Why SEIU’s pledge is wrong no matter what’s in it – By Ken Kreischer and Keith Woods

We’ve been wondering when the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) would feel the public pressure to defend its onerous practice of demanding that candidates for local offices sign a Pledge before earning money and support from their public employees union.

SEIU’s overdue defense of Pledges appeared in last Sunday’s Press Democrat in the form of a “Close to Home” column by union spokespersons Jack Buckhorn and Maddy Hirshfield. They really had no choice but to respond since the practice of special interest groups requiring commitments by candidates during campaigns has been so roundly criticized in recent years.

Groups like the North Coast Builders Exchange, the Sonoma County Alliance, Engineering Contractors Association, and North Bay Leadership Council took a firm stand two years ago against the practice of forcing candidates to pre-commit their actions and votes to earn support, and we all remain steadfast in that opposition. The very concept of demanding that a candidate sign any kind of Pledge, no matter how benign, is indefensible at face value.

Let us be clear: our opposition is not just to SEIU’s insistence on a Pledge being signed when a candidate is running for office. We oppose Pledges whether they are sought by business groups, taxpayer associations, environmental organizations, unions, or anyone else. The entire concept of a Pledge is abhorrent, no matter what group makes their support contingent on a pre-commitment of votes or actions.

SEIU – and any group involved in local elections – certainly should have gotten the message two years ago that the concept of demanding Pledges is held in low esteem by the general voting public. Voters want independent-minded candidates whose only commitment is to represent all citizens on all issues, not just special interest supporters.

A look at the Deb Fudge vs. James Gore race in 2014 for the 4th District Sonoma County Supervisor’s seat clearly reflected the public’s growing disdain for Pledges.  Fudge openly acknowledged making Pledges to unions and other organizations while Gore did not.  Fudge was labeled the “Pledged Candidate” while Gore remained the “Independent Candidate.”

Gore won the election in a landslide by 18 points. We believe the Pledge issue was certainly a factor.

The 2016 election season currently underway has encouraged the Builders Exchange and other business organizations that we have successfully put the brakes once and for all on any momentum toward candidates signing Pledges.

For example, NCBE and four other business groups held joint interviews recently with City Council candidates from all nine Sonoma County cities. We do this for the convenience of the candidates and then we make our own separate endorsement decisions.

What stood out this year versus past elections is that of the 27 candidates we interviewed, NOT ONE had signed any kind of Pledge – including Deb Fudge.

And we were heartened by the comments about the practice by several of the candidates: “Circumstances change and new data emerge, so locking myself into any one position is irrational; “I want to be completely independent if I get elected”; “I have a fundamental disagreement with this practice”; and “Why would I do something like that?”

SEIU certainly has a lot at stake in who gets elected to local offices since their public employee members’ salaries, pensions, medical benefits, and more depend on who gets elected. Protecting and enhancing their compensation is why they exist.

But what’s good for the public employees may not be good for the rest of us. Our only protection as citizens is independent-minded candidates whose only pledge is to look out for the public’s best interests.  

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