Thursday, March 16, 2006

Labor Endorsements and the Conventional Wisdom

I know I’ve been missing in action the last couple of days, and for that I apologize.  It’s been a very busy week for a lot of reasons.  Among other things, my mom came into town for my brother’s birthday.  As much as I love you all, Mom trumps Blog.  So it goes.  Anyhow, I’m in Folsom for most of today visiting with family, so forgive this hardscrabble blog post.  And forgive me for not responding to comments.  

Of course the big news I haven’t commented upon is Jerry McNerney’s endorsement by the California Labor Federation, which represents over two million Californian workers.  We have been discussing the grassroots vs. establishment nature of the Democratic primary, but I think this type of endorsement transcends that distinction.  

In California Democratic politics, Labor plays a huge role.  We saw in the special election how important Labor is to the Democratic Party coalition.  And the fact that the California Labor Federation lined up behind McNerney but not Filson means that McNerney has the support of, if not part of the Democratic Party establishment per se, at least a huge part of the progressive political establishment.

I know I’m being somewhat provocative, but I think it’s interesting to consider how perceptions would change if instead of being identified as the “grassroots candidate,” Jerry McNerney was perceived as the “union-backed candidate.” (I understand it might be a bit premature to identify him as such, at least until SEIU makes its endorsement.  That said, I highly suspect that SEIU will ultimately endorse McNerney and that he will unquestionably be the primary candidate with a hugely disproportionate amount of union support.)  

Anyhow, the reason I bring this up is because when Filson entered the race with the tacit backing of the DCCC and the active support of Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, he became widely perceived as “the establishment candidate.”  And as such, I think some view his entry into the race as somehow surrounded by an air of legitimacy and inevitability.  Of course, I was not a member of this group.    

From my perspective, when Filson entered the race and quickly garnered the support of a number of Bay Area congressional representatives, the conventional wisdom was that the Washington establishment crowd saw something in Steve Filson that the rest of us (who were not overly impressed with him) did not see.  We like to think that the members of Congress know the political score, so if they supported Filson so early, the thinking went, it must be because they knew he was a vastly superior candidate than Jerry McNerney.  And to put it more pointedly, I was told that the people in DC knew something I did not, that they were the experts and that I, along with a ton of local Democratic activists, were simply blind or naïve.  

And though I was skeptical about the aspect of the conventional wisdom that gave credence to the thought that people in DC know better what’s appropriate for Stockton than the people in Stockton, I think everyone recognized that the DCCC and Filson’s other Washington backers would at least provide him access to resources and funding that would be denied to Jerry McNerney.  So maybe even if the candidates were in fact equally viable opponents of Pombo, Steve Filson was given a boost by his supporters in DC.  So even if the people in DC were wrong about Filson, the natural result about their support of Filson would be consequences that would reinforce their belief that he was the right guy.  And, if nothing else, we can see this in the amount of money given to Filson by political PACs.  

Now let us think about this dynamic another way. Steve Filson went from being a political non-entity to being considered a credible candidate in the Democratic congressional primary all because some powerful Democrats in Washington vouched for his viability.  And this was before Steve Filson had to do anything to prove that he deserved their confidence.  Aside from Ellen Tauscher, whom I admit had some pre-established relationship with Steve Filson and his wife, the basis for this support came either from Ellen Tauscher’s confidence in Filson or from Filson’s resume.

And remember, one of those resume items that was so widely touted with Filson’s alleged activism in his union.  I saw “alleged” because some of his claims were disputed at the time (see point #4).  

But either way, I don’t think this looks good for Filson.  Either Filson was really a true union activist and the California Labor Federation failed to endorse him (which should kind of make you wonder what Filson would have had to do in order to be so odious to other Labor activists that they’d avoid even dually endorsing him along with McNerney) or, perhaps more charitably, Filson’s much-touted “activism” was never really there to begin with.  I do know that the inflated importance Filson gave to his “grassroots” political experience made me wonder about the other talking points we heard about his resume, including his union activity.  In any event, I cannot help but see as one of the implications of this endorsement that Filson failed to convince Labor that he is, in a relevant way, one of their own.    

Certainly, at the very least, I think this endorsement will put a big fat question mark after the notion that the people in DC really knew something that the rest of us were missing. Even if they genuinely saw something latent in Filson, he has, at least with respect to Labor, failed to actualize that latent potential.

In sum, I think this type of endorsement has the potential to alter the prevailing conventional wisdom. Furthermore, regardless of the perception this endorsement engenders, I think everyone will view this endorsement of McNerney as a big boost in terms of what it will concretely provide McNerney’s campaigns and what it will deny Filson’s campaign.  I think people who might have given money to Filson might reconsider it in light of his failure to secure any sort of meaningful district-wide endorsement from Labor.  And people who might not have given to McNerney might now do so given the strong support of Labor.  True, Filson has the endorsement of the Contra Costa Central Labor Council.  But that was one battle he won in a war he has so far overwhelmingly lost.  (Also, a lot of people will see the Contra Costa Central Labor Council endorsement as a result of Ellen Tauscher giving Filson the keys to that particular kingdom).  In addition, McNerney is now virtually assured enough ground troops and volunteers to run the type of campaign he needs to run in June.  People in Dublin, Pleasanton, and Sunol who are coming out to vote in the Assembly District 18 primary or the Senate District 10 primary will be reminded to vote for Jerry McNerney for the 11th Congressional District.  In San Joaquin County, the Central Labor Council’s endorsement will be supplemented by the efforts of the California Labor Federation, who have an interest in getting out the vote in support of their candidates for statewide office.  And the thing is, in Contra Costa County the Central Labor Council will be working at cross-purposes with the California Labor Federation and, frankly, with most of the Democratic clubs.

So unless Filson gets the support of SEIU or another similar large, organized group with members ready to do volunteer political work, I just can’t see who will man his campaign. And unless he is able just to raise an obscene amount of money this quarter, I don’t know how he’ll be able to afford to so much more political communication than McNerney. If Filson ends this quarter with $200,000 cash on hand like he has predicted he would, I can see how he might have enough money to be effective.  But otherwise, I really think we need to question how Filson is going to win the primary.  And consequently, we need to ask exactly what the people in DC thought they saw in Filson when they supported him, and whether we have any evidence that it is anything more substantial than his ability to attract support from Labor.  


Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent post matt!

1:48 PM, March 16, 2006  
Anonymous Will said...

Agreed! And slightly o/t, but in case anyone was wondering howe close Pombo is to bush, look no further than here:

(sometimes I touch my wife this way, but pretty much nobody else...)

4:03 PM, March 16, 2006  
Anonymous Vicki said...

HAHA!!! What a great picture Will. I think that deserves prominent display somewhere....everywhere.

Thanks for the post Matt. Very interesting observations about the unions - beltway folks.

8:46 PM, March 16, 2006  
Anonymous Fiat Lux said...

That picture of Pombo needs to be blown up and turned into a billboard. And a TV ad. And blown up in the blogosphere like the Bush/Henry Cuellar pic at the State of the Union (any netrootsy folks up for it?).

Too bad the DCCC didn't use it for their billboard.

Anyone up for a caption brainstorm?

My entry: "I wish I could quit you" ;-)

BTW -- check out the "United Defense" poster in the background.

12:50 AM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"You're a made man now, Richie."

Great work by Matt. Really enjoyed reading his analysis of the AFL-CIO endorsement for McNerney.

12:56 AM, March 17, 2006  
Blogger Mike Bird said...


"You my now kiss the bride."

In my opinion, the California AFL-CIO statewide endorsorement makes it clear McNerney is the front runner for the June Primary.

11:08 AM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, it's indeed priceless. The caption should read:

"Former Yale pom pom boy meets Pombo"
"Bush slaps Pombo for failing to wear his flag lapel pin"

4:37 PM, March 17, 2006  
Blogger VPO said...

Filson never impressed me. I could understand, maybe, the DCCC picking a candidate who was clearly superior to McNerney due to having been in office or having the connections in the district and support from the local clubs or having lots of money or being from San Joaquin even. But Filson has none of that. There is nothing at all I can find that shows Filson to be a superior candidate, or even a better than average one, or even an average one.

Well, he was in the military, I give him credit for that. But as far as a political resume, there is no there there.

Filson has had 6 months now to prove himself as a candidate, whether by fund-raising (Pombo has 10x the amount), by making connections to the local clubs (barely any movement there), by showing skillful public speaking (marginal at best), by having an appealing platform ("moderate" muddledness) -- I mean anything that would distinguish him, and I keep finding nothing.

Only the fact that the DCCC and Tauscher tacitly support him. But that is sounding pretty hollow at this point, when the candidate cannot prove that he has the goods. At first, maybe, we could give him the benefit of the doubt. But now, 6 months into it, we are still left wanting when it comes to Filson.

What sort of crazy idea was it that the DCCC thought they could just pick somebody off the street like that "and make him a star"? Maybe in movies, but it does not work that way in real life.

5:28 PM, March 17, 2006  
Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

Filson doesn't seem to impress anyone in the district but he does seem to impress the Inside-the-Beltway power elite, impress them with his utter lack of independence-- just what the likes of Rahm Emanuel, Steny Hoyer and, alas, Nancy Pelosi are looking for. VPO says it's a "crazy idea... that the DCCC thought they could just pick somebody off the street like that "and make him a star?" How crazy is it when they have succeeded in wrecking the campaigns of progressive grassroots candidates all over the country to insert their Filson-like shills over and over and over? I bet every single one of them will lose in November. But at least Emanuel, Hoyer and Pelosi won't have many independent-minded freshman to contend with. Oh, and one more thing about VPO's comment-- he mentions the DCCC's support of Filson is "tacit." Take a look at what Emanuel's Executive Director had to say about the race in the 11th CD last week. You call that tacit?

8:41 PM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Rick said...

The constant griping about the DCCC's backing of Filson seems to validate the notion that he has a better campaign, broader appeal, and will win the primary. After all, why would McNerney supporters devote so much time and energy to trashing Filson when they expect to have the Democratic nomination locked up?

I'm looking forward to the Monday debate at the Tri-Valley Democratic Cluh...We shall see who the better candidate is.

9:30 PM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Some Other Guy said...

Once again, the DCCC does not appear to be that involved in Filson's campaign. Other than simply comparing notes on Filson and McNerney and saying "Filson looks to be better", they haven't really done anything. Thus, I think this whole DCCC v. McNerney and his supporters shit is just pointless. So the DCCC likes Filson better than McNerney, so what? Get over it.

As for the whole Filson has had 6 months argument, the vast majority of voters did not care about the election 6 months ago. The vast majority of voters don't care about the election even now. And it is common political knowledge that a campaign does not really start until about 3 months before the election. We are only now beginning to enter the full swing of campaign season (at least as far as this June primary is concerned).

And, while not the greatest example in the world, it is an example that most readers here will know.... I seem to recall the AFL-CIO and numerous other labor organizations and big name politicos endorsing Howard Dean in the 2004 presidential primary. And look how that turned out. None of those endorsments, including labor, contributed man power to Dean's campaign. And, despite the appearance of Dean being the front-runner and despite Dean getting all those endorsements, his campaign was a dismal failure. Granted, I acknowledg the differences between that campaign and this one. However, it is just something to keep in mind. In other words, I wouldn't come to any conclusions about McNerney or his candidacy just because of this endorsement.

Oh, and word on the street is that Howard Dean wants McNerney to drop out of this race. Now, that could be interpreted many ways. Regardless, I find it interesting.

9:56 PM, March 17, 2006  
Blogger Matt said...

The constant trash-talking about the Niners seems to validate the notion that they has a better offense, defense, and will win the Super Bowl. After all, why would Raiders supporters devote so much time and energy to trashing the Niners when they expect to have the season locked up? Oh wait...

11:02 PM, March 17, 2006  
Blogger Matt said...

A) Once again, the DCCC does not appear to be that involved in Filson's campaign. Other than simply comparing notes on Filson and McNerney and saying "Filson looks to be better", they haven't really done anything. Thus, I think this whole DCCC v. McNerney and his supporters shit is just pointless. So the DCCC likes Filson better than McNerney, so what? Get over it.

Bullshit. Pure and simple. I'm sorry I can't tell you what I know. But this is bullshit. The DCCC has been actively supporting Filson and actively impeding McNerney. They have not done this to the same degree as the Cegelis vs Duckworth vs Scott race in IL-06, but they have done the same general type of thing. Even Steve Filson himself has said that the DCCC is supporting him. So your brute denial that they're helping him is bullshit. You know not of what you speak.

B) I agree with the substance of your second paragraph.

C) In other words, I wouldn't come to any conclusions about McNerney or his candidacy just because of this endorsement.

I think the more substantive question, and the point about the post, was about what the LACK OF ENDORSEMENT says about Filson's campaign. If I could go back, I'd title this post "Where's the Beef?" It's an important question that Filson's campaign needs to answer. It's time for them to demonstrate his ability to win over new people, not simply flap their gums about it. Whatever you think about McNerney, he certainly delivered on this issue.

D)Oh, and word on the street is that Howard Dean wants McNerney to drop out of this race. Now, that could be interpreted many ways. Regardless, I find it interesting.

Yeah, the word on the street as put there by Filson's people. Seriously, I want everyone to know that I have not heard a single peep of this except from people involved in Filson's campaign. Yet another example of his campaign operating in an above-board manner./snark

You see I saw Howard Dean talk to Jerry McNerney. And Howard Dean said in front of me that he was staying neutral in the race. And Howard Dean was very warm in his reception of McNerney. So, first of all, I don't believe that Dean wants McNerney out of the race. And until you can do more than peddle cheap gossip, I think you're full of it.

But second of all, suppose Dean had asked McNerney not to run or to drop out, so fucking what? Really. McNerney wouldn't lose a single supporter if Dean asked him to drop out. Dean, on the other hand, would face an absolute shitstorm from the DFA community. If you think otherwise, you completely misunderstand what Dean's vision was all about.

11:26 PM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous nicholas said...

For the record, not a single person on this thread who has mentioned the DCCC is a mcnerney supporter..

and we sure as heck arent running around town talking about the dccc..

where in the world is that accusation coming from?

as prince would say, "good gawd!!!"
-now back to sleep i go.


3:30 AM, March 18, 2006  
Anonymous nicholas said...

a couple more points before bed...

1) the dccc is stepping in and helping filson more now. nancy and zoe are hosting fundraiser's for filson...

and cha know what? good for sweat off our backs...

2) theres a huge difference in regards to labor backing dean and labor backing mcnerney...Labor really flexed its muscle with the governator last election. In my discussion's with Labor its appearant that they are not going to give up that influence. Locally, McNerney's campaign is one of their passions and they are going to used what they learned from last year, improve on it, and make sure that their don't loose influence politically..

3) ummm, by the time California's primary came along wasnt Dean toast? Ya see, im not sure about the rest of the country but Matt's original point about labor was that they are a strong political entity in "CALIFORNIA", not nationally. And the Alameda Central Labor is considered the second best organized and influencial labor group in the state...they know how to organize their people for elections..and SJ Labor covers the largest part of the district. Both support McNerney... (i'll conceed filson's win of CC...but thats a very small portion of the important part though that we wish we could have won...but none the less it only covers 20% of the district. before filson backers start saying that im trashing the CC Labor...we respect them..we support their values..we look forward to working with them against Pombo...and we look forward to fighting for their rank and files rights.)

night night...

3:49 AM, March 18, 2006  

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