By Lucas O’Connor / Two Cathedrals / Dec. 12, 2011
In an interesting (if not entirely surprising) wrinkle today, after sitting out two consecutive mayoral races, “The city’s largest labor union found a candidate it wanted. And the candidate wanted the union back.” Despite the relative novelty of the Municipal Employees Association wading back into mayoral elections, it was a bit of a fait accompli once Filner emerged as the only major candidate to oppose Carl Demaio’s pension privatization ballot initiative. The initiative would shift city employees from defined benefit to defined contribution plans, relying on the Enrons and Goldman Sachses of the world to guarantee the retirements of MEA members into the future.
The announcement comes on the heels of last week’s endorsements from the San Diego Labor Council, supporting Filner as well as Democrats Scott Peters (CA-52), Mat Kostrinsky (Council District 7) and Marti Emerald (Council District 9). The Peters endorsement produced approximately the bare minimum of intrigue for a contested primary, and receiving even less attention was the absence of incumbent councilmember Sherri Lightner in a (presumably) tough re-election fight in District 1.
Meanwhile, there’s the lingering issue of super-conspicuous non-endorsements and cross-party endorsements, underscoring the de-centralized San Diego Left that remains structured to put individual priorities over anything like a movement or functional, long-term coalition.
All of it adds up to nothing much of a surprise, but a good illustration of why interest organizations simply can’t ever function as a stand-in for the Democratic Party: The interests just aren’t the same. There is a value to considering partisan gains and losses, but that isn’t the same equation as advancing the influence and interests of specific groups with specific priorities.
Issue-based organizations only remain viable if they defend their issues regardless of partisanship. And issue-based groups, as demonstrated by the MEA, are much more But partisanship isn’t irrelevant. Partisanship is supposed to be one of the building blocks for developing consensus, around which coalitions can develop. Policy coalitions are different than electoral coalitions, and issue-based groups are not apt to (nor should they be) self-organize coalitions. That’s the whole point of a political party.
It takes leadership to build a functional coalition in which partners feel comfortable not having their own interests always in the fore. The San Diego Left still sees that happen from time to time, but that isn’t an actual coalition, that’s a semi-regular series of happy accidents. Instead, individuals build and re-build their own coalitions over and over again, stunting the opportunity for a long-term, diverse movement. Efforts like A Better San Diego show promise, but it will inevitably come down to finding a leader with no vested interest outside of the simple act of long-term coalition building.
In the meantime though, there’s at least occasion to again note that DeMaio is still managing to provoke much of the mayoral race… though it isn’t clear how much it’ll actually help him as every organization under the sun line up to endorse anyone but him.