Former Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero today said she is endorsing Proposition 32, the November ballot measure that would change California's campaign finance law and limit unions ability to raise political cash.
The announcement marks the first time that a high-profile Democrat has publicly supported the measure, which unions have blasted as a disguised effort by business interests to hobble organized labor's political influence.
"I've studied it carefully," said the Los Angeles Democrat during a telephone interview this afternoon. "This is as balanced a measure as we can achieve at this time."
Proposition 32 would ban both unions and corporations from contributing directly to candidates, although both could still fund independent expenditure campaigns to support candidates.
But the measure also eliminates unions' primary method of raising political spending money -- payroll deductions. Corporations, by contrast, raise the bulk of their political funds from executives and corporate resources.
Unions are girding for a big fight over the measure with business interests between now and the Nov. 6 election. No one will be surprised if the two sides spend a combined $50 million to $100 million in a political slugfest over the next few months.
Although Romero is a Democrat, her tenure in the Assembly from 1998 to 2001 and in the Senate through 2010 was marked by run-ins with organized labor. As a head of the Senate oversight committee on prisons, Romero clashed with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association several times. She also drew the ire of teachers' unions as a staunch proponent of charter schools.
In 2010, with the backing of charter school advocates, she managed just a third-place finish in the race for the nonpartisan California State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Another Democrat, Tom Torlakson, won the post with strong union support.
Romero is now the director of Democrats for Education Reform California, which promotes charter schools.
Business interests also drew a bead on Romero when she was in the Legislature. The alcohol industry, for example, fought hard and eventually defeated a Romero measure that would have imposed a 5-cents-per-drink fee on liquor and beer to pay for trauma centers,
Those experiences and others, Romero said today, prompted her to support Proposition 32. Then she made a prediction:
"There are other Democrats who will soon be stepping out to support this measure."
In a statement, Brian Brokaw, a spokesman for the opposition campaign, said "support from one former legislator does nothing to counter the fact that all the leading good government groups in the state, from California Common Cause to the League of Women Voters, oppose Prop 32 because it is phony reform that will make our broken political system even worse."
PHOTO: Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles on the Senate floor before a 2009 budget debate. Sacramento Bee / Brian Baer