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Unions Throw Cash, Clout Into Brown's Campaign : Politics: Labor feels shut out by Wilson and is his rival's staunchest backer. But prison guards support governor.

Unions Throw Cash, Clout Into Brown's Campaign. FIRST OF TWO PARTS

October 31, 1994|PAUL JACOBS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — "What happens to state workers if Pete Wilson wins the gubernatorial election in November?" asks an editorial in the magazine of the largest state workers' union.

"We're sunk," is the answer.

With rhetoric like that, it's not surprising that the magazine's publisher, the California State Employees Assn., has taken out its checkbook to back Wilson's Democratic challenger, state Treasurer Kathleen Brown--providing her uphill campaign with $264,000 in badly needed cash and services this year.

A detailed review of Brown's campaign reports and interviews with labor leaders show that the state employees group is not alone. Driven by distaste for Wilson as much as enthusiasm for Brown, unions across the state, representing truck drivers and carpenters, teachers and firefighters, are throwing their weight and considerable cash behind efforts to unseat the incumbent.

To be sure, Brown has other major contributors. Director Steven Spielberg has chipped in $100,000. And under the cryptic name of 35 East Corporation, companies operated by multibillionaire financier Ronald O. Perelman have contributed $99,000. (One of Perelman's companies, MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc., is at 35 E. 62nd St. in New York.)

Altogether, Brown has collected $20.7 million through Oct. 22 in her drive to become the state's chief executive. While that's not as much as Wilson's record-breaking $26.8 million, her campaign aides insist that it is enough to keep her competitive through next Tuesday's election. And it is more than Wilson's 1990 Democratic opponent, Dianne Feinstein, collected throughout her entire campaign.

To raise the cash needed to compete with Wilson, Brown has turned to a broad array of contributors. Her donor lists include big-time personal injury attorneys, real estate developers and Hollywood executives. Because there are no limits on campaign contributions, a relatively small number of large contributors account for much of her campaign war chest.

But it is the steady flow of union cash that has proved to be the lifeblood of the Brown campaign. It is support she can count on before anything else.

Through Oct. 22, the end of the last reporting period, Brown had collected almost $3 million from labor. With the two heaviest weeks of campaigning and fund raising still to be counted, that total is sure to grow by Election Day. But it already exceeds the $2.7 million that Democrat Dianne Feinstein took from labor in her unsuccessful race against Wilson in 1990.

Using catchy phrases like "Let's beat Pete," and "No Re-Pete," the unions are rallying their members to support a candidate that they believe will favor their members more than the incumbent.

In the days ahead, unions will boost Brown's candidacy by organizing precinct walks and phone banks to identify likely Brown voters and by getting them to the polls Nov. 8.

Many union leaders say that Brown offers hope for change after the state's economically dismal years under Wilson.

"Basically for 12 years we've had stagnation," said California Teachers Assn. Executive Director Ralph Flynn, referring to Wilson and his GOP predecessor, Gov. George Deukmejian. Per-pupil spending in California has been frozen under Wilson and in some districts teachers' wages have been cut. But like other labor leaders, Flynn says his union's endorsement of Brown goes beyond the bread-and-butter issues of wages and benefits for its 235,000 members. Flynn said his group is also concerned about rising student fees and Wilson's harsh rhetoric on immigration.

The teachers have contributed $100,000 to the Brown campaign through Oct. 22. Its California State University affiliate, the California Faculty Assn., has pumped in an additional $68,000.

Daniel A. Terry, president of California Professional Firefighters, representing 20,000 local, state and federal employees in the state, says his members are worried about the ability of communities to respond to fires.

"I think generally speaking firefighters are well paid, so we're not moaning and groaning about that. . . . But we see the same number of people working fire stations today as worked there when we had 17 million people (compared to 32 million today)." The statewide firefighters organization has contributed almost $60,000 to Brown this year and dozens of local units have added from $200 to $500 each.

There is one notable exception to the chorus of pro-Brown, anti-Wilson labor organizations: the state prison guards' union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. The union spent nearly $1 million to help Wilson defeat Dianne Feinstein in 1990 and has given $525,000 thus far this year.

Not only has the governor backed tougher sentencing and more prison construction, but in difficult financial years, Wilson has been relatively generous to the state's prison guards, raising their salaries 2% to 5% more than their fellow state workers, said the president of the 23,000-worker union, Don Novey.

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