Labor's LA Mistake

Nathan's wondering why labor is spending a boatload of cash in LA to oppose the candidate they backed four years ago. A bit of background -- Villaraigosa, the current challenger (and favorite) who lost in the runoff last time around is a former union organizer, the guy bleeds labor. Hahn is a progressive dude, but didn't have the same history, so Villaraigosa got the endorsement in 2001.

So four years ago, Labor went all-out for one of their own and lost. Hahn proved himself a pretty good friend to Labor in the aftermath, though, so Labor really didn't pay for the defeat. Fast forward a few years and, despite all the challengers massing to take a shot at the incumbent, the smart money was on Hahn's easy survival. And so Labor, stung from their recent misjudgement, took the good odds. But their endorsement was delivered in an almost ironic fashion, with federation head Miguel Contreras cautioning that he couldn't guarantee the rank-and-file would follow the recommendation. Everybody knew the bargain they were marking, but, at the time, Hahn's survival seemed so assured that nobody minded.

Now Hahn's the underdog, and his primary threat is a guy beloved by the rank-and-file. So, to answer Nathan's question, on why Labor's fighting this one, it's because they lost last time. If they lose this time their endorsement is proved basically worthless. And if their endorsement is worthless, they can kiss quite a bit of their power goodbye. Surprisingly, they're not even dissembling on this:

"I've seen a better job done for other candidates endorsed" by labor, said Tyrone Freeman, president of Local 434B of the Service Employees International Union, which has launched one of the most vigorous efforts for Hahn. "Unions have got to spend more in efforts for the candidates that do the job we ask them to do. Otherwise, what does it mean to have labor's endorsement, if the people of labor don't support it?"


Freeman warned that labor's reputation as an electoral powerhouse could be damaged if the unions don't mount a more forceful effort to secure Hahn's reelection.

"I think the integrity of our endorsement is questioned" without a more substantial campaign, he said. "There's a detrimental cost to labor by not having an endorsed candidate win this race."

But they're likely to lose on it. As Marc Cooper correctly argued, Labor made an establishment bet and lost, and now they're in the hopeless position of fighting an uphill battle against an ally absolutely beloved by their rank and file. And, frankly, it doesn't matter if they win or lose. Their efforts to help Hahn haven't been significant enough to leave him in their debt and their abandonment of Villaraigosa gives him an autonomy from them that he would never have had otherwise -- they're at his mercy now. It's an inversion of the old Usual Suspects quote, "How do you shoot the devil in the back? What if you miss?" They tried to stab a guardian angel and didn't even wound him. Whoops.