They Said Paycheck Protection Would Be Back Again in California…An Archived Post-Election Letter from the 1998 Proposition 226 Grassroots Campaign Team

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Proposition 32 (on the November 6, 2012 ballot) is the third opportunity in 15 years for California voters to enact a state law that requires unions to get written permission from their members (and the employees they represent who aren’t formally union members) to deduct money from their paychecks to use for political purposes.

Proposition 226 in 1998 was the first, and Proposition 75 in 2005 was the second (although Prop 75 only gave paycheck protection rights to workers in public employee unions). Both of these ballot measures were defeated by almost the exact same percentage.

On June 2, 1998, 53.3% of California voters rejected Proposition 226. Looking through my old files, I found this June 1998 post-election letter from the nine leaders of the Yes on 226 campaign team which handled the grassroots operation out of Orange County. (This was a separate organization from Governor Pete Wilson’s Californians for Paycheck Protection operation in Sacramento, which handled most of the TV advertising for Proposition 226 under the direction of Mitch Zak, who is now a partner in the public relations firm of Randle Communications.)

The team blamed its loss on an open and deliberate (and highly effective) campaign strategy by Proposition 226 opponents to distract voters from the themes of workers’ freedom of choice and the appropriate use of mandatory paycheck deductions by unions.

The team also pointed out that unions (ironically) took additional money from their members’ paychecks (without permission) to fund a campaign that exceeded $30 million. ($40 million was a number frequently bandied about by political insiders after the election.) This huge sum completely swamped the amount raised by Proposition 226 supporters, who generally failed to convince timid business groups and corporate executives to help their campaign with voluntary contributions.

To prove that the opposition campaign deceived California voters, the letter indicated that exit polling showed 69% of voters “support giving workers the right to choose whether money comes out of their check for politics.” (This percentage was close to the 71% percent who claimed to support Proposition 226 in a February 1998 Field Poll, before opponents began their TV advertising.) Voters supported the concept; they did not support the specific ballot measure of Proposition 226. Attached to the letter was a June 4, 1998 editorial from the Wall Street Journal contending that paycheck protection was not a dead concept.

The letter concluded with a promise that the team would again seek voter approval for a statewide ballot measure for paycheck protection and would maintain their campaign infrastructure for the 2000 primary election.

We’re going to do it again…Please join us in continuing the fight.

This, of course, did not happen in the end. As the state began to accelerate its slide to the political Left, the nine campaign team members went their various ways, some of them to continue the fight for economic and personal freedom in other arenas.

Three have been particularly prominent. Ron Nehring ultimately becoming chairman of the California Republican Party for two terms. Jim Righeimer became involved in local government and was elected to the Costa Mesa City Council, received national news media attention for tackling excessive union-backed public employee expenditures, and is now campaigning for a city charter (Measure V in Orange County) to circumvent costly union-backed state mandates. Eric Christen has been executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction for 13 years, fighting government-mandated Project Labor Agreements at California local governments, and he also attempted to reform a declining Colorado Springs school district as an elected board member in the mid-2000s.

The next effort in California for paycheck protection was initiated in 2005 by Lew Uhler of the National Tax Limitation Committee. It became one of four propositions in a 2005 special election called by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger after the Democrat majority in the California State Legislature refused to adopt his various reform proposals. An interesting article published at the time about the lessons supposedly learned from the Proposition 226 failure is in the September 2005 California Political Review magazine: Quiet, Unassuming Lew Uhler.

The lessons did not lead to a different outcome. On November 8, 2005, 53.5% of California voters rejected Proposition 75 – not as badly as the other three propositions, but enough to sink the idea for another seven years. The percentage against Proposition 75 was only .2% higher than the percentage against Proposition 226 more than seven years earlier.

One difference between the 2012 campaign to pass Proposition 32 and the two earlier paycheck protection campaigns: this time the Governor of California is not backing it. This may actually be an improvement in the quest for paycheck protection!

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