GEORGE KENNEDY: Does union activism put the democratic process at risk?

Thursday, April 7, 2011 | 6:13 p.m. CDT; updated 6:37 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 7, 2011

COLUMBIA — As I was walking toward campus Wednesday morning, a guy I know stopped his car and yelled, “Hey, George! Good election!” This was an activist who’d worked for Helen Anthony in her Fifth Ward campaign, so I knew what he meant.

I agreed. As usual, the voting minority in Columbia made good choices. After saying "No" multiple times in the past, we finally decided that our City Council representatives deserve a modest payment for their service. The council campaigns did, however, leave an important question unanswered: What is the proper role in politics of public employee unions?

I’m pro-union. At different times in my checkered past, I’ve been a proud member of the Newspaper Guild and the Teamsters. I think all employees, including those who work for governments and universities, should have the right to unionize and to bargain collectively. So-called “right to work” legislation and the Republican-led efforts to destroy public employee unions are anti-worker and anti-democratic.

Still, the aggressive role played by Columbia Professional Fire Fighters Local 1055 in this year’s Fifth Ward council campaign bothers me. The firefighters did their level best to influence the selection of one of their bosses. They did the same thing last year, and their candidate for mayor won. This time, their candidate lost.

If you subscribe as I do to Mike Martin’s Columbia Heart Beat blog, you’ve probably read the angry exchange between Councilperson-elect Anthony and union President Brad Fraizer. The conflict extended to a phone conversation that left Ms. Anthony feeling threatened and Mr. Fraizer feeling insulted.

On their face, the issues are almost laughable. The firefighters say they’re motivated by their concern for public safety. Show me, if you can, an anti-public safety candidate. The evidence cited by the firefighters was Glen Ehrhardt’s support of and Ms. Anthony’s opposition last year to surveillance cameras downtown. Just how vital to our safety those are is illustrated by the fact that a year later they still haven’t been installed.

Ms. Anthony asked in a campaign mailer, “What has Ehrhardt promised the firefighters?” Mr. Fraizer found that question insulting. To me, it seems both reasonable and pertinent.

After all, Mr. Ehrhardt would have been, and Ms. Anthony will be in a position to affect the pay, benefits and working conditions of all city employees, including the police (whose association also backed Mr. Ehrhardt) and firefighters. Probably the most important benefits that will certainly come under scrutiny are the generous and expensive pension programs for those public safety workers.

Martin asked whether political activism might put the firefighters at risk of alienating some of the citizenry. The bigger question, it seems to me, is whether such activism puts the democratic process at risk. Firefighters and cops are a very special special interest. They enjoy higher levels of public admiration than, say, garbage collectors or payroll clerks. They also enjoy, and probably deserve, better pay and pensions.

Should they trade on that public esteem to try to influence elections? I don’t think so.

One reason for political activism may be that Missouri law limits the bargaining power of public employee unions. Unions are allowed to “meet and confer” with administrators, but not much beyond that. It would be far better to have real bargaining at the table and less intrusion into City Council campaigns. Unless the law is changed — and the prospects for that are dim — the unions will be tempted to use their clout where they can.

Still, as a citizen who depends on police protection and fire prevention, I want my public safety employees to be professional and not political.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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Ed Ricciotti April 7, 2011 | 7:25 p.m.

I am pro-union. I am not so concerned about these public unions expressing themselves politically. If the endorsement process involved the whole membership and not a chosen few on a committee, I think they have every right to express their opinion through their PAC. However, they then must accept the fact that their endorsement can be scrutinized if they chose to enter themselves in the political process. Anthony's campaign asked a pertinent question as Mr. Kennedy stated. Once you put yourself out politically, you can't hide behind the "public admiration" of your profession. Politics lately in Columbia requires a thicker skin.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 8, 2011 | 6:08 p.m.

George says, "Ms. Anthony asked in a campaign mailer, “What has Ehrhardt promised the firefighters?”...To me, [this question] seems both reasonable and pertinent.

Then I guess it's also reasonable and pertinent to ask, "What pound of flesh will Ms. Anthony extract from the firefighters for their lack of electoral ardor?"

Personally, George, I think Ms. Anthony comment...and your subsequent one...are insulting.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance April 8, 2011 | 6:20 p.m.

Personally, George, I think Ms. Anthony comment...and your subsequent one...are insulting.


Too bad, you make a political statement like an endorsement, you are going to have to back it up. Honestly if it is insulting, oh well. Glen Ehrhardt was the man behind Kespohl's dirty campaign so he and his supporters should be the last people to complain. Karma has a way of biting you in the back.

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Michael Williams April 8, 2011 | 8:11 p.m.

Tim Dance:

The statement, “What has Ehrhardt promised the firefighters?”, is an innuendo...kinda like "What did George Kennedy offer his secretary in return for a promotion and raise?"

The statement assumes a promise was made or action taken...when there may not have been ANY promise or action. Did Ehrhardt offer anything to anyone? Did Mr. Kennedy make an "offer" to his secretary? With such innuendos, the whole world wonders!

Such statements invoke a negative visceral response which, in the absence of ANY evidence, may be totally invalid. If Ms. Anthony or George Kennedy have evidence to the contrary about Mr Ehrhardt, that evidence would certainly be newsworthy because it would indicate corruption. For now, we've not been made aware of ANY promise and we've not been made aware of any evidence of corruption. All we have is an innuendo.

I'm surprised you (and apparently Ms. Anthony and Mr. Kennedy) do not see the validity of this argument.

I'm especially surprised Mr. Kennedy, as a newspaperman, does not recognize an innuendo when he hears one. And that if he DID recognize it, he would support it.

Says a lot.....

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 8, 2011 | 8:13 p.m.

Also, given the headline of this column, I'd like Mr. Kennedy to weigh in on the political activities of the AFL-CIO and the like.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance April 9, 2011 | 1:30 a.m.

When Kespohl and Ehrhardt did a hatchet job on Skala. Their whole campaign was based on innuendo. Especially implying that Skala was living high on the hog while in reality he was charging the city less per diem than he was allowed. Looks like you Chamber types either have short memories or selective outrage. Ehrhardt and Kespohl released this genie, They and their supporters, like yourself, can't stuff it back in the bottle.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 9, 2011 | 8:20 p.m.

Sure looks like Paul Sturtz learned from Kespohl's campaign, eh?

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance April 9, 2011 | 8:53 p.m.

Didn't know Sturtz was running against Richards or that he campaigned against him for weeks? Did he send out direct mail against Richards? Did he put on radio ads against Richards? Did Sturtz on his website have some stupid video about Richards? You are making a false comparison and you know it. No one is going to be swayed by anyone a day before an election by what someone has written on an obscure listserv. Face it John, voters weren't buying what he was selling. To make Sturtz a bad guy is just plain wrong.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 10, 2011 | 1:16 a.m.

So you're going to give Paul a pass on his known lies? I guess the left has learned that Kespohl's dirty politics works and adopted it as their own. And Sturtz wasn't the only person peddling lies about Mitch, I heard from a Democrat friend about dirtier stuff that was being dished amongst the base. Unlike the Skala/Kespohl race, the rumors about Mitch probably didn't make a difference in the results, but it doesn't condone the lies from the enlightened progressives about town.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance April 10, 2011 | 2:41 a.m.

John, if it wasn't for the Richard's supporters, this email would of stayed on a obscure listserv. They chose to give the email legs, not Sturtz.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 10, 2011 | 12:41 p.m.

What kind of crap response is that, the electioneering equivalent of a woman deserved being raped because of the way she dressed?

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin April 10, 2011 | 1:15 p.m.

The Sturtz emails are indicative of the tired nature of local conservative/liberal politics.

Because they were penned by a sitting city councilman, they by all means needed to move beyond the "obscure" listserv Tim Dance references.

Finally, there are more parallels between Mitch Richards and Karl Skala than between Skala and Helen Anthony.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote April 10, 2011 | 1:48 p.m.


What was untrue about Sturtz's email?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 10, 2011 | 2:13 p.m.

Christopher, a couple of the false claims in Sturtz's email are that developers paid for Mitch's signs, not to mention the allegation that they paid (Paul used the word persuaded in the scanned email) Almeta Crayton to endorse Mitch. Looking at the 8 days before election campaign finance report shows the first claim to be false, while the claim about Almeta has no truth in reality.

I can't find the second email on the Keep Columbia Free website, but Mike has it on the Columbia Heartbeat at this link:

Regarding the claims of Don Stamper advertising Mitch's fundraiser, my understanding is that Mitch's campaign manager emailed various Chamber members who he had email addresses for to let them know about the fundraiser and Donnie simply forwarded that email along to people he knew. I don't think there was any overt influence by Donnie to get people to come out, but I haven't seen the email Paul references.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 10, 2011 | 2:16 p.m.

I also forgot to mention that the 8 days before campaign election reports were available from the Missouri Ethics Commission if Sturtz wished to make sure he was speaking the truth, but I imagine he passed along a rumor he heard as the gospel of St. Paul.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance April 10, 2011 | 5:01 p.m.


Martin and Schultz were supporters of Richards, either monetary or in spirit. They were the ones that plucked this email from a small listserv and made their own controversy out of it. Richards lost terribly and they are using this to somehow martyr the campaign. Schultz implied that this was similar to what Kespohl did to Skala, which doesn't even come close.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 10, 2011 | 5:32 p.m.

No Tim, we didn't "pluck" it from an obscure listserv, someone forwarded the email to the Richards campaign. I don't know for certain who it was, but I have an inkling and that person probably falls in the solid Democratic camp on most issues. Paul was playing to the base to make sure there were no defections to Mitch's campaign. I love how you excuse the lies though, due to Sturtz's political leanings.

I'm not saying that Fred Schmidt was behind this whisper campaign, but some progressives in town certainly were. I find that shocking after what Karl went through during last year's election. My bringing up this issue is not to elevate Mitch to martyr status, but to point out the hypocrisy among some of the liberal community (or that they are fast learners in dirty politics). Mitch didn't get smeared like Karl did certainly (and I didn't approve of what was said about Karl last year), but you can't write it off as blithely as you wish to.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin April 10, 2011 | 7:44 p.m.

Tim Dance:

I've never met Mitch Richards nor any of his supporters, and since you've never met me nor know anything about me (unless you're a close friend masquerading under a pseudonym), I don't see how you "know" that I "supported" Richards. That's damned presumptuous, coming from a total stranger.

What I do support are ideas that challenge Columbia's crotchety establishment.

Both Richards and Karl Skala came to the table with lots of new, establishment-challenging ideas -- most notably for Skala, the idea that the city manager's office needed to be reigned in via changes to the City Charter, from his sitting at the center of the legislative table to his supreme power over senior staff appointments.

They both got their heads handed to them by establishment forces who make big bucks maintaining the status quo.

Richards' ideas are laid out pretty well on the Keep Columbia Free site and we heard about them at length during the campaign. I especially like this "First Ward is a food desert" discussion:

He was also the first white guy to come along in a long time and suggest we drop all the paternalistic crap we direct toward the black community.

The largely youth-driven Liberty advocacy movement has made quite a splash here in a short time.

My advice to our local political elites: stop manhandling people with new ideas and start paying attention to these growing trends among younger voters.

If you don't, in a few short years you'll all be out on your rear ends, this season's election notwithstanding.

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne April 11, 2011 | 8:16 a.m.

It is important to note that Paul Sturtz was not the only prominent local Democrat in town actively engaging in the whisper campaign against Richards. Ginny Chadwick, who served on Fred Schmidt's campaign committee, propagated the same treacherous rumors via Facebook.

Although Chadwick worked on the Schmidt campaign in official capacity, the lies spread by Paul Sturtz stand out for two reasons.

1. Sturtz was representing our city on the City Council when he sent the email.

2. Sturtz was the only Democrat dumb enough to put the lies in an email.

What was even more troubling during the recent election was to see how frightened the local Democrat establishment seemed to be of Richards's platform of personal liberty. Personal liberty and human rights, once a pillar of liberal ideology, seems to have been replaced with an arrogant paternalistic desire for community betterment via government coercion.

"At the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services, also in the First Ward, Josh Howard said he voted for Schmidt. He said, 'Richards worried too much about personal freedoms. I’m more worried about making this community a better place.'"

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance April 11, 2011 | 10:31 a.m.

Guys, let it go. Sturtz did not make Richards lose. In fact, your conspiratorial tone and martyring the campaign by giving this email from an obscure listserv some legs could be seen as some 11th hour controversy for political reasons. I'm sorry if the first ward didn't buy his libertarian rhetoric, that's why he lost.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 11, 2011 | 12:11 p.m.

Tim, I'll put this in all caps and small words so you comprehend it the third time (maybe):


I knew Mitch was going to have a tough go of it, but I didn't expect Columbia's liberals to use a method they decried a year prior to smear someone they saw as a threat.

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne April 11, 2011 | 1:57 p.m.


John is correct. We knew going in that Mitch had little chance in his first bid for the City Council seat against the establishment Democrat candidate in a historically Democrat ward. Fred had the Chris Kelly money machine in his corner along with all of the Democrat phone lists and mailing lists.

Mitch injected real issues into the campaign which scared all of the money away. If you want to attract the big political money in Columbia's First Ward you've got to go with the flow, keep your mouth shut, and play well in the sandbox. Mitch, to his credit, refused to sell out and the financial history of his campaign shows it.

So, Tim, you are correct. The lies of Paul Sturtz and Ginny Chadwick neither lost the election for Mitch or won it for Fred. There were several other factors that did more harm to Mitch's chances. But they are lies nonetheless. They are lies about good people like Almeta Crayton, a person who has given more of her life to this community than everyone else mentioned here put together. They are lies about a close friend of mine, Mitch Richards. They are lies about myself who served as Mitch's campaign manager. They are lies propagated by prominent "progressives" including a, the current, city councilman and local film fest aficionado. They are lies that suggest violations of Missouri campaign ethics laws. They are lies that draw attention to the true nature of the establishment "progressives" and Democrats in this town.

Thanks for the advice, Timmy, but you can bet I'm not going to "let it go."

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne April 11, 2011 | 2:00 p.m.

For clarification “the current” was meant to be “then current”

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance April 11, 2011 | 7:28 p.m.

"Real" issues? If I had a dollar for every "also ran" that said that I'd be a rich man

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin April 11, 2011 | 10:02 p.m.

Mr. Dance -- You're not being fair. You're urging people to drop an argument that, from the looks of this thread, you mostly started, and with a discussion of the dirty dealings done to Karl Skala, whom many have accused -- unfairly, IMHO -- of being just the sort of "also ran" you decry in Mitch Richards.

"Glen Ehrhardt was the man behind Kespohl's dirty campaign. Kespohl and Ehrhardt did a hatchet job on Skala. Their whole campaign was based on innuendo," you chided.

"Karma has a way of biting you in the back," you said.

None of that sounds like someone who wants to put past campaigns behind him, and "let it go," as you're urging others to do now that the focus is on a different -- and much more recent -- campaign you did not support.

To criticize Richards' supporters for making the same complaints is disingenuous. If you didn't want to engage in such an argument, you shouldn't have started it. And every time you weigh in with a new salvo, you just keep it going.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance April 11, 2011 | 11:55 p.m.

Read it again Mr. Martin, I didn't bring up the Sturtz "controversy, John did. I was talking about the 5th ward race. It was John and the rest of the Richards supporters that hijacked this thread. Nice time you accuse me of starting an argument, make sure I really started it.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 12, 2011 | 2:08 a.m.

I'm sorry Tim, I didn't realize this was your personal thread I was not to comment on, especially after you brought up the Kespohl hatchet job on Skala. I felt the need to point out how you enlightened progressives did a similar smear this year. My humble apologies for not begging your liberal permission first.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 14, 2011 | 6:18 a.m.

Earlier this week I was at "ground zero" for the currently hottest protest involving unions: the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin. The Wisconsin capitol, in the center of downtown Madison (which itself is an "isthmus" separating lakes Mendota and Monona), is an attractive building, but there are virtually no "capitol grounds," and the capitol is surrounded on four sides by commercial buildings.

Picketers - there were only a few present - had a DRUM and were beating on it! You can imagine how that sounded, reverberating off surrounding commercial buildings. Fortunately, rooms at the Madison Concourse Hotel are heavily soundproofed.

Based on the placards they were holding, most of the picketers were from Chicago. I admit to being geographically challenged, but I thought Chicago was located in the state of Illinois. Has it been moved? Perhaps the Wisconsin union members were confined to their beds, suffering from PTSD. (Some of the signs did say that the bearers were there to express "solidarity" with their fellow unionists in Wisconsin. Solidarity is a marvelous thing.)

Most of the picketers looked like bums.

That said, I don't care whether picketers look like bums or wear $2,000 suits and have hair styles as flashy as Donald Trump's, they have the right to peacefully picket. But that drum gave me a &%$#ing headache. :)

I'm sympathetic toward the UMW of A and United Steelworkers of America, but my sympathies don't reach beyond those unions. If you have had any experience with underground mining or steel mills (metal preparation and pouring), you can appreciate the basis for my sympathies.

(Report Comment)

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