Stopping The Koch Brothers’ Agenda In Arizona

You may recall that a few weeks ago, a Koch brothers’ spokeswoman announced that their network is now willing to finance political campaigns for Democrats who are “in step with Koch policies.”

Koch policies? Koch policies are first and foremost their business’ bottom line. Any study of their pattern of political giving shows what being in step with the Koch policies means: slashing government regulations that protect workers and the environment.

And that is perfect for the Democrats who make up the Republican wing of the Democratic Party, the New Dems and Blue Dogs— like, for example, Tom O’Halleran, an “ex”-Republican Arizona legislator who switched parties and is now a member of both the New Dems and the Blue Dogs. In fact, he’s a Blue Dog co-chair… and no one has to beg him to support Koch policies. Tom O’Halleran has been doing that for his entire political career.

His primary opponent, a progressive Democrat from Flagstaff and former national Bernie Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention, is Eva Putzova, who made her bones fighting against Koch policies— and the Koch brothers themselves… and winning.

This week I received a letter from Marilyn Weissman, who has known Eva since they were both board members of Friends of Flagstaff’s Future. She explained why she is supporting Eva’s challenge to O’Halleran in the Arizona primary.

“We need Eva in Congress,” she wrote, “to lead on issues such as raising the minimum wage, fighting climate change, keeping us out of wars, and protecting women’s reproductive rights. Eva’s bold leadership has proven she’s a strong advocate for the people of Flagstaff. She worked hard to gain a seat on the council and brought a progressive perspective to local issues.” Marilyn was urging her fellow Arizonans to vote for Eva in the 2020 August primary.

They worked together on the $15 Minimum Wage Campaign in Flagstaff, where, in her words, Eva “was a tireless advocate and campaigner for restaurant and other low wage workers. In the face of much criticism from the Chamber of Commerce, Eva was fearless and never backed down. Eva stood up to the Koch-network-funded efforts in Flagstaff’s minimum wage fight and will stand up to them and other big money interests when she is in Congress. We in Arizona have an opportunity to add another progressive woman to Congress in 2020. Let’s be as fearless as Eva and work to make that happen!”

Eva was born and raised in Slovakia, made Flagstaff her home in 2000 and became a U.S. citizen in 2007. She started her professional career in the renewable energy sector and, in 2003, began working in higher education. During her 14-year tenure at Northern Arizona University she held a number of positions, including Director of Strategic Planning and Executive Director for Marketing and Strategic Communications. She was elected to the Flagstaff City Council in 2014. Today, she is the National Communications and Technology Director for Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, working to raise wages and improve working conditions for the country’s 13 million restaurant workers.

Her website emphasizes themes that any progressive Democrat would be behind— and that have been opposed by Tom O’Halleran. One especially caught my attention:

“Over the last 30 years, wages have remained flat for most workers while corporate profits have soared. One reason for stagnant wages is the loss of workers’ bargaining power as labor unions have been decimated by corporate attacks. The other reason is the low federal minimum wage. I will support legislation to allow workers to more easily unionize and to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.”

After decades of stagnating wages and an inadequate federal minimum wage policy, communities around the country have been taking actions into their own hands. To raise wages in red states like Arizona, your only option is a ballot initiative. Republican lawmakers not only refuse to raise the minimum wage legislatively, they would prefer to get rid of it completely, taking us back to the era of total labor exploitation.

In 2016, in Flagstaff, Arizona, I led a local citizen initiative raising the minimum wage to $15, gradually increasing the sub-minimum tipped wage to the full minimum wage, and establishing local enforcement– another key provision in states where your governor does not believe in enforcing the law against wage theft and corporate greed. Shortly after the local success in the 2016 election, the Koch outfit American Encore initiated a repeal of the voter-approved minimum wage law. They called their misleading amendment the “Sustainable Wages Act” and collected signatures to get it on the next ballot by simply lying to people. From the beginning, the biggest opposition to raising wages came from the restaurant industry because the local law finally increases the sub-minimum tipped wage. Living almost exclusively off tips forces the mostly female restaurant workforce to put up with inappropriate behavior from customers, managers, and co-workers.

At the same time when Flagstaff passed its One Fair Wage covering tipped workers under the same minimum wage rate rules as the rest of the workforce, so did voters in Maine. While Arizona and Flagstaff enjoyed the protections of the Voter Protection Act and initiatives can’t be overturned by legislative action, people in Maine were not so lucky. The National Restaurant Association, the “other” NRA, is a trade lobby that spends millions of dollars influencing legislation in order to keep wages low and uphold their greedy corporate agenda. The “other” NRA piloted a new lobbying tactic in Maine, fronting a fake grassroots group called the Restaurant Workers of America, in which white male servers from fine dining establishments argue against increasing their own wages. The astroturf group managed to get enough faux Democrats in the Maine legislature to overturn the people’s will.

In addition to astroturfing, the restaurant lobby buys legislators when they can– as was the case recently in DC where the City Council repealed the voter-approved Initiative 77, or in Michigan, where legislators adopted the voter-initiated ballot measure rather than sending it out to the voters which would have tied their hands. They gutted the law in the lame duck session and left tipped workers way behind– with $4.58 per hour by 2030 instead of $12 by 2022 that the Michigan voters petitioned for. [More recently], in New Jersey, legislators cut a deal with the Governor to raise the minimum wage to $15, carving out tipped workers and farmworkers, with the tipped wage going up from an embarrassing $2.13 to an insulting $5.13 in five years. All over the country, people support raising the minimum wage and raising the sub-minimum tipped wage. It’s the legislators who are behind.

The 2018 campaign in Flagstaff to repeal the minimum wage was in its final stages funded by other dark money shops– America Revived and Market Freedom Alliance who worked hand in hand with the local Chamber of Commerce and a local Restaurant Association. While we may never know what they spent– as their reporting is as shady as their donor base– we estimate they outspent our local NO campaign protecting the minimum wage by a 4-to-1 margin. We ran a fearless campaign knocking on the doors, proving that organized people can defeat organized money. We protected the local law by a greater margin than we won initially in 2016. Thanks to Flagstaff voters (and a well-run defense campaign), $140 million will go every year to the pockets of workers instead of their corporate bosses.

It’s disturbing how so many of our so-called Democrats are willing to defy the will of the voters and support the sub-minimum tipped wage policy– a policy that is nothing more than institutionalized gender and racial discrimination because more than 65 percent of restaurant workers are women and many are people of color. And yet, One Fair Wage has been in effect for decades in seven states– California, Nevada, Oregon, Minnesota, Montana, Washington, and Alaska. These one-fair-wage states have half the rate of sexual harassment as the 43 states with sub-minimum tipped wages. In addition, they have higher restaurant sales per capita in the industry (proving that paying people well is good for the bottom line), higher job growth, and the same or higher tipping averages than the 43 states where tipped workers still get paid the sub-minimum wage rate.

What stands between workers and their ability to enjoy a decent life with a stable paycheck is too often just corporate greed enabled by a subservient legislature. But we can do better. I will fight for just, generous, and inclusive America as hard as I fought for Flagstaff workers against the Chamber allied with the Koch network and their dark money tentacles.

Eva Putzova isn’t one of the Democrats the Koch brothers networks is planning on supporting in this year’s primaries— quite the opposite… nor is she interested in pursuing their sewer money. Her platform is not and will never be “in step with Koch policies.” O’Halleran represents their interests. Eva is fighting for peoples’ interests against the Koch brothers bottom line.

Please consider contributing to her congressional campaign by clicking on the Blue America 2020 Primary A Blue Dog thermometer on the right. Goal Thermometer Cheri Bustos and her renegade DCCC are doing all they can to protect Tom O’Halleran from Arizona Democrats, instead of working with local Democrats to end the career of this fake-dem by replacing him with someone who embodies the values and vision of the Democratic Party as it was crafted by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: to make it a protector of American working families— not a protector of Wall Street banksters and multinational corporate interests.

FDR knew who the enemy was— and so does Eva Putzova. Cheri Bustos doesn’t and neither does Tom O’Halleran.

Thanks for always doing what you can to make a better world,

Howie, for the entire Blue America team


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