California Labor Unions Are Trying To Reverse the Outcome of an Election

In his first inaugural address in January 1911, California’s progressive Gov. Hiram Johnson detailed a far-reaching “people’s reform program” that would help wrest control of the state’s government from what his contemporaries called “The Octopus”—a reference to muckraker Frank Norris’ 1901 novel about the outsized power of Southern Pacific Railroad.

As Norris explained, the Cyclopean sea monster was a “symbol of a vast power, huge, terrible, flinging the echo of its thunder over all the reaches of the valley, leaving blood and destruction in its path.” Drawing heavily from that corporate-power theme, the new governor touted something that would define California politics for the next century: the initiative, recall, and referendum.

California’s emerging experiment in direct democracy would “prevent the misuse of the power temporarily centralized in the Legislature,” Johnson argued, noting that supporters of these reforms believed in the ability of the people to govern themselves. However opponents “may phrase their opposition, in reality (they) believe the people cannot be trusted.”

Ironically, modern California’s progressives have become increasingly hostile to the direct democracy concept, as evidenced by their repeated attempts to place limits on these voter initiatives. The reason has less to do with political ideology and more to do with raw political power.

Democrats exert ironclad control of the Legislature and don’t like the Johnson era’s checks on its power. For example, the state’s Democratic-heavy electorate nevertheless took remarkably conservative positions on the statewide ballot initiatives during the Nov. 3 election—and gave lawmakers a comeuppance on some key issues.

We’ve seen these anti-democratic tendencies arise in recent days, which is ironic timing given the fracas in Washington, D.C. I’ve also been appalled at Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of a legitimate presidential election even as 60-plus courts, state legislatures, and federal agencies rebuke his claims. Apparently, California Democrats now share Trump’s litigious approach: they support elections, but only if they yield the desired result.

For starters, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced last week a lawsuit challenging the results of Proposition 22, which exempted drivers for companies such as Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash from the ominous provisions of Assembly Bill 5. That’s the “landmark” legislation that mostly bans companies from using contractors as their workforce.

The voters were unequivocal, given that the proposition passed with a nearly 59-percent “yes” vote. That result is not a huge surprise. The law obliterated moderate-income service jobs—and not just in the burgeoning gig economy. Because of the blowback from freelancers losing their livelihoods in the midst of a pandemic, the Legislature exempted 100 industries from this bad law’s provisions.

In their wisdom, California voters added additional exemptions and they assured that the companies they’ve come to depend upon will continue to exist. Yet Democratic leaders are much less trusting in the intelligence of the people than their ideological forebear, Johnson.

“Prop. 22 not only created a permanent underclass of workers in California—it stripped the Legislature of its power to step in and improve the working conditions for … app-based workers,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who authored A.B. 5. She’s peeved that “corporations can use the initiative process to write their own laws with artificial barriers designed to block elected representatives from doing their jobs.”

Ironies abound. I understand that Gonzalez doesn’t like Proposition 22, but that’s an issue that voters had a chance to consider. Furthermore, the unequivocal purpose of the initiative process—and I’d recommend that she spend some time studying California’s political history—was to block elected representatives from doing their jobs.

Whatever their claims, such opponents simply don’t trust the people, as Johnson understood. Certainly, SEIU and the opponents of this (or any) initiative have the right to challenge its constitutionality, just as Trump had the right to file his election-challenging lawsuits. That doesn’t make it the right—or democratic—thing to do.

Gonzalez complains about the power of corporations to use the process, which is another irony, given that direct democracy targeted corporate power. Yet Democratic lawmakers have nothing to say about the modern-day robber barons who more commonly place initiatives before voters: public-sector unions. Note that the failed property tax hike measure (Proposition 15) was largely a union endeavor.

In another fit of hypocrisy, Democrats last week blasted the movement to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom. “This recall effort, which really ought to be called ‘the California coup,’ is being led by right-wing conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, anti-vaxxers, and groups who encourage violence on our democratic institutions,” said California Democratic Party Chairman Rusty Hicks. He didn’t provide evidence to back such inflammatory allegations.

Again, I’d refer Hicks and his Democratic cohorts to Johnson’s inaugural words. He said the initiative, referendum, and recall are not panaceas, but they give voters “the power of action when desired, and they do place in the hands of the people the means by which they may protect themselves.”

This column was first published in The Orange County Register.


  1. It seems that government of the people, by the people, and for the people is being challenged from both/all sides. The people, as a whole, do reflect a wisdom that controls the reach of all special interests. That is being eroded by government and others at all stages. When the facts regarding the actual content of a proposition are put before the people they usually will choose a route that takes into consideration a much larger range of issues or effects. We must protect America against centralized control, with CONTROL being our central concern.

  2. Rottweiler says

    Remember proposition 8? They did not like that either and found a way to dismantle it, find the right sympathetic judge in SF who should have recused himself, sided with them and got rid of the voter’s vote which I believe was 63%. They get rid of what they don’t like including people and that is why we are a ONE PARTY state of which I am planning as 200,000 professional w/families to move. No voice and who wants to be the dystopian, Orwellian, dysfunctional, progressive leftist party of Marxists? Not me, adios.

  3. Robert Wilson says

    Mr. Greenhut generally writes very good articles and the bulk of this article falls into that category. However, comparing what these scumbag california legislators and unions are trying to do with President Trump’s “efforts to overturn the results of a legitimate presidential election” is beyond absurd. If he thinks massive fraud did not happen in the presidential election then he is either un-informed, an idiot, or both! Out of 60 plus lawsuits, only one was even allowed a hearing to proceed and was immediately shot down by a scumbag appeals court despite massive amounts of evidence of fraud. The U.S. supreme court refused to even give a reason why they would not hear a lawsuit filed by Texas and 17 other states challenging the fact that 4 states violated their own election laws which was prima facie evidence of election fraud without even taking into account all the other fraud. The supreme court had an absolute duty to hear that case.
    I am sick and tired of otherwise intelligent people dumping all over President Trump with this absolute bullcrap that there was no fraud in the election! Knock it off!!!!!!!

  4. The one party now in power is going to nationalize many of their policies (starting with the “national mask mandate”) and do not think that you can move away from this movement which is owned and controlled by Big Tech and oligarchs, George Soros, et al. California politics are being forced down the throats of everyone else and soon there will quite literally be no safe space to live. Because this makes people think of revolting, expect policies to end all “conservative” speech which will be labeled as hate-speech, bans on assembly of persons and a sweeping ban on public speech. People will be passing notes in the night, as no internet will be available to anyone expressing a conservative thought.
    Thanks for letting me speak my mind – before your site gets cancelled.

  5. I believe it is well documented from the EU to the US that voters are allowed to vote on an issue as many times as it takes for them to get the result desired by the Left. At which point, no further elections are allowed.
    Dems just want to vote on Prop 22 again. And if necessary a third and fourth times. Or even more.

  6. So Glad we escaped the socialist state of California. We’ve seen this happen so many times. The overturn of prop 8 was the final straw for us.

  7. Memo to CADem Chair Rusty Hicks: Put up or shut up.

  8. Every response from the democrats accused of election fraud has been exactly what you would expect from a guilty party. They were smart enough to steal the election but too stupid to figure out how to cover up the crimes from 75 million onlookers.
    If the GOP treats Biden with malice the way the dims treated Trump, Biden will leave office with a perfect zero accomplishments for all his years making millions on a government salary. So far all he has done is close down winning Trump legislation. This may not take 4 years to fix.


  10. There are still 30 pending 2020 election case that have not been “rejected” by the courts. You need to see the spreadsheet that sorts out what you claim are these alleged “60 plus” court rejections – not a single one ever reached the hearing stage and were allowed an evidentiary hearing. Facts matter, and this is simply not a factual statement to make.

    Statements, repeated Big Lie statements, about the legal status contesting the strong pattern of 2020 irregularities undermine your credibility as well as warn the reader about your bias.

    Looking forward to seeing the various still pending 2020 election cases get their day in court, including the now multiple Dominion “defamation” cases, which will finally require them to open their heretofore secretive voting systems to public scrutiny, as they should have been along if they were hired to do the “peoples business” on the taxpayers dime.

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