Ruling could benefit city vote; union, government going steady

Ruling could benefit city vote; union, government going steady

July 8th, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

'For' ballot clarity

Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Neil Thomas handed down a vote for clarity Monday morning in the wording of the domestic partner referendum on August's election ballot.

The wording, written by the Citizens for Government Accountability group that led a petition drive against Chattanooga's adoption of a domestic partner policy into its city code, offers voters a simple "for" or "against" choice of "the Ordinance providing for the extension of benefits in domestic partnerships and adding sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the city nondiscrimination policy."

If you're a voter who lives in the city and wants the city to retain the policy, mark your ballot "for"; if you don't, mark "against." Nothing could be simpler.

The city, oddly, sued for the inclusion of 154 words of explanation about the ordinance that would have caused fewer voters even to consider the question.

Voters notoriously do not read long ballot questions if they cast their ballots on the question at all.

Indeed, a 2011 study by two Georgia State University professors that was published in Political Research Quarterly found that the often "obscure and legalistic language" in a lot of ballot questions requires, on average, a graduate school level vocabulary.

The more complex the question, the study said, "the more roll-off" the ballot there is. The same is true for races involving candidates voters are unfamiliar with.

In 2006, for instance, when 27.97 percent of Hamilton County voters went to the polls, only 16 to 18 percent of voters cast a ballot in various statewide judicial elections that asked only "yes" or "no" if the judge was to be retained.

Or in 2010, when 41.9 percent of Hamilton County voters went to the polls, only 32.6 percent of Chattanooga voters cast a ballot on a city ordinance.

The language on next month's ballot, especially given the exposure the issue has received on both sides, is clear. And the city government that proposed the policy should feel lucky Thomas ruled against its longer wording if it hopes to have voters approve benefits for certain unmarried opposite-sex and same-sex partners.

Matched pair

Governments and unions go hand in hand more often today than ever before, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Surprised?

A majority of union members today now have ties to a federal, state or local government entity, and roughly one in three public sector workers is a union member.

It sounds like a punchline to a rather scary joke: What's more entrenched than a government worker? A union government worker.

Such a combination brings about situations such as the United States Supreme Court ruled on last week when it determined thousands of health care workers in Illinois who are paid by the state cannot be required to fork over fees that help cover the union's cost of collective bargaining.

Think about that.

At some point before the ruling, the nonunion home-care workers for disabled people were being required to pay for stances the union was taking. As it should have, the justices ruled the practice violates the First Amendment rights of the nonmembers.

In an era where the majority of the public wants to see leaner governments, unions are pulling the other way. They're protective of bloated bureaucracies, after all, because the smaller the government, the fewer the union members.

They actually have to do so in order to remain relevant, according to an Associated Press report examining the figures.

With a loss of manufacturing jobs due in part to union demands for increasingly higher wages and benefits, union wage and salary workers in the United States dipped from a peak of 35 percent in the mid-1950s to 11.3 percent today.

The biggest contingency left for unions is the National Education Association, which represents 3.2 million public school teachers, administrators and even coerced students preparing to become teachers.

But even that union's influence may be waning. Last month, a California Superior Court judge abolished -- pending an appeal -- the state's near-lifetime teacher employment, dismissal and layoff laws.

Too often through the years, unions have been their own worst enemies. And by hitching their stars to growing and out of control governments, they've picked the wrong partners again.