By Mark London Williams
A few short months ago, Below The Line took the unusual step for a Hollywood trade paper of running an endorsement in its editorial pages in California’s gubernatorial elections. BTL endorsed incumbent Gray Davis as the best choice – not the most visionary –but the best, in a realpolitik sense, to serve the interests of California’s laborers. Including those who toil in film and television.
Since then, the topsy turvy world of take-no-prisoners politics has fomented a first-ever recall campaign in California, for which votes are being cast and tallied as you read these words. As these words are written just before October 7, we are against the recall, and if that fails—making another realpolitik choice—in favor of supporting the flawed candidacy of Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante to replace Davis. But it is important to look at the forces that brought us here, and what they mean for California workers down the line.
First, the recall didn’t come out of a groundswell of publicly organized indignation: It was a deliberate tactic used by the GOP, who, in the form of Darryl Issa and others, provided the funds to gather signatures to put the question on the ballot. But Davis’ 5 year-record of timidity in the face of hard decisions and special interests was what left him vulnerable – never mind that the “energy crisis” was an invention of George Bush’s Enron pals, or the workers comp crisis arose partly out of deregulation begun under Republican Governor Pete Wilson.
Davis has been slow to support the very constituencies whose support he, in turn, needs right now, and that is why SAG member Arnold Schwarzenegger stands a disturbingly good chance of becoming California’s next chief executive.
A prism through which to view this might be Senate Bill 2 – the health coverage bill that recently passed the California legislature (and which will be covered in BTL’s series on pension, health and welfare issues for Hollywood union members, beginning next issue). In brief, the bill presents a tiered plan for employers to provide health care plans for their employees, with very small businesses exempt, and companies with 200 or more employees opting in 2006 to pick up coverage (with some tax deductions given back as compensation), and companies in the 50-200 employee range coming on board in 2007. The bill will help an estimated additional million Californians get coverage they don’t currently have.
Democrat Davis hasn’t signed that bill yet. Predictably, Arnold is against it – it costs “business” too much (the countervailing costs of masses of uninsured citizens overwhelming the health care system are never discussed) though Arnold has yet to offer a state-funded measure as any kind of alternative. But Davis, in cautiously approaching the signature line on a bill that the California Federation of Labor– which has been working hard against his recall— has described as a top priority shows why he is not only not beloved by his enemies, but by his putative allies as well.
Davis could have signed the bill before the election. Then again, he may wait to sign it out of spite after the election if he loses. Who knows? But a little vision, a lot earlier on, in his administration, may have saved us all this strife to begin with. Either way, fallout from the recall will keep falling. Below the Line will be there to let you know when to get out your umbrellas.
By Mark London Williams