PERB ruling reignites DeMaio's credibility problem

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A new twist in the saga of the 2012 election cycle came down yesterday when California's Public Employment Relations Board came down in favor of a complaint by San Diego's Municipal Employees Union, saying that Mayor Sanders ran afoul of state labor laws in his work to compose and promote Carl DeMaio's pension intiative. The issue will go to court and could knock the CPR measure off the June ballot.

The prospect of the initiative not being on the ballot presents several big problems for DeMaio. For one, this would be twice in a row that he fumbled high-profile ballot measures (his outsourcing initiative failed to gather enough signatures in 2010). For another, turnout driven by the pension measure is important to boost DeMaio's mayoral numbers in a close and crowded field. But even more broadly, it once again raises questions of basic credibility.

Those are questions that have dogged DeMaio for years, because while his drive and personal ambition have never been in doubt, his actual product hasn't always been able to keep up with the rhetoric:

DeMaio's 2004 Citizens Budget Project was initially met on the right with considerable fanfare. But the numbers were steadily discredited, and backers like the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, San Diego County Taxpayers Association, and Mayor Dick Murphy withdrew support citing "wrong information...and inaccurate budget totals" that challenged DeMaio's credibility.

Also in 2004, the state's California Performance Review, modeled on a DeMaio proposal, relied on faulty math and ended up wildly overstating potential savings. The entire effort was dropped by the Governor, who then distanced himself from DeMaio.

In 2009, DeMaio released a pension proposal citing inaccurate data, and even his current Roadmap to Recovery is centered on dramatically outdated finances that overstate the city's pension obligation by more than half.

And that's just a slice of the historical perspective. DeMaio is also no stranger to mixing personal projects and public responsibilities, at the center of yesterday's PERB decision. He's funded the reports and proposals used by his campaign through his council office using taxpayer money, and in just his first year in office sent 45 times as much mail to constituents as the rest of the council combined. As election season has geared up, the line between campaign events and council events has been getting even more blurry.

Yet DeMaio was particularly confident in late January's city council hearing to finalize placement of his initiative on the June ballot. Then, he called the PERB complaint "patently laughable." But this week's decision by PERB to grant MEA's request suggests that, at the least, it wasn't laughable.

Instead of taking a premature victory lap, maybe the problem could have been avoided if DeMaio, Councilman Faulconer, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, and Mayor Sanders had managed to resist the urge to combine their campaign work with city obligations. After all, the Mayor all but admitted what he was doing to CityBeat and in his 2011 state of the city address:

"Councilman Kevin Faulconer, the city attorney and I will soon bring to voters an initiative to enact a 401(k)-style plan that is similar to the private sector’s and reflects the reality of our times."
But instead, DeMaio's kneejerk reaction to yesterday's decision turns out to again be big on accusations and rhetoric calling PERB "the state labor union agency" and "Sacramento defenders" of union, but light on reliable substance. In reality, PERB is an administrative agency carrying out the rules set out by others. And it turns out that over the last nine years that records are available, PERB granted requests for injunctive relief like MEA's just seven times, while rejecting more than two-thirds of requests. In the 2010-2011 Fiscal Year, it granted none while rejecting 14 out of 16 requests. But that doesn't fit DeMaio's narrative.
DeMaio wasn't done though. He contradicted himself again on whether courts should be involved. On January 30th, he told opponents of the pension measure:
That's your right. If you think you have a case, you have ways to adjudicate and remedy your issues."
But by the time he was issuing his statement yesterday, using courts had become "outrageous." The hypocrisy, the hyperbole, the inaccuracies and misrepresentations don't leave much credibility on the table. Really all that's left is DeMaio being for himself and against anything else. If we can't rely on his principles, or his data, or his analysis, or even his process, what's left?