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Dem Coalition Opens Headquarters in Santa Monica

By Gene Williams
Staff Writer

August 23 -- Some 50 elected officials, candidates, union officials, party leaders and grassroots activists jammed inside the offices of a local teachers union Sunday afternoon.

All of them were Democrats and all of them shared a common goal: to defeat a series of ballot initiatives that will go before California voters November 8 in the special election called for by Governor Schwarzenegger.

“It’s like herding cats to get us all together,” California Democratic Party Secretary Reginald Jones Sawyer told those sitting on folding chairs and on the floor inside the modest stucco house at 1508 18th Street. “But what makes us different also makes us strong.”

For the next 11 weeks the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Union will share its headquarters with this newly formed group -- a combination of some half dozen local Democratic clubs called the Westside Democratic Coalition.

LA Council member Bill Rosendahl greets members of the coalition. (Photos by Gene Williams)

Soon the coalition will be making phone calls, registering voters, hosting informational events and walking area precincts.

“These are all the various grassroots activities that usually take place during an election,” explained coalition member and West Los Angeles Democratic Club President Marc Saltzberg.

But the Democrats say the stakes are big, and they will have to work hard to defeat the initiatives, even though the governor and his policies have become increasingly unpopular.

“Don’t count on the polls,” warned coalition member Mark Klein of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Alliance for a Better California (ABC). “All that counts in an election is the turnout.

“Republicans vote more than Democrats,” he added. “That’s the bottom line.”

Sandy Goldfarb, also with ABC, agreed. “We were told (by consultants) that we need to get 600,000 more voters than usually vote in an off-year election. They’re really looking to Los Angeles to deliver that.”

Explaining that Schwarzenegger was counting on a low Democratic turnout to push his agenda forward, newly elected Los Angeles Council member Bill Rosendahl called it an “off-year, off-year, off-year election.”

“It’s so off, it’s going to be difficult to coordinate,” he added.

Rosendahl drew laughs when he recounted questioning the governor about his declining popularity

“What are you going to do to get back the teachers? What are you going to do to get back the nurses? What are you going to do to get back the fireman?” Rosendahl said he asked Schwarzenegger.

“‘I’m working on that Bill,’” was the governor’s reply according to Rosendahl.

Indeed, Schwarzenegger has found himself under increasing attack from civil servants and union workers since last spring, when he unveiled budget slashing plans he says are necessary to restore the state to fiscal health.

Of several initiatives supported by the governor in the upcoming election, the centerpiece is proposition 76, which would give the governor much more power over spending.

If passed, the measure would cap expenditures, force cuts automatically if the budget is not hammered out by the July 1 deadline, and allow the governor to cut programs mid-year if State coffers fall short of projected revenues.

While proponents say the measure would ensure the State operates on a fiscally sound basis, the Westside Democratic Coalition says it would undermine funding for schools, healthcare, police and fire departments.

Paul Koretz, State Assemblyman for the 42nd District, ralllies the troops.

“This, I think will make us a permanently dysfunctional state,” 42nd District Assemblyman Paul Koretz commented Sunday. “The governor will be able to cut anything he wants. Everything will be under funded.”

Two other initiatives endorsed by the Governor and opposed by the Democrats are Proposition 74, which would increase the probationary period for K-12 teachers from two to five years before receiving “permanent” employee status, and Proposition 77, which would take redistricting power away from legislators and place it in the hands of a panel of retired judges.

But many say that the initiative that could most impact the political process is proposition 75, which if passed, would make it tougher for public employee unions to finance political campaigns without the consent of their individual members.

This has labor leaders hopping mad and Democrats -- who receive the majority of labor contributions -- fearful of being cut off from the political mother’s milk.

Those at Sunday’s gathering said that the Governor’s policies are so dangerous that one of the broadest coalitions in memory has come together to oppose them.

“This is the National right wing agenda that, for some reason, Arnold has adopted and is moving forward,” Koretz told his fellow Democrats. “If it passes here, it’s going to be tried everywhere.”

School Board Vice President Julia Brownley agreed.

“We are possibly in for the fight of our lifetime, not only for Democrats in California, but for the entire country,” said Brownley, who will be running for the 41st District State Assembly seat next June.

“We are at a crossroads in the political landscape,” Brownley said.

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