governor believes that this is what's on the ballot now for Jan. 29 and that the people want tax reform and they should vote for it," she said.


Colorado's rugged, union-happy Gov.

Gov. Bill Ritter would rather wear his well-worn Wranglers and black cowboy boots than a stately suit.

And the most fun he has had his first year as governor wasn't politicking under the Capitol dome, but standing in the Big Thompson River with the captain of the national fly-fishing team.

It's that man-of-the-people, regular-guy persona that has helped boost Ritter's approval ratings to 60 percent and higher. And the fact that the Democratic governor might come off less as a political savant than his predecessors makes sense, since he's the first in three decades to enter office without legislative experience.

But some say Ritter's populism-over-politics attitude led to a few missteps last year.

Now, with a quarter of his term behind him and the honeymoon phase over, observers are watching to see whether Ritter overcomes political inexperience to lead his party through what could be an era of monumental reforms in health care, education and transportation.

His second legislative session begins this week as the billion-dollar requests of his blue-ribbon panels await resolution.

In a recent interview in his office, Ritter acknowledged a few stumbles as he learned to work with legislators. For starters, he said, he failed to stop a pro-union bill before it reached his desk, signing a surprise February veto that hit leaders in his own party like a meteor.

But Ritter said he was pleased with what he called his "foundation year," and particularly proud of pushing the state on a path toward creating more jobs in renewable energy.

His admirers speak of his "genuine" personality, his devotion to detail and his ability to listen carefully. Detractors call him "erratic" and "incoherent."

Some say the DA-cum-politician failed to rise above a steep learning curve and lacked the political compass to navigate minefields occupied by lawmakers and interest groups. But fellow Democrats are willing to forgive Ritter for a perceived lack of political savvy.

"I think politics, not policy, have been his roadblocks," said former Gov. Dick Lamm.

Ritter's second year, in many ways, begins much like his first — full of promise and expectations.

But he starts off on shaky ground with business interests because of his controversial executive order welcoming unions to state government, and with Republicans challenging a property-tax freeze as an illegal tax hike during an election year.

"The first year has been marked by an almost rudderless ship," said state Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma. "The agenda was never fleshed out."

Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli said, "There is no further room for mistakes.

"His leadership has to be seamless," he said. "So far Ritter has shown good form, with a couple exceptions, but he has been all promise. Now he needs substance."

Energized clean push

Ritter's first campaign TV commercial had him standing in a wheatfield near Lamar, wind turbines behind him. After his election, he pushed the legislature to pass a package of bills jump-starting what he calls the "new energy economy."

"We put this state on the map in the renewable-energy world," said Ritter, who followed up with a climate action plan calling for clean-car standards and cutting emissions from electric utilities.

The clean-energy package passed on bipartisan votes and won him fans among environmentalists and business interests spurred by the economic opportunities.

But pushing renewable energy, by some accounts, wasn't really that contentious. Voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2004 requiring some utilities to generate 10 percent of their power from renewables by 2015. And governors across the West were pushing proposals similar to Ritter's.

"There was really no cost attached to it," said political analyst Eric Sondermann. "The real thrust of the Ritter administration is as of yet undetermined. The rub is going to come very quickly."

Ritter takes offense at the suggestion that it was easy to require 20 percent of large-utility electricity to come from wind and solar power and the burning of beetle-ravaged trees and other biomass by 2020.

As for criticism that he has yet to choose his big priority — education, health care, transportation or something else — Ritter says he has been laying the groundwork to tackle the state's biggest problems.

He appointed several blue-ribbon commissions studying everything from how to get more kids to college to how to afford health insurance for all Coloradans. All that studying became an easy mark for critics.

"We can't find a blue ribbon anywhere in town," said Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany of Colorado Springs.

Democrats, though, say Ritter made a number of bold moves.

Soon after taking office, he signed a much-hailed executive order helping to enact a discount prescription-drug plan for Coloradans lacking health insurance. Former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, had vetoed similar proposals.

Ritter then took on the energy industry to change the makeup of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, expanding it to include environmental, wildlife, public health and landowner representatives.

In a narrow partisan vote, Ritter also won approval of his controversial plan to stop property-tax rates from declining. The governor wants to spend much of the cash to get more at-risk kids in preschool and full-day kindergarten.

By most accounts, his most brazen move was his November executive order creating union partnerships with state workers. The move sent Republicans into a frenzy over "unilateral action" from the governor's first-floor office and infuriated business leaders, who claimed he excluded them from secret talks with labor bosses.

Ritter's first legislative session also was marred by the first veto override in nearly 20 years.

Just before lawmakers adjourned in May, they overrode his line-item vetoes in the state budget. It was primarily a symbolic move by the legislature, trying to assert control over the budget. But the perception by some was that Ritter was not leading his own party.

"A governor of the same party with control of the legislature should not have his vetoes overridden," said Mike Feeley, a former House minority leader during Gov. Roy Romer's administration. "Romer wouldn't consider a veto if there was a possibility of an override."

In 2003, though, a Republican-

controlled legislature sued Owens over the same budget issue.

Ritter ended the year forging what many called a brilliant compromise between environmental protection and drilling on the Roan Plateau.

The balancing act pacified environmentalists opposed to federal plans for expanded drilling as well as industry officials who wanted to boost the western Colorado economy.

Ritter is now discussing the Roan plan with the U.S. Department of Interior.

"I think he will grow on the business community," said Blair Richardson, managing partner of Bow River Capital Partners and a well-heeled Republican donor. "It's not a free ride. There have been some disappointments, but he's shown he can be balanced."

Top mistake: handling of veto

On a Friday afternoon in February, Ritter vetoed a bill that would have eliminated a second vote needed to create all-union shops — a bill he said he would sign while campaigning for governor.

He calls the way he vetoed House Bill 1072 his biggest mistake.

The shocker blew up in a flurry of text messages around the Capitol as lawmakers sat in committees. Ritter was breaking from his party only weeks after it had gained control of both houses in the legislature and the governor's office for the first time in nearly 50 years.

Former Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Jefferson County, was visibly peeved. Almost a year later, House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, won't talk about it, and new Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver, says he hates "that question."

At the end of his first year, Ritter says he believes he was right to veto HB 1072 and sign the pro-labor executive order. The way he handled the veto, though, was messy enough that he held a "post-mortem" on it in his office.

"There was plenty of blame to go around on 1072," Ritter said. "I accepted part."

Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, was among those who said the surprise veto was bad political form.

"If you wanted to be ungracious, you would say he didn't communicate even with his own party," he said. "He put them out on a limb and sawed off the limb."

A communication problem between the governor's office and lawmakers is mentioned most often in critiques of Ritter's first year.

Some lobbyists and lawmakers complain that the governor is isolated and that his staff members show up at meetings without the power to cut a deal.

"This year you will see a lot more confidence," said Groff, who called Ritter's first year "outstanding" but acknowledged there's room for improvement in legislative relations.

Staff for former Gov. Owens would "send folks up with an outline of where he was ready to go," Groff said.

Ritter shrugs off comments that, compared with Owens, he comes across as less of a smooth-talker, political strategist and statesman who can sweep into a room and steal the show.

"It's a fair comment and not one I take as a criticism," the governor said, noting that he didn't have the same political "upbringing" Owens did.

Chief of staff Jim Carpenter calls Ritter a "delegator."

The governor, a former Denver district attorney, says he tackles his new job the same way he used to prosecute criminals.

"I gather evidence," he said. "A lot of what you do in building an agenda is like building a major case: Do you have the evidence to go forward?"

His unique approach, Ritter says, has been guided by a genuine need to "do the right thing."

When making policy determinations, Ritter dispatches his staff to collect evidence for him.

"They bring it to me and help me in my decisions," he said.

"Serious loss of privacy"

Ritter eats lunch at his desk. Or sometimes he ends up in the Wendy's drive-through because he spoke at two luncheons and missed meals at both.

He misses being able to go out and grab a Fat Tire beer with a friend. When he does, state troopers tail him and position themselves nearby.

"There is such a serious loss of privacy in this job," Ritter said.

But Ritter said he appreciates the security "in a different way" after a tuxedo-clad gunman claiming he was the "emperor of the state" was shot to death outside the governor's office in July.

Often, Ritter would rather drive to a community meeting in Del Norte than stick around the office.

"He gets antsy," Carpenter said.

Connecting with the people has been perhaps Ritter's strongest attribute.

In the past year, he has made nearly 100 trips out of Denver — for things as varied as helping break ground for a biodiesel plant in Dove Creek, touring an ethanol plant in Windsor and signing a law about bark beetles in Frisco.

"While the things that happen inside this building are of great significance to the people of the state, paying attention to what happens outside this building is of equal or greater significance," Ritter said.

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper called Ritter "a natural."

"He's covered a lot of ground," Hickenlooper said. When the mayor talks to people in Pueblo and on the Western Slope, "it seems like the governor was just there a few minutes ago," he said.

Some recall Ritter, in jeans and boots, hooting it up with folks at a party in Rifle.

"He is the genuine article," said political consultant Ben Davis. "He actually has a fair amount of political savvy when it comes to understanding what the people care about and what they don't care about."

Ritter's trips haven't been without controversy, though — particularly when he doesn't agree with the locals.

He talked of a "spiritual experience" after he stood on a precipice in the Vermillion Basin in Moffat County. He told the story to explain why he did not support oil and gas drilling there.

The decision annoyed Western Slopers.

"It looked like, 'I'm from Denver. I know better. I have to leave now and catch my plane,' " said Reeves Brown, the president of Club 20, a western Colorado business group. "Strategically, politically, he probably could have handled that a little bit better. It's part of that learning curve."

Ritter says sometimes people confuse listening with agreeing.

"People want you not only to listen to them but, at the end of the day, convince you," he said.

Vow for just one tax hike

Ritter begins his second year in office as the recommendations of his panels on education, health care and transportation are handed off to policymakers.

He has vowed to push for only one tax increase, if any, on the 2008 ballot.

Perhaps his greatest challenge now is winning back the support of the business community, still angry over his executive order on unions.

The perception that the executive order on unions is anti-business is perhaps greater than reality. But Joe Blake, the head of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said some believe that "Colorado's balance between management and labor is shifting," which could hurt the state's competitiveness.

As a result, the business community is working on a bill to ban strikes by state employees. Ritter has said he would sign it.

The executive order also gave Republicans ammunition to paint Ritter as a liberal.

"He masqueraded as a moderate and business-friendly, and now we know that was a farce," said state GOP chairman Dick Wadhams.

Ritter believes he and business leaders "have a significant meeting of the minds on the big issues" — primarily education.

"If we don't get the education part right in this country, we fail," he said.

While political analysts say it's time for Ritter to pick his priority and grab the reins of the state, the governor doesn't see it that way.

Ritter said he isn't concerned about choosing a legacy issue.

"I don't think you can worry about legacy," he said. "Your legacy becomes whatever it is based upon how you deal with circumstances during the time you're privileged to govern."


Forced collectivism retards conservatives

How do voters determine who to vote for? Emotionally or intertwined with deliberate and sane reasoning? Or, by the charisma and good looks of the candidate?

Some citizens have already narrowed their decision to one candidate. Others haven’t quite made up their minds. The refrain we keep hearing --- “We mustn’t allow the Democrats to win; especially Hillary.” What does it matter? Think about it. No matter who (Rep. or Dem.) is in the White House or Congress, neither has stopped the spending roller coaster we’re on nor dealt with any other serious issues facing our nation.

Americans should reflect upon our nation’s future if we continue on this progressive, destructive road in the name of creating a democratic Utopia on Earth. But how do conservative voters judge who is the best conservative candidate? And, how conservative are the candidates?

In his book, “The Politics of Prudence,” twentieth-century, conservative thinker Russell Kirk wrote that conservatism is “...a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.” It is one who finds “...the Permanent Things more pleasing than Chaos...”.

Conservatism embraces a body of sentiments and is the experience of historic continuity. Of course conservatism is contrary to the abounding humanist ideologies floating around which are burying Western Civilization.

In hope of contributing to thinking voters, I offer the following, reprinted from my May 07 article. Kirk’s ten general principles of conservatism:

1. “The conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.” This signifies harmony and believes that human nature is constant and moral truths are permanent.

2. “The conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.” This enables peace and harmony under a body of law to reign over and among a people, and links generation to generation. The law framework is a way to avoid perpetual disputes about rights and duties.

3. “Conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.” That is, “things established by immemorial usage.” For example, “there exist rights of which the chief sanction is their antiquity---including rights to property” and more. Our morals are prescriptive in great part.

4. “Conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence.” Edmond Burke agreed with Plato that “...in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequence, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity.”

5. “Conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety.” Inequality is part of all life and societies.

6. “Conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectibility.” Conservatives know that human nature is not and never will be perfect...seeking utopian domination or a perfect society is to end in disaster. Kirk asserts that “The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.”

7. “Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked.” Without the foundation of private property, there is no civilized freedom.

8. “Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.” America has a rich past in a people who strive for and contribute to the spirit of community where decisions are made by private organizations or local political bodies.

9. “The conservative perceives the need for prudent restraint upon power and upon human passions.” This is to arrange government and society in such a way to avoid anarchy and tyranny, constitutional checks and balances, adequate enforcement of the laws, the old intricate system of restraints upon will and appetite---as instruments of law and order.

10. “The thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.” Kirk notes Samuel Taylor Coleridge who called this a healthy society’s “...Permanence and its Progression. The permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions...” which create “...stability and continuity. Without that permanence, society slips into anarchy. The progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement; without that progression, a people stagnate.”

By these principles we may determine if any one candidate running for election is a true conservative. For more in-depth evaluation, read Kirk’s above-named book.

You may have to ask yourself if you are a true conservative? Have we ever elected a true conservative in the past 100 years? Are any of the 2008 GOP candidates true conservatives? Or, are we all conservative in some areas and not in others?

Has America given up on conservatism?


Teamsters face dues hit in labor-state

Upstate Niagara Cooperative said it will close a plant in Niagara Falls (NY) in May and shift the site’s production to Upstate’s Cheektowaga location.

The Niagara Falls plant, located on Buffalo Avenue, employs 50 people. Eva Balazs, an Upstate spokeswoman, said a “majority” of those workers will offered positions at the Cheektowaga site, but she said it was too soon to know how many of them will be needed.

“We’re hoping to keep most of them,” Balazs said. The closing date in May has not yet been determined, she said, since production equipment and workers will need to be shifted to Cheektowaga.

The impending closing is a byproduct of the 2006 merger of Upstate Farms Cooperative and Niagara Milk Cooperative. That deal added the Niagara Falls operation, known as the Wendt’s plant, to Upstate’s system.

In order to reduce duplication and keep its operations viable, Upstate examined whether to keep open the Cheektowaga or Niagara Falls site. “It is harder and harder to operate both of them,” Balazs said.

The Cheektowaga plant was chosen, she said, because it makes the same milk and juice products as the Niagara Falls site, plus some additional products, and has the capacity to absorb the Niagara Falls plant’s production.

The Buffalo Avenue operation operation opened in 1948 as a family business and was acquired in 1966 by the Niagara Milk Cooperative.

Upstate has not yet decided what to do with the Buffalo Avenue plant after it closes, Balazs said.

Hourly workers at the Niagara Falls plant are represented by Teamsters Local 264. A union representative could not be reached to comment on Friday.


Another stab at back-door repeal of Right To Work

The greatest battle in the Iowa Legislature last year may be one that never happened. The majority Democrats had a proposal to allow public-employee unions to negotiate for the right to charge a service fee to nonunion workers. The plan, nicknamed "fair share," passed the Senate and headed to the House.

And that's where it died. Democrats canceled debate when they were unable to line up the 51 votes needed for passage. Republicans, who had planned to use stall tactics to make the debate last for days, declared victory.

Now legislative leaders are trying to decide whether they want to take another stab at the proposal this year. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, doesn't know what will happen. "This controversy has been around a long, long time and it will continue to be around," he said on Friday.

Pro-business groups have pushed hard against fair share. They argue the proposal would undermine the state's right-to-work law, the decades-old statute that bans mandatory union membership.

"No one in the public sector or in private industry should be forced to join a union or pay dues or fees to a union in order to get or keep a job," said a statement from Mike Ralston, president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry.

On the opposite side of the issue, labor union leaders say the bill would improve a system in which some public employees get the benefits of union membership without paying union dies. Mark Smith, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, frames the issue in terms of fairness.

"There is no other organization that has to provide services and not get paid for it," he said.


Rebounding district balks at tax hike for teachers

Pittsburgh schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt is intervening in contract talks with teachers, starting Monday. District officials confirmed his involvement after representatives of Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers met Friday without reaching an agreement.

"We are doing all we can to not interrupt the school year and the process of improving academic achievement for our children," Roosevelt said in a prepared statement. "We fully realize that our teachers and staff are the key to student success and a better school system. We are working very hard to balance the academic and financial challenges of our system throughout the bargaining process so that a strike can be averted."

The union, which represents 4,042 teachers and other school employees, has already been authorized by members to call a strike.

"In my view, a teacher strike would damage the hard work that teachers, administrators and staff have already undertaken in our quest to advance public school education in Pittsburgh...(But) we will not support a contract settlement that would require a tax increase," Roosevelt said.

The two parties did not reach an agreement two years ago until Roosevelt became involved in the negotiations. That contact expired June 30.

School board members also will be available to attend the talks.

District spokeswoman Lisa Fischetti said the main issues are wages, post-retirement health care costs, the length of the work day, severance pay and the length of the contract. Teachers make an average of $62,000 a year.

Fischetti declined to say what both sides have proposed on those issues. Federation President John Tarka also declined comment.

However, a fact sheet from the district indicates that teachers get a $24,200 boost going from their ninth to 10th year in the school system.

This school year, 153 teachers are eligible for that increase, which will cost the district $3.7 million. The fact sheet said that city school teachers can double their salary in 10 years.

The district said teachers have one of the shortest work days of all school districts in the state -- 7 hours, 6 minutes -- and that retiree health care increased from $5.3 million in 2004 to a projected $11.8 million in 2007.


Unions invest now for political payback later

In 2008, labor unions will spend big and mobilize hundreds of thousands of workers to organize new members and campaign for Democratic Party candidates. The nuts and bolts of labor struggles are often lost in the presidential race, however.

Union membership has continued its decades-long decline, with only 12 percent of the workforce and 7.4 percent of the private sector now unionized. Last year saw a major setback in labor regulation that could make it harder for workers to join unions. Nonetheless, the writers’ strike is still going strong and tens of thousands of Verizon workers are poised to unionize.

Writers’ Strike

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (or, as David Letterman calls it: “Cowards, Cutthroats and Weasels”) is one of the rare occasions when a labor stoppage grips America’s attention span. On Nov. 5, 2007, about 12,000 writers in the West and East Coast branches of the union struck over a number of demands, including the core issue of writers wanting a greater percentage of “residuals” (a payment each time one of their works is consumed).

“We all know that no payments on new media equals a rollback in residuals. And given pattern bargaining, getting rid of our residuals means getting rid of residuals industry wide,” wrote WGA strike captain Alfredo Barrios on a blog about the labor stoppage.

The advent of the new media technology (Internet, cell phone downloads) has hurt the earnings of writers as the studios refuse to pay residuals when consumers stream content regardless of revenue generated.

The studios now pay just 1.2 percent of the distributor’s gross income to WGA members for media that consumers purchase online or through cell phones. On top of that, the WGA estimates that over the next three years big media and production companies will earn more than $4.6 billion in new media advertisements that accompany guild members’ work.

The strike’s roots began in the mid-1980s when the WGA took an 80 percent cut in home video residuals to help boost VHS technology. As VHS took off and gave way to DVDs, the WGA did not regain its share of the new technology’s profits. According to the WGA, writers receive about four cents for every DVD sold. That is a small fraction of the Entertainment Merchant Association’s estimated DVD industry of $16.5 billion.

The writers’ big demand – four extra cents for DVDs and 2.5 percent of new media gross income. If the WGA obtains a greater residual percentage, it sets a precedent for other media unions and future media technologies, and, most importantly, it wins the strike.

Card Check

In September 2007, the Bush administration- appointed majority on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) further weakened workers’ right to join unions through “card checks.”

Because systematic anti-union activity by management has made union elections so difficult for labor to win, unions have initiated “card check” campaigns to organize workers. The card check process occurs when a majority of workers sign union representation cards or petitions calling for a union. Most card checks are part of “neutrality agreements” in which the employer agrees not to interfere with workers’ right to organize.

The NLRB struck a blow against card check campaigns in its “Dana/Metaldyne” ruling. It allowed union decertification if just 30 percent of employees file petitions demanding decertification as soon as a majority of the workforce gains card check recognition. The petitions are presented to the NLRB, which then holds a decertification vote.

Anti-union employees at the separate Dana and Metaldyne auto-parts manufacturing corporations filed decertification petitions weeks after workers joined the United Auto Workers (UAW) through the card check process.

Neutrality agreements usually occur in non-union shops where unions have organized the company’s other plants. Workers usually join labor unions either through voting in a secret ballot election that is organized and certified by the NLRB or card checks — the employer agrees to unionization when a majority of employees sign union cards.

Though the NLRB handed down the anti-union ruling it did not stop the UA W from organizing 2,500 workers at 11 different plants through card checks in 2007.

Verizon and “Neutrality”

In 2008, labor unions will undoubtedly see more anti-union employees file for decertification after card check certifications. Of 360 New York and New England Verizon technicians, 57 percent signed union cards in March 2007. Verizon has refused to recognize the process. In response, union organizers tried to pressure the phone company giant by having Congress members certify the process was valid.

Though only 360 workers are currently petitioning for unionization, it could lead to tens of thousands of Verizon workers joining unions in the future. Verizon signed a neutrality agreement in 2000 with the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the two unions that represent approximately 97,000 Verizon workers. The agreement prohibited Verizon from interfering with the effort to organize 35,000 non-union Verizon workers.

The two unions contend Verizon is ignoring the neutrality agreement, however. In the wake of the Dana/Metaldyne ruling, look for Verizon — and other corporations — to begin decertification drives and undermine neutrality agreements in 2008.


'Delaware is not a right-to-work state.'

Toyota broke ground in April last year to build an automotive assembly plant in Blue Springs, Miss. Delaware's Chrysler plant is scheduled to be idled next year.

Why didn't Toyota choose the Delaware site, with its thousands of skilled automotive workers and easy access to transportation hubs?

Automotive assembly plants are very attractive economic development targets for a state.

For every person they directly employ, there are two additional jobs generated in the region, in companies supplying auto parts, in restaurants and liquor stores, and in construction and housing production.

The Chrysler plant has approximately 2000 workers in a 3 million square foot plan. The Toyota plant in Mississippi is expected to directly employ 2000 workers when production begins in 2010.

The Toyota plant in Mississippi will produce Highlanders, a hybrid SUV. The Chrysler plant here produces Dodge Durangos and Chrysler Aspens, both SUVs.

Fifteen years ago, Delaware's auto plants, including General Motors, assembled 3 percent of all the cars bought in the U.S. Today the Delaware plants only assemble 1 percent of the cars driven by Americans.

The primary locational advantages for Mississippi over Delaware appear to be government decisions, some rooted in history, and others of more recent origin.

Mississippi is a right-to-work state. Right-to-work laws are enforced in twenty-two states and prohibit agreements between trade unions and employers making union membership (or dues paying) a condition of employment.

Delaware is not a right-to-work state. Approximately 12 percent of Delaware workers belong to unions, compared to less than 6 percent in Mississippi.

In the past, labor unions initiated many much needed and very important practices which protected the health and safety of workers. Today most of these initiatives are mandated by state law. Union workers typically receive pay and benefit premiums when compared with non-union workers.

In Delaware, that premium pay is approximately 20 percent.

Delaware has a state-wide prevailing wage law; Mississippi does not.

Delaware's prevailing wage law mandates union wages on all government contracts, increasing labor costs by 20 percent. Since half of the construction costs of buildings such as schools is labor, this adds 10 percent to all government contracts, increasing the cost of the same government services in Delaware, when compared with other states without prevailing wages.

Other state law differences are significant.

Delaware's personal income taxes are the third highest of any state, when measured on a per capita basis, and 32 percent higher than those in the average state.

Mississippi's personal income taxes are the 40th from the highest, and are 50 percent lower than those in the average state.

Empirical evidence frequently cites personal income tax burdens as one of the most predictive indicators of economic growth for states, the more heavy the burden, the less growth in income and employment.


Right To Work gets an update

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