Occasionally some GFCers ask whether the dominance of public employee unions over California politics and policy can ever end. The answer is “yes.” Below is an example of a once-dominant power being dethroned.

During the Jim Crow era, the US Senate was dominated by segregationist Democrats opposed to civil rights legislation. But over time and over their objections, Lyndon Johnson accumulated enough power in his own party to ensure passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first civil rights legislation since 1875 and a precursor to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. A critical first step in Johnson’s accumulation of power took place in 1940 when he began bundling political donations to other legislators. Nobody was more persistent in bundling dollars and counting votes.

Dethroning dominant political powers in California requires the same persistence. Since being granted collective bargaining rights in 1968, public employee unions have indeed become the dominate political force in California, but they too can be overcome through persistent support of lawmakers who vote in the general interest. It takes time, as Johnson’s odyssey illustrates, but if you want change you can never give up. You needn’t be a lawmaker yourself or rich but you do need to be part of a network of persistent donors to lawmakers who legislate in the general interest. It also takes ruthless attention to detail because no gulf is wider than the one between what some politicians say and how they vote.

Legend has it that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked by a group of citizens what sort of government the delegates had created, to which his answer was: “A republic, if you can keep it.” Persistence is a small price to pay.

Lecturer at Stanford University and president of Govern For California