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Big Labor Abandons Duncan Hunter's Democratic Challenger Weeks before Election

Created: 23 October, 2018
Updated: 17 October, 2022
3 min read

SAN DIEGO, CALIF. - The California Labor Federation, the state’s major labor organization, is abandoning Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar’s campaign to unseat indicted Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter over his ambiguous stand on California’s gasoline tax.

“We made the decision that it’s not a district that California Labor Federation will be engaged in,” federation spokesman Steve Smith said Monday.

At the same time, the Labor Federation, organized labor’s umbrella organization in California, intends to campaign hard for Jessica Morse, another first-time Democratic candidate challenging Republican Congressman Tom McClintock of Elk Grove in a heavily Republican district that includes much of the Sierra.

In both races, labor’s decision turned on how the candidates framed their answers to perhaps the biggest question facing Californians in the Nov. 6 election: How to pay to repair California’s rutted highways and bridges.

Led by unions representing building trades, organized labor has spent $17.1 million to defeat Proposition 6, the initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot that would repeal the 12-cent per gallon gasoline tax approved by the Legislature last year. The tax generates $5.2 billion a year to pay primarily for road and bridge repair.

Labor’s share represents 42 percent of $42.7 million raised so far to kill the initiative. Construction companies and their consultants have given the bulk of the rest, $23.4 million, an analysis of campaign finance filings show.

Republicans including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and gubernatorial candidate John Cox funded the petition drive that placed the initiative on the ballot, believing it would motivate conservative voters to get to the polls two weeks from today.

Whether or not that happens, the gas tax has driven a wedge between some Democratic candidates and labor.

Campa-Najjar, not yet 30, is waging what once was seen as a long-shot bid to defeat Hunter in Republican-heavy district previously held by the incumbent’s father, also named Duncan Hunter. Hunter’s seeming invincibility changed in August when he and his wife were indicted on federal charges of using $250,000 in campaign money to fund their lifestyles.

Campa-Najjar raised $1.4 million in the third quarter of 2018, more than 10 times what Hunter raised. Campa-Najjar’s fundraising is a testament to Democrats’ enthusiasm nationally, Barack Obama’s endorsement, and Hunter’s obvious vulnerability.

Campa-Najjar put that money to use by funding a television ad that attacks Hunter over the indictment, but also tells voters that he “opposes raising the gas tax.”

It is at best an ambiguous statement. There is no proposal to raise the gas tax further in California. Rather, voters on Nov. 6 will decide whether to repeal last year’s hike, and thus lessen funding for road maintenance and transportation infrastructure—and the jobs that go with them.

“We have to hold Democrats accountable, just like we have to hold Republicans accountable when they do things that are against the interests of working people,” the Labor Federation’s Smith said. “He has communicated that he opposes the gas tax.”

The Labor Federation had been planning to send mail and make other contacts with labor households in the district, and help with get-out-the-vote efforts. Its decision to pull back does not preclude other unions from helping Campa-Najjar, though at least one construction trades local also has dropped its endorsement.

Campa-Najjar and his campaign did not respond to CALmatters’ requests for comment.

Morse, by contrast, initially questioned the gasoline tax, but won labor support after promising to work to secure infrastructure funding if she’s elected, and criticizing McClintock for failing to do so.

In an interview, Morse called the state gasoline tax a “symptom of Congress not passing infrastructure funding for the last decade.”

“Our community has been stuck in traffic because our member of Congress hasn’t been getting the resources back,” Morse said. “What I can do in Congress is work to bring infrastructure funding back to California.”

On Saturday morning, Labor Federation leader Art Pulaski will join a get-out-the-vote march on Morse’s behalf in Roseville, a Sacramento suburb that is the district’s main population hub. Morse has an uphill fight but the federation counts 57,000 labor households in the McClintock-Morse district.

Editor's Note: This article originally published on CALmatters, and published in its entirety with permission from CALmatters.

Photo Credit: Stockr / shutterstock.com