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The Byrne Report

Chasing Arnie


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WITH THE NEWS that California labor unions are spending $60 million to defeat antilabor propositions placed on the Nov. 8 ballot by a decidedly unpopular governor, the balance of campaign money has, oddly, shifted. Arnold Schwarzenegger will be lucky to raise half of the $50 million he says it will take to spank the million or so teachers, firefighters, nurses and cops he claims make it impossible to "reform" government. The governor, in case you did not know, favors the neoconservative agenda of tax holidays for the rich and stone soup for the poor.

Hasta la vista, dude, and not a moment too soon. Don't get me wrong. I am not advocating that we turn the state over to the public employee unions, the same special interests that acted like Gray Davis was the cheese. But Schwarzenegger wants to micromanage the private financial affairs of unions in order to kill their political clout while continuing to allow corporate trade associations to buy the entire government. Still, I am not impressed by the way that large trade unions and coalitions like the AFL-CIO feather their own beds at the expense of everybody else.

A few days before Labor Day, the California Teachers Association organized a protest at a fundraising luncheon for Schwarzenegger at the home of Barbara Banke and Jess Jackson, owners of the Kendall-Jackson wine brand in the Alexander Valley. I tagged along. After gathering at CTA headquarters in Santa Rosa, we caravanned past the nearby K-J tasting room honking madly and influencing only a clutch of terrified tourists.

Because the organizers did not know exactly where Jackson lives, we staked out an isolated country store south of Healdsburg. Thirty protesters waved such signs as "Your Hummer Is a Bummer," "Give the Kids Their $2 billion," "Patients Are Nurses' Special Interests." One woman held a nicely printed placard reading "Democracy for America." Sandra Lowe, CTA's "political consultant," censored the woman. "Nurses, teachers, firefighters—that is what this is about," said an obviously irritated Lowe. "Stay on message." The protester turned the sign over and scrawled: "Brain Dead Women for Arnold."

A CHP car drove slowly by. But no Arnold. Organizers moved the rambunctious affair down the road to an intersection where they guessed the governor's entourage might need to cross. Lowe, who has followed the governor to all of his fundraisers since February, said, "He used to go in the front door. Now he sneaks in and out the back way. His office keeps the calendar secret. But we have police sources who let us know where he is going."

A UPS truck swung by, honking. The crowd cheered. Likewise, a Port-O-Let sewage tanker. But still no Arnold. An operating engineer dressed in chinos and a sport shirt told me he came because the governor hates unions, and his boss told him to come. The engineer pulled up to the show in a satin-black town car, as did several other union officials. Meanwhile, in the vineyards surrounding the intersection, Latino farmworkers toiled in the heat. Kendall-Jackson and most Alexander Valley wineries are, unfortunately, nonunion. When dirt-encrusted farm hands drove past the coterie of organized labor in battered pick-up trucks, they did not honk, nor did the unionists cheer.

It started getting hot. The operating engineer found a local who told him that there is a back road to the Jackson estate. "Maybe we should split up," suggested the engineer, looking at his air-conditioned chariot. Suddenly, a car full of guys in business suits turned into the intersection. The crowd chanted: "Shame on you! Shame on you!" The car peeled away, the driver startled to be yelled at by protesters 70 miles north of Market Street. Still no Arnold. But there was an Arnold impersonator, strutting his stuff in lederhosen while carrying a sign adorned with a picture of the governor wearing a brown shirt dashed with lightning insignia.

I finally got bored and walked down the road to talk with a neighbor. The neighbor loathes Jackson because after the wealthy vintner bought thousands of prime hunting acres in the valley, he forbade gun-toting locals to trespass. He told me exactly where Jackson lives. I decided not to clue in the "political consultant" (it said that on her business card). I drove over to the Jackson place a couple of miles north. It looked like a great spot for a demonstration.

The next day, the Press Democrat printed a photo of the all-white union protesters (who never saw Arnold) and their intelligently designed signs, such as "Kindergarten Cop-a-Feel—Hands Off." I called the national UFW spokesperson to ask why there were no UFW members at the demonstration. "We do not give money to political campaigns," he replied. Come to think of it, $60 million could organize a lot of farmworkers.

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From the October 5-11, 2005, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.