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San Francisco Chronicle
Sep 10, 2008 - 12:00 PM

by By Phillip Matier & Andrew Ross

Chief of Prison Guards Union Fighting His Own Insurgents

The state prison guards union is launching its recall drive against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger just as its head honcho is facing some big problems of his own.

The two-term president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, Mike Jimenez, is being challenged by six opponents as he seeks re-election at the union's convention in Las Vegas on Sept. 18. At the forefront of their complaints: how the union is using its money and considerable clout.

The union has spent more than two years in fruitless negotiations with the Schwarzenegger administration trying to win raises for the state's 31,000 prison guards. At the same time, it has given $602,000 to outgoing state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata's campaign to defeat Schwarzenegger's redistricting plan on the Nov. 4 ballot, Proposition 11, which would hand over the job of drawing legislative boundaries to a commission.

"What does Jimenez think he's going to get for his $602,000? Certainly not a contract," reads a recent posting on Time for Change! - a Web site for union dissidents.

"Perata's power is disappearing fast," the site notes.

The anti-Jimenez unionists have also raised questions about bonuses being paid to union executives and a deal under which a union VP bought a Sacramento home for $149,000 below asking price. The seller: the guards union itself. It had used the house to billet union officials while they were in the capital.

Union spokesman Lance Corcoran said it was ridiculous to think that Jimenez is launching the recall to bolster his own image with the rank and file.

"This union has 31,000 members," Corcoran said. "There are bound to be people who are unhappy about how things are being run."

What isn't ridiculous is the power of the union's operation and money.

According to figures with the secretary of state that were compiled by Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan consumer protection group, the union has spent $13.5 million on campaigns and candidates since 2005.

Of course, the guards may meet their match in Schwarzenegger. The same records show that the governor has raised $128.8 million since the 2003 election that recalled Gov. Gray Davis and installed Arnold in office.

"Special interest money against special interest money. It's like watching 'Alien vs. Predator,' " said Doug Heller, executive director of Consumer Watchdog.

Corcoran insists it's more than that.

"Actually, all we have done is get the ball rolling," he said. "People are lining up on the left and the right to support this."

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