Eric Bauman, the openly gay Chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party (LACDP) and the Vice Chair of the California Democratic Party, sent out an “important voter alert” robo-call over the weekend drawing attention to a surge of independent expenditures from “corporate agri-business interests” against LGBT ally Assemblymember Betsy Butler, a candidate for the 50th Assembly District that runs from Malibu and Santa Monica to West Hollywood.
This is not just a local beef. Tom Nassif, President and CEO of the Western Growers Association, is one of six national chairs for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Farmers and Ranchers for Romney coalition. The Western Growers Association vigorously opposed Butler’s AB 2346, the Farm Worker Safety Act of 2012 to protect farm workers from fatal heat illness, which they called the “sue your employer” bill. The bill would have ensured that water and shade are provided to California’s more than 400,000 farm workers who labor on more than 35,000 California farms and would have more severely punish non-compliance by making the growers liable for heat-related illness. Further, it establishes a private right of action so that farm workers can hold their employers accountable under the law.
But for Butler and the United Farm Workers, this is literally about life and death: 17 farm workers were confirmed to have died between 2004-2011 from heat-related illnesses. And, as I reported last Tuesday, Oct. 9, AP reported on Oct. 3, that an unidentified 51 year old farm supervisor on a Salinas Valley farm died Monday, Oct. 1 of a heart attack while working outside in the “95-plus-degree weather on a Dole Fresh farm near Soledad when he collapsed.” Butler had that death on her mind as she headed up to Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz in Keene where President Obama designated the home of Cesar Chavez – the place where he led the United Farm Workers movement from the 1970s until the early 1990s – as the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument. Butler said that this man’s death makes five heat-related deaths this year.
At that historic event, Obama noted that when Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta started the farm worker movement, “no one seemed to care about the invisible farm workers who picked the nation’s food — bent down in the beating sun, living in poverty, cheated by growers, abandoned in old age, unable to demand even the most basic rights.”
Gov. Jerry Brown – once a close ally of Chavez and the United Farm Workers – attended the event – but vetoed Butler’s bill, among others, as the UFW website notes. In his message vetoing Butler’s AB 2346, Brown said:
“California’s current outdoor heat standards are the most stringent in the nation, and compliance with them has been improving each year – from a low of 32% in 2006 to more than 80% in 2012.
I am convinced that these standards should be improved, but this bill is flawed: it would create through legislation a new enforcement structure that would single out agricultural employers and burden the courts with private lawsuits. I believe the regulatory process is more flexible and the better way to improve standards for farm workers.
My administration stands ready to help, but ongoing litigation about past enforcement practices continues to drain resources away from improving the existing heat standards and ongoing enforcement.
The Growers Association heavily lobbied Brown before he voted Butler’s bill, which they consider part of “labor’s continuing assault on farmers.” In a press release after the Obama event, Butler said:
“Unfortunately, there are groups who do not support safe and humane working conditions for our farm workers…..Western Growers, an agriculture special interest group who opposed the Farm Worker Safety Act, has already spent over $100,000 on negative ads against me….
The smear campaign the Western Growers is funding has come out at a crucial time. With absentee ballots going out this week, we need to fight back immediately to ensure that voters have accurate information about what my priorities are and my focus is on worker safety and humane treatment.
My re-election is about continuing the work I have begun and fighting for working families, the elderly, veterans, the LGBT community and our students. There is still a lot of work to do so please join me in beating back the misrepresentations that are being leveled against me. Together, I know we can build a stronger, more equitable, more viable state.”
Butler has been endorsed by United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, as well as Equality California and all the major local Democratic clubs in the 50th AD, including Stonewall Democratic Club, the Latino Democrats of Los Angeles County, the Santa Monica Democratic Club, and the Malibu and West Hollywood/Beverly Hills Democratic clubs.(For a full list of Butler’s endorsements, go to her website.)(Equality California Institute board member Assemblymember Betsy Butler and longtime friend, WeHo City Councilmember John Duran at a Freedom to Marry event Oct. 6. Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Though Brown vetoed the Farm Workers Safety Act, he signed a slew of other bills authored by Butler – including several that will impact the LGBT community, including a bill to protect surviving property owners from excessive property taxes when a co-owner dies. (See the list of bills Butler authored in 2011 and 2012 below). “AB 1700 protects surviving co-owners from the financial hardship of property reassessment when a loved one passes away,” Butler said at the time. “People who are unmarried, live and own a home together, whether by choice or because of the law, should have the same rights as married co-tenants.”
“We are pleased that Governor Brown recognized that the loss of a beloved partner is devastating and should not come with the added burden of a dramatic increase in taxes for individuals on a fixed income or, worse, the trauma of losing one’s home,” said Clarissa Filgioun, Equality California board president. “We are grateful for the hard work of Assemblymember Betsy Butler in assuring LGBT people an equal opportunity to stay in the homes they’ve built over a lifetime with the person they love.”
But the Western Growers Association is not attacking Butler on the farm workers bill – lest they evoke reminders of why so many Americans joined the grape boycott in support of the Farm Workers Union. Rather, the Growers Assn. is whipping up ugly political frenzy over a more sensational bill that they – one-time West Hollywood city councilmember Steve Martin – think makes Butler more vulnerable.
Here’s the script for Bauman’s robo-call:
Hi, this is Eric Bauman, chair of the LA County Democratic Party with an important voter alert. Betsy Butler is the officially endorsed candidate of the Democratic Party for Assembly because of her leadership in fighting for jobs, better schools, and a health environment. She’s also endorsed by Equality California and the Sierra Club. But Betsy Butler is being attacked by corporate agri-business interests because she stood up to protect farm workers. Don’t believe their lies. Vote for Betsy Butler for Assembly. Paid for by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. 213-382-0063.
Here’s the email Martin sent out to his friends, asking that the letter be forwarded (all misspellings are Martin’s):
Dear Fellow Democrats
Yesterday I got a robo call from Democratic County Party Chair of Los Angeles Eric Bauman saying that Betsey Butler was under attack from “corporate interest”. Apparently this is the Democratic Party’s response to the corporate “attack” by Anderson Cooper of CNN which exposed a dirty deal by Betsey Butler who helped kill a Democratic bill to streamline the termination process of teachers who sexually molest children that had overwhelmingly passed the California State Senate. But when the teacher’s union says ”jump”, Butler does not need to be asked twice. Too bad for California’s school kids. Please watch the youtube below for a shocking expose on just how “progressive” Butler functions in Sacramento. The Democrats wonder why our party is in trouble…
PS Please forward(While LA Democrats were digesting Bauman’s call and Martin’s response, Butler was participating with a team of 20 walkers in APLA’s AIDS Walk on Sunday, Oct. 14. Reporter Greg Hernandez says that AIDS Walk founder Craig Miller slammed Butler’s 0th AD opponent Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom for keeping APLA’s ads of the city’s Big Blue Bus. Photo by Stephanie Romero)
The bill to which Martin is referring is Senate Bill 1530, introduced by Democratic State Sen. Alex Padilla after the LAPD arrested longtime Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt on 23 counts of allegedly committing lewd acts on children between the ages of seven and ten.
The California Teachers Association, with which Butler has not always seen eye-to-eye, lobbied against the bill, saying the bill violated a teacher’s due process in the way the bill mandated swiftly getting rid of teachers suspected of bad behavior, especially alleged sexual misconduct with children. The CTA says they wanted to help improve the bill, while still protecting teachers.
But as the California Catholic Daily reported in their July 17 piece “California teachers union kills anti-pedophile law: SB 1530 dies in committee,” Butler was not the only progressive to vote against the bill (though officially she abstained):
The legislation the LA school district asked for, Senate Bill 1530, was introduced in April by Democratic state senator Alex Padilla. The bill sailed through the state senate, passing with a 33-4 majority. The four “No” votes were all Democrats: openly homosexual senator Mark Leno of San Francisco; senator Ted Lieu, of the 28thDistrict, who earlier this year introduced SB 1172, which banned therapy to help same-sex attracted persons remove the unwanted feelings; Senator Rod Wright of the 25th District, whose sexual harassment case was settled in April, 2010 through a secret senate-approved payout of $120,000 in taxpayer money; and senator Leland Yee of San Francisco, a recipient of the Building a State of Equality Award from the pro same-sex-marriage group Equality California.
Following SB 1530’s passage in the senate, it went to the Assembly education committee. A majority vote was needed in the education committee for SB 1530 to go to a full vote on the Assembly floor. The committee consists of 11 Assemblymen, so six votes would be needed. All four Republicans and one Democrat voted in support. Of the six remaining Democrats on the committee, two, the open homosexual Tom Ammiano from San Francisco and Joan Buchanan from the East Bay (rated by Project Vote Smart as 100% Planned Parenthood, 100% NARAL, 100% Equality California), voted no. The other 4 Democrats on the committee refused to vote at all. The result: SB 1530 was dead.
SB 1530 (Padilla) guts teacher due process rights by removing the accused employee’s ability to be heard before a neutral panel and replacing it with an advisory-only hearing before a single administrative law judge. The school board then has the authority to accept the judge’s decision, or reject it and commence a new hearing where they will determine the outcome….. Due process ensures that workers are not disciplined based on favoritism or retaliation for speaking out or for labor organizing….. Due process is an important Constitutional protection, which requires at a minimum that the accused get to have their day in court, and present their version of the facts to a neutral decision maker……
If an accusation is made against a cop or a teacher, it is often plastered all over the newspapers, and the response is often irrational. Current law was developed to protect not only the employment rights and reputation of police and teachers, but to preserve the integrity of the professions in which we place so much of our trust. When that trust is compromised by a serious allegation, the worker is immediately relieved of duty while an investigation occurs. This investigation must be deliberate and the outcome not determined by the drama that surrounds what will always be an emotionally charged situation.
California history is no stranger to such sensationalist coverage as in the McMartin preschool scandal of the early 1980s. There was an incredible public panic in 1983 over claims by children that they were abused and forced to participate in satanic rituals – but after six years of criminal trials, there were no convictions and all charges were dropped in 1990. The accused had their names smeared forever. And perhaps worse still, even though it turned out the child- accusers had been coached, a public backlash against believing children telling the truth about abuse settled in. Reports now indicate that Miramonte Elementary School children were trying to tell on Berndt but no one listened.
But the LGBT community shouldn’t be shocked that progressives such as Butler, Leno – and Ted Lieu, a former prosecutor – opposed this particular bill born out of moral outrage. LGBT people – especially gay men – have long been posited by the antigay Religious Right as sexual predators out to rape and molest children. That was at the heart of the Briggs Initiative and Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children Crusade” in 1977, and the Prop 8 offensive in 2008 – and even today as four states face marriage initiatives where the offense is raising the “tried-and-true” spectre of gays and kids yet again. A bill such as SB 1530 could inspire a modern day version of the “hang-em high” lynch mobs for LGBT teachers akin to the old Oxbow Incident wherein the mob lynched the suspects instead of letting them “escape” through a court proceeding. The lynched suspects turned out to be innocent.(LA County Democratic Party Chair Eric Bauman introducing the food service workers at the Sept. 23, 2012 Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt dinner. Photo by Karen Ocamb)
To continue the metaphor, the Growers Association looks like they’re trying to rally the mob against Butler, given their first hateful hit piece of mail. Eric Bauman explains:
The Western Growers are furious at Betsy for carrying legislation to help protect the farm workers from weather-related problems. So they opened an independent expenditure with several hundreds of thousands of dollars and began to send hateful mailers that have to do with the bill about teachers who are suspected of molesting children. It is a very, very ugly and hateful mailer implying that she voted against the bill to cow-tow to the California Teachers Association. That’s interesting because Betsy has voted in opposition to the way the teachers union have wanted on a number of occasions.
The mailer has a horrible picture of Betsy on the cover and says ‘It is shameful, sickening that Betsy Butler protected classroom sex predators instead of students.’ It also has a picture of allegedly molested kids and says, ‘Betsy Butler has the wrong priorities and wrong values.’
The truth of the matter is the Agri-industry has money to spend and they don’t like anybody standing up for farm workers. Knowing that – Betsy took the political risk of standing with the farm workers. That shows her values – in the same way she stood up for marriage equality long before it was popular. It’s long been Betsy’s profile.
And it’s most unfortunate that a former elected official like Steve Martin would chose to mischaracterize my communication to voters about Betsy – who is the officially endorsed candidate of the Democratic Party. And the Democratic Party is going to the hilt to make sure she gets re-elected. She’s earned our support – and she’s earned the LGBT community’s support – despite the ugly campaigning by the Western Growers Association and emails that are just disgusting.Assemblymember Betsy Butler at the LA County Democratic Party Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt dinner Sept. 23, 2012. Photo by Karen Ocamb)
In case you were wondering, here’s Butler’s legislative history:
AB 1181 (Butler)- This bill will help County Weights and Measures officials protect consumers who sell recyclable commodities such as soda cans to a recycler/purchaser. The bill clarifies that it is a clear violation for the purchaser to buy the commodity according to a quantity which is less than the true quantity. Status: Sent to the Governor for signature on August 31st, 2012.
AB 1700 (Butler) - This bill would prevent two persons who co-own real property together from having the property tax liability of the survivor owner, increase upon death of one of the co-owners. Status: September 29, 2012 - Signed by Governor – Chapter 781, Statutes of 2012.
AB 1904 (Block/Butler/Cook) - This is a bipartisan measure which grants the spouses of active-duty military personnel temporary California professional licenses to continue working when their military spouse has been relocated to California. Status: September 20, 2012 - Signed by Governor – Chapter 399, Statutes of 2012.
AB 2094 (Butler) - This legislation ensures funding for local domestic violence prevention programs, by stabilizing the administration of an existing court fee to domestic violence offenders. Status: September 24, 2012 - Signed by Governor – Chapter 511, Statutes of 2012.
AB 2118 (Butler) - This bill protects consumers from unlicensed moving companies by authorizing increased enforcement by the Public Utilities Commission which regulates the moving company industry. Status: September 25, 2012 - Signed by Governor – Chapter 544, Statutes of 2012.
AB 2149 (Butler) - This bill prevents legal settlements between an elderly person and another party from including gag clauses preventing an elderly victim of financial or physical abuse, from reporting the abuse to law enforcement or adult protective services agencies. Status: September 27, 2012 - Signed by Governor – Chapter 644, Statutes of 2012.
AB 2307 (Butler) - This bill clarifies the definition of permanent employees for classified employees to ensure that when they are reassigned to work at a different school district, they are able to maintain their permanent employee status. Status: September 26, 2012 - Signed by Governor – Chapter 568, Statutes of 2012.
AB 2346 (Butler) – This bill, also known as The Farmworker Safety Act of 2012, will ensure that water and shade are provided to California’s farmworkers and will more severely punish non-compliance by making the growers liable for heat-related illness. Further, it establishes a private right of action so that farmworkers can hold their employers accountable under the law. Status: September 30, 2012 - Vetoed by Governor.
AB 2371 (Butler) - This legislation gives California courts the option of placing military veterans who have committed certain crimes, into a drug or mental health treatment program as a condition of probation. Status: September 20, 2012 - Signed by Governor – Chapter 403, Statutes of 2012.
AB 2490 (Butler) - This bill requires the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to appoint an institutional parole agent at each facility help connect United States military veteran inmates with any available military benefits upon their release. Status: September 20, 2012 - Signed by Governor – Chapter 407, Statutes of 2012.
AB 2611 (Butler) - This bill would authorize superior courts throughout California to develop and implement veterans courts that would be able to develop locally coordinated court-supervised diversion and treatment programs for individuals who qualify. Status: September 23, 2012 - Vetoed by Governor
AB 201 (Butler) - This bill would authorize superior courts to develop and implement veterans courts with the objective of providing mentally ill offenders who are veterans of the United States military, including those with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma, substance abuse, or any mental health problem stemming from military service with appropriate treatment and veterans services. Status: August 5, 2011 - Vetoed by Governor
AB 332 (Butler) - This bill will protect seniors and dependent adults by increasing the fines committed under Penal Code Section 368 for theft, embezzlement, forgery, or fraud to the property or personal identifying information for a misdemeanor offense valued more than $950, from a fine of up to $1000 and elevate it to a fine of up to $2500 and create a new threshold for a felony offense valued greater than $950 and proscribes a fine of up to $10,000. Status: September 30, 2011 - Signed by Governor – Chapter 366, Statutes of 2011.
AB 475 (Butler) - This bill updates current code to allow all types of plug-in electric vehicles to park in designated parking spaces that are designed for electric vehicles. In order to clarify and streamline the process for determining parking eligibility in off-street parking facilities, the bill establishes that if a parked vehicle is connected for electric charging purposes this visual cue establishes its eligibility to be parked in a designated space and eliminates the absolute need for any parking decal. Status: September 7, 2011 - Signed by Governor – Chapter 274, Statutes of 2011.
AB 771 (Butler) - This measure will protect consumers by requiring a common interest development to provide an estimate of the fees it will assess for providing documents required for the sale of a unit and to distinguish these fees from any other fees, fines or assessments associated with the sale. Status: September 30, 2011 - Signed by Governor – Chapter 206, Statutes of 2011.
AB 946 (Butler) - Authorizes the County of Los Angeles or the LA-RICS to procure a regional interoperable communications to be used by public safety agencies and emergency responders located in the County of Los Angeles. Status: October 2, 2011 - Signed by Governor – Chapter 400, Statutes of 2011.
AB 1044 (Butler) - This bill revises the statutory provisions that allow any taxpayer named as a payee on a registered warrant (RW) to satisfy their tax liability by issuing a check in an amount no greater than the RW. Expands the provisions to cover taxes, fees, and surcharges required to be remitted to the State Board of Equalization, and provides that liabilities may be satisfied by submitting the original RW, signed on the reverse side by the payee and endorsed as payable to the agency to which the liability is owed. Status: October 9, 2011 - Vetoed by Governor
AB 1272 (Butler) - This bill is the annual surplus property bill sponsored by the Department of General Services (DGS) and would authorize DGS to dispose of unneeded state-owned properties. Status: August 4, 2011 - Signed by Governor – Chapter 178, Statutes of 2011.
AB 1319 (Butler) - This bill enacts the Toxin-Free Infants and Toddlers Act, which would, except as specified, prohibit, on and after July 1, 2013, the manufacture, sale, or distribution in commerce of baby bottles and sippy cups that contain Bisphenol-A (BPA), at a level above 0.1 parts per billion (ppb). The bill would also require manufacturers to use the least toxic alternative when replacing BPA in containers in accordance with this bill. Status: October 4, 2011 - Signed by Governor – Chapter 467, Statutes of 2011.