I first watched the movie Alien in a center city Philadelphia theater, where, um, audience participation was more of an accepted part of the film-going culture than in my bland, white suburb, and during that horrific dinner table scene where the alien bursts through the chest of a writhing John Hurt, a fellow theatergoer relieved the tension by yelling at the screen: “Well, if you didn’t like the spaghetti, you could’ve just said so!”
That’s kinda my reaction to yesterday’s manufactured scandal over the now dead Workers Privacy Act. If they didn’t like the bill, they could’ve just said so, but state Democratic leaders certainly didn’t have to make such a big scene about it.
Passage of the Workers Privacy Act was one of labor’s top priorities during the current session, so when Gov. Chris Gregoire, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp issued a joint statement early yesterday morning announcing that they were shelving the bill due to “serious legal and ethical questions,” and forwarding a labor email over to the state patrol for further investigation, I feared I’d be covering a scandal of Blagojevichian proportions.
But after finally reading a leaked copy of the email, which turned out to be a communication between labor stakeholders summarizing a strategy conference call… well… not so much.
Union leaders would send a message to the State Democratic party and to the Truman and Roosevelt funds from the House and Senate that “not another dime from labor” until the Governor signs the Worker Privacy Act.
Um… that’s it? Angry constituents talking amongst themselves about withholding future contributions? That’s cause for a police investigation? Our state’s three top Dems douched the Washington State Labor Council for this? Are they out of their fucking minds?
You wanna prosecute a supporter for an idle threat, how about me: not another dime from Goldy until Gov. Gregoire signs an income tax. In fact, I’ll take it one step further: if the governor does sign an income tax, I promise to donate five dollars to every legislator who votes yes on the bill. There… now that’s crossing a line. I await my visit from the state patrol.
Sure, it may have been imprudent to use such blunt language in writing, and it was certainly stupid to have included a handful of legislators on the email list, but there is nothing unethical or illegal about threatening to withhold future contributions from a Democratic leadership that seems intent on screwing its most loyal supporters. Money follows votes—that’s how our system works—and if legislators don’t like it they could give up the inherent advantage of incumbency and move to a system of publicly financed elections.
Indeed, it’s only when votes follow money that we’ve really crossed a legal and ethical line, and as this incident once again proves, our Democratic leadership has absolutely no problem kicking their gift horse in the mouth… you know… at least when the horse belongs to labor or environmentalists or any other non-business constituency group.
No doubt the business lobby’s fake think tanks and talk radio hosts and other surrogates in our media establishment will get all high and mighty about the corrupt culture of Olympia and all that, and yet it is business that has honed extortion into their most potent and familiar political tool: “Cut these unemployment benefits, or we’ll leave town!” “Kill this bill, or we’ll leave town!” “Cut our taxes, or we’ll leave town!”
But a handful of unions threaten to turn off the tap if the Dems keep treating them like shit, and that’s unethical? That warrants calling the cops? It beggars the imagination.
No, we all know what happened here: the Democratic leadership hated this bill and were just itching for an excuse to kill it. The only question remaining is why they had to do it in such an outrageously ham-fisted manner?
Frank could have just refused to let the bill come to the floor for a vote; he’s good at that. Or the bill could have been allowed to die in one committee or another. Or the governor could have vetoed the bill, had it somehow managed to pass both houses. If they didn’t like the spaghetti, they could’ve just said so.
And if they really were concerned about the language or intent of the email, they could have expressed their displeasure privately, then killed the bill all the same, just as they had always intended to do. It was a stupid thing to put in writing, and the WSLC arguably deserved a tongue lashing in response.
But instead, they took this relatively innocuous line in an email that wasn’t even directed to legislators, and used that as grounds for publicly attacking unions, and instigating a police investigation? Why?
Are they that fearful of even the remotest appearance of impropriety that they’re willing to throw their most loyal supporters under the bus at the slightest provocation? Is this whole incident a calculated effort to prove to the media and business establishment that the party really is independent of labor? Or, have the state Dems really come to take labor money so for granted, that they’ve forgotten it isn’t their own, thus, in their own minds, making any suggestion of withholding future contributions the ethical equivalent of a reverse bribe… essentially a threat to steal money from Democratic coffers unless the bill is signed?
I dunno. But what I do know is that unless an apology for this bizarre overreaction is forthcoming, the unions in question might be better served by holding true to their threat. Not a dime for the house and senate Democratic committees… at least not while they remain under control of leaders who clearly don’t value labor’s support.