Sunday, May 03, 2015

Finally ... the conservative case against pandering to police unions

Interesting to see a meme I've heard from several Texas conservatives this year repeated in the pages of the New York Times. See Ross Douthat's "Our Police Union Problem," in which he declared that there is "a strong argument that the rise of public sector unions represents a decadent phase in the history of the welfare state, a case study in the warping influence of self-dealing and interest-group politics." However, he lamented, "this argument also applies to a unionized public work force that conservatives are often loath to criticize: the police." He concluded by challenging conservatives to finally "reckon with the ways in which police unions, no less than other interest groups, can align against the public that their members vow to serve."

Douthat also linked to a couple of related conservative critiques published in December, one of which I'd seen and one of which I hadn't.

Grits links to these items not because of Texas-specific content - there isn't any. But a shift in the political balance of power which would naturally result from the sort of recalibration Douthat envisions within the conservative movement is a trend with specific implications for Texas politics.

Texas doesn't yet have conservative politicians who've dared to openly take on the police unions. We haven't seen the Texas Public Policy Foundation, for example, directly challenge union power the way they routinely do with teachers' unions. Increasingly, though, one can hear the rumblings of discontent rising inexorably closer to the surface. Especially where unions bypass traditional labor concerns to engage on policy issues (e.g., opposing civil penalties for pot), there's a growing sense that their reach has exceeded their grasp.

In the near term - say, over the next biennium or two - I could see the conservative, anti-union view associated with the above-linked essays becoming infused within the grass roots base of the party, with the more centrist wing and statewide pols siding with the police unions. That would leave Democrats with a precarious choice between their union sympathies and their base - a choice that's even harder for them in red states where the union movement is weak.

It's always been hypocritical to blast public employee unions but exempt police unions from the same critique. What's changing is that voices within the conservative movement are for the first time openly challenging that exception.

It's remarkable the extent to which the political landscape on criminal justice has changed since the turn of the century when police unions in Texas enjoyed virtual veto power over criminal justice legislation. That's not true today, though they still enjoy undue deference. But if Douthat's views became widespread within the GOP base, it would dramatically alter the already shifting political terrain facing criminal-justice reform.


Anonymous said...

As a radial religious right-winger and reader of conservative blogs, I would say that Douthat is hard to characterize but I'd call him left of center, and i"m not sure how much he resonates with the "GOP Base".

I personally think that the Tea Party Agenda, which is fundamentally a don't-waste-taxpayer-money agenda, has had the most to do with the conservative swing toward criminal justice reform. In other words, don't waste taxpayer money on jails, prisons, and those police activities that are not helpful.

Prison Doc

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Obviously, Prison Doc, I don't expect a NYT columnist to resonate with the GOP base, I'm talking about the ARGUMENT, not the man. If you don't like Douthat making it, try here.

Anonymous said...

Hey Grits,

What union opposed civil penalties this session?

The last time I checked the record I saw no unions opposing sentencing reforms on drugs and no union opposition to the civil penalties. FYI the Texas Sheriff's Association is NOT A UNION. They are an association for the elected Sheriffs who are mainly politicians from the GOP base.

TPPF is flawed in their attack on public sector unions. They have an alternative agenda given to them from their deep pocketed donors. If you will examine the records you might find big labor supported sentencing reforms in Texas.

Grits you should be trying to expose the link this session between the thousands of dollars spent by the private prison industry to protect their interest. Groups such as The Geo Group gave Abbott over $55,000 before the session, $10,000 to Dan Patrick, $10,000 to Whitmire, and $25,000 to the GOP leadership. Chairman Herrera even has ties to the private prison industry with the Coastal Bend Detention Center in his district.

The source of the problem is those who are profiting. Public employees fail to receive any benefit from mass incarceration. If you are going to assign blame, assign it where it is needed, not where groups like TPPF are trying to shift it.

Anonymous said...

I suppose one might wonder how it is pandering to include a stakeholder in a very real discussion about public policy, after all, police do have some expertise in the field they are engaged in, usually significantly more than the Monday morning quarterbacks that dissect every decision with the luxury of endless time and resources. That's not to say that they are the only stakeholder or the only voice that should be heard but given some of the op-eds masquerading as articles linked to, the strength of police unions is vastly overstated.

I understand how some unthinking people might not like police unions engaging in PAC donations or lobbying for or against legislation that directly impacts their livelihood. I'm sure the tinfoil hat crowd think a $10k check from a police PAC magically puts a politician in their pocket in a political campaign where other groups donate hundreds of thousands in soft money or where every board member and spouse cough up 20 times that amount but are somehow unheard. The reality is that corporate interests buy politicians all the time with far, far greater amounts.

Then complaining about pooled time used for union business as though it doesn't typically benefit the employer, not to mention where the time came from (donated by officers out of their vacation time usually). And those that think firing a bad apple is such a chore simply because a city or county might have to prove the case using established judicial rules of evidence rather than merely fire away without concern, just the kind of treatment you wouldn't want for anyone else.

As far as body cameras are concerned, most officers I know, and I'm sure I know more than most reading Grits', are for them, their unions expecting some sort of formalized rules that make sense. As with any new technological devices, the devil is in the details, is it not?

But as far as GOP deference to police unions in general, there is a difference between showing a willingness to listen to such unions and catering to them. That some forget these unions maintain working relationships with both sides of the political realm is a given but in places like WI, the public safety unions were exempted from the legislation simply because they worked out a deal to give the governor everything he wanted beforehand.

I could go on but won't, some believe what they want to believe absent all facts or embellish their beliefs based on very narrow specific examples.

Anonymous said...

@10:13 AM.. Damn dude, sounds like you've taken one too many political science courses. Ted Cruz should envy your malarkey slinging.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:13,
there is the truth and there is the perceived truth. Those that demand immediate change to their liking often cling to their perceptions no matter what evidence is presented. I don't fully agree with everything you wrote but thank you for offering a needed alternative take. I ask you why police unions are consulted on any legislation since they do not represent the population at large?

Anon 3:16,
it would help further the discussion to address a specific point or two unless you're trolling him.

Anonymous said...

Don't we pander to the criminal?

Anonymous said...

The US military is the largest public works project in the history of humanity. How much would it really cost to defend the USA from our friends in Mexico and Canada?

Until a politician of either party admits that truth about the US military you can safely write them off as pandering fools.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 5/04/2015 10:13:00 AM,
many on the left don't think subject matter experts in law enforcement should have any input at all. To them, it amounts to undue interference, is automatically tainted, and gets in the way of their proposed utopia based on failed social schemes that contradict human nature.

Those on the far right don't like unions in the slightest because of the knee jerk beliefs they have that any group with a union is going to cost them more money. Thankfully, most people fit comfortably in the middle and appreciate you.

Anonymous 5/04/2015 10:02:00 PM,
our federal constitution is very clear about no standing armies and having a 4 Ocean navy was never envisioned as needed by our forefathers, same as the Air Force. As an employer of last resort, the military is the employer of choice for the poor so the democrats like it and as a means of pouring gobs of money into businesses friendly to the GOP, it just doesn't get any more lucrative in terms of campaign contributions for the right so that will never change.