Since I first began writing this column in January 2004, I’ve never used it to endorse a candidate for public office. I won’t break that tradition, now.
However, I am starting something new, today. I am calling on the elected Democrats of Davis to repudiate our member of the Assembly, Mariko Yamada, and requesting that the leaders of the Davis Democratic Club publicly favor John Munn for Yamada’s seat in the California Assembly.
As Sen. John F. Kennedy famously wrote in his 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Profiles in Courage,” it takes guts to cross party lines, to stand up for what is right, even when that means bucking friends in your own political party.
Do I expect the Democrats who sit on our City Council to have the courage to stand up to Yamada and to endorse her opponent, Munn, who himself is a Davis resident and former elected member of the Davis Board of Education? No.
Do I think the leaders of the Davis Democratic Club — President Arun Sen, Vice President Michael Syvanen and Treasure Betty Weir — will side with our city and county in the face of an attack on them by their political party? No.
But let this challenge be so recorded as a measure of pusillanimity by those who lack the fortitude to fight for what is right.
As with her efforts to pass a corrupt municipal bankruptcy law designed to maintain lucrative firefighter contracts — it was written by the California Professional Firefighters and Yamada was listed as a co-author — Yamada is at it again.
She endorsed and voted yes this session on AB 2451, another bill written by Yamada’s financial backers, the firefighters. (Our state senator, Lois Wolk, at least had the good sense, if not courage, to miss the vote when it passed on party lines in her chamber last week. When Wolk last bucked the firefighters, over Yamada’s bankruptcy bill, they had Wolk removed from all of her important committee assignments.)
According to the official analysis written for the legislators, the dependents of California firefighters and peace officers (including prison and jail guards) would get a new death benefit worth in excess of $300,000 each. This is money that will go to people whose retirement packages (pension plus medical plans) are worth millions of dollars each.
As the firefighters designed AB 2451, if a Davis fire captain retires in 2015 at age 50 with his $100,000 annual pension (which inflates automatically every year) and his lifetime free medical (which also covers his wife for life and his son up to age 26) and then he dies of a heart attack or cancer or AIDS or a variety of other maladies when he is age 95 in 2060, it will automatically be presumed that his death was work-related, and therefore those who were his dependents in 2015 will receive a massive death claim from workers compensation.
If he has no dependents, the benefit will be paid to a state fund.
This bill is an unfunded mandate. It won’t come out of Yamada’s $95,291 salary or her medical plan or her state pension.
The city of Davis will be liable to pay out this award for each of our cops and firefighters. And Yolo County, which is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, will be liable for the employees of the Sheriff’s Department and the jail guards.
Assemblywoman Yamada’s payoff to her campaign donors will add a back-breaking amount of debt to every local government agency; it might cripple the state, as well.
A few years ago, when the Democrats first passed this bill and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it, the legislation only applied to firefighters. In order to entice Gov. Jerry Brown to sign this prodigal plan, the firefighters included cops and prison guards in this year’s version. But make no mistake: This is the firefighter unions at work.
They began purchasing Yamada’s vote last year. On Feb. 23, 2011, the California Professional Firefighters handed her a $1,000 check. Two and a half months later, they gave Yamada another $1,500. On Feb. 20, 2012, the firefighters donated $1,000 to our member of the Assembly. And on March 29 they gave another $2,253.30.
In addition to the thousands of dollars the firefighters give to every elected Democrat willing to dirty his hands, they have spent millions of dollars over the years buying their party. During this two-year election cycle, firefighter unions have given $550,738 directly to the Democratic State Central Committee.
When Jerry Brown was mayor of Oakland (1999-2007), he earned a reputation as an honest politician. He stood up to the municipal employees, including the cops and firefighters, when what they wanted conflicted with what was best for his city. He even fought battles against the teachers’ union in Oakland, a struggle he admits he lost.
Unfortunately, when Brown ran for governor in 2010, he did so with the financial backing of the public employees and the trade unions. And thus, as governor, Brown has failed to show any backbone against those big-money donors.
If he signs AB 2451, hundreds of local agencies in our state, which might have avoided insolvency, will be unable to do so.
The real losers of this profile in cowardice will not only be the taxpayers expected to pick up the bill. It will be the poor children, the disabled, the mentally ill, the undernourished and the helpless elderly whose programs and funds will be cut, just so the gluttonous firefighters can further expand their waistlines and Mariko Yamada can perpetuate her power.
— Rich Rifkin is a Davis resident; his column is published every other week. Reach him at [email protected]