Three Democrat-on-Democrat state legislative races could well hinge on a segment of voters who, to the sorrow of campaign strategists, pervade Sacramento and area suburbs but are tough to target: government employees.
Sacramento City Councilmen Steve Cohn and Kevin McCarty are vying to represent Assembly District 7, which runs from West Sacramento to Antelope, Natomas to Lemon Hill. According to U.S. census data, 23.7 percent of working adults in the district are government workers, the third-highest percentage of any legislative district in California
To the south, cops Jim Cooper and Darrell Fong face off in the Assembly’s 9th District, where 24.5 percent of adults draw a government paycheck. The district includes Sacramento’s Pocket and South Land Park, where some census tracts are home to 40 percent or more public employees.
Then there’s Senate District 6, which covers Sacramento, West Sacramento and Elk Grove and ranks No. 1 in percentage of federal, state and local government employees – 25.1 percent work for the government.
Assemblymen Roger Dickinson, an attorney, and Richard Pan, a doctor, are locked in a fierce SD 6 fight that has become the most expensive intraparty contest in California.
Outside interests have independently spent $4.1 million to play in the election, a proxy fight between lawyers and physicians.
Government workers will be potent voting blocs in all three elections, said Jessica Levinson, a campaign expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, particularly in this low-key election year.
“They are a group more likely to turn out,” she said. “They’re more invested in the government because they’re a part of it.”
But, said McCarty campaign consultant Andrew Acosta, there’s a problem for politicians.
“I don’t have a list of who they are,” he said, so it’s impossible to target mailers and messages.
Public-employee unions have that info, and they don’t have to disclose what they spend prodding their members to vote because member communications are confidential.
Some of the state’s largest public-employee unions have endorsed Pan, who is a regular at rallies and has carried legislation to curtail job outsourcing. Dickinson has written bills to expand civil-service protections, eliminate criminal-history questions on civil-service job applications and to move state employees out of the defective Board of Equalization headquarters.
A cynic would say those worker-protection bills were pandering to the base, Levinson said. But simply because a measure is politically savvy doesn’t mean the politician doesn’t believe in it.
“And given the electorate, in a sense, it would be stupid not to do things like that,” she said.
Because in this company town, 1 in 4 employees work for government – and together have the power to shape it.
Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043. For more columns, go to sacbee.com/stateworker.