California has had its share of extraordinary elections over the years, but the 2014 edition will have something singular. As expected, every Democrat seeking statewide office will evidently coast to victory. There are two Democrats vying for one office, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and their race couldn’t be closer.
Tom Torlakson is the incumbent. He’s a former state legislator and has been the unions’ guy since he took office in 2010. He’s opposed by Marshall Tuck, a charter school executive who is supported by reform Democrats and the Corporate Axis of Evil.
The race has become a proxy battleground for the direction of the Democratic Party. Spending on the race will exceed $20 million before all is said and done – a truly outrageous amount considering the office itself isn’t exactly imbued with overarching education policy power.
Step back from the battleground, and the campaign assumes its natural level. The latest Field Poll shows Torlakson and Tuck each with 28% support, and an amazing 44% undecided. Strange as it seems, those undecided numbers haven’t changed much since last month’s poll. But that’s far from the strangest number.
The California Teachers Association will end up throwing more than $10 million into this one race – most of it dues money. The union is flogging its activists to contact members, work phone banks and walk precincts for Torlakson. It turned most of its State Council meeting last weekend into a Torlakson campaign rally, complete with an appearance from the candidate himself.
Odd, then, that the Field Poll shows support for Torlakson from union households in California at an anemic 31%, with 23% backing Tuck, and 46% undecided. That’s after months of hyping Torlakson through every available union communications outlet.
The question arises: If 69% of union households are not, or not yet, backing Torlakson, how did the unions approve spending $10 million on his behalf?
That’s a rhetorical question, of course. The answer is that CTA practices representative democracy in reverse. Decisions are made by the small handful of officers and shop stewards who participate in union activities. Then they justify, promote and sell these decisions to the membership-at-large – using the members’ own money to do so.
Some union members may think I’m overstating the dysfunction of such a system. Well, what would be the reaction of the rank-and-file of the New York State United Teachers if the union leadership endorsed and spent $10 million supporting Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lobbied NYSUT members to support him? Probably open rebellion. I might add that Cuomo is disliked by teacher union members, but he probably has more than 31 percent support.