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Jul 13, 2006 - 03:00 PM

Strong Arm the Strong Man

by Carmen Balber
Arnold has talked tough about prison reform since he took office, but the Strong Man's promises evaporated in 2006 when two successive corrections secretaries quit the job. Rod Hickman, who'd held the post for years, explicitly cited the prison guard union's influence over the administration as the reason for his departure. His replacement lasted just a few months and reportedly had the same concerns.

Why would the gov turn from pillorying the public employee unions to letting them in the cigar tent? The prison guards' union has a $10 million war chest for the November election. Arnold can't help but hope they won't direct that firepower at him and the fastest way to immunity is to torpedo prison reform.

The federally-appointed investigator of California's prison system, special master John Hagar, blamed the gov's two top aides' close communion with the prison guards for the disintegration of reform. Hagar yesterday accused Arnold's chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, of being "in the pocket of the union," and credits her and Fred Aguiar with providing the union unprecedented access to the governor's office, killing several appointments and purging prison guard contract negotiators at the union's behest.

All of which is another reason why California needs Prop 89, the November initiative that would limit the power of special interest contributions in Sacramento. Prop 89 would limit independent expenditure spending by any one group - union, corporation or individuals -- during any election to $7,500. Such a coup by the voters would leave this powerful union a 100-pound weakling and put an end to their strong arm tactics. Maybe then we would have the prison reform so desperately needed in California and called for by the courts.

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