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.