The backing of the Public Safety Unions in Torrance nearly guarantees victory at the polls. In this past election, their chosen candidates took the mayoral race and the top 5 councilmember positions. Why do their selected candidates do so well? The answer is more nuanced, but the most obvious reason is money. Campaign finance documents reveal that in this past election Public Safety Unions spent upwards of $40K supporting candidates. That’s drastically more than any other one entity. Why are the unions so invested in the political process? I found my endorsement interview with the Torrance Police Officers Association (TPOA) revealing in this regard. Prior to the interview, the TPOA asked candidates to complete a short questionnaire. That questionnaire consisted of the 5 questions below:
What is your history in Torrance?
What is your stance on pension reform as it pertains to Public Safety?
Should Torrance Police Officers be differentiated between other City employees in terms of salary?
During salary negotiations, the City of Torrance conducts a salary survey of (10) like size cities? Where would you, as a City Councilmember, work to see members of TPOA?
What differentiates you from other candidates?
As indicated by the focus of these questions, it became clear to me during my 20 minute interview that the TPOA’s endorsement decision rested almost entirely on how I felt about police officer compensation. Nothing else mattered. Did this surprise me? No, not really. Who can honestly blame the TPOA for making something as personal as providing for their families their top priority? I can’t.
What did surprise me, however, was the immense pressure I felt to conform to their position and the complete lack of an open and honest discussion among the candidates on this important issue. I often felt like I either had to toe the union line or risk being branded as anti-public safety and an enemy to not only all police officers and firemen everywhere, but also all other unionized public employees such as teachers. With many public employees counted among my friends and neighbors and with local teachers playing a huge role in my kid’s education, I found this quite an unpleasant and uncomfortable position to be in. I mean let’s be honest; nobody living in Torrance wants to end up on the wrong side of the Torrance PD. I certainly don’t. That’s why no issue caused me more internal consternation and I found my conversations on this topic extremely difficult to navigate as I constantly felt misunderstood.
I think that’s why the mailers sent out by the unions towards the end of the campaign bothered me so much. The mailers had pictures of their endorsed candidates with captions reading things like, “So and so is dedicated to ensure the safety and security of our residents.” And, “such and such will keep public safety his top priority and give first responders the tools they need.” I wanted to scream out, “Hey, I care about public safety too. I also want to keep our community safe.” Who doesn’t?
Of course, what the mailers didn’t mention was that the pictured candidates were also the candidates that fell most in line with the union position on compensation for employees. I couldn’t help but wonder what people would have thought if the captions read, “so and so is dedicated to ensuring Police Officers can retire after 30 years at 90% of pay” or “such and such will guarantee firemen don’t contribute any percentage of their salary to their pensions.” Would the public even notice? If they did notice, might it possibly illicit a more genuine conversation about the issue? I get why the unions spin their message in the way that they do and I don’t begrudge them for doing so. That’s politics and it’s hard to argue with an approach that yields results. Still, I can’t help but yearn for a community that demands a more real and honest discussion on such critical issues such as how we compensate our city employees. It would also be nice if that conversation allowed for people to have differing viewpoints on that issue without them having to fear being labeled as anti-union or anti-public safety.