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The Hightower Report

Lobbyists' BFF; and California's Budding Union Movement

By Jim Hightower, Fri., Oct. 15, 2010

Lobbyists' BFF

John Boehner is known for his ties and his tan.

You've perhaps never heard of this Ohio Republican, who's been the minority leader for almost four years, but he has big plans to be the next speaker of the U.S. House. Who is he? For clues, look no further than those ties and that tan.

The tan is odd, both because it has an eerie orange hue to it and because it never goes away. Even in the dead of winter, this GOP leader from sun-starved Ohio has such a perpetual glow that he's been nicknamed "Suntan Johnnie." How does he get the glow? By routinely flying on corporate jets to play golf with corporate lobbyists on corporate tabs at such sun-drenched resorts as the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla.

Which brings us to his ties – by which I don't mean the flashy silk neckwear he favors. Rather, I mean Boehner's flagrant ties to a clique of powerful influence peddlers. These ties go way back; in 1996, he was caught passing checks from tobacco lobbyists to fellow Republicans on the House floor!

His inner circle of special interests is so cozy that it's even been given its own nickname: Boehner Land. Outsiders need not apply, for Boehner Land is an exclusive place inhabited by about 20 lobbyists for such outfits as Citigroup, R.J. Reynolds, MillerCoors, Goldman Sachs, Google, and UPS. They put millions of campaign dollars into his pockets, fly him around, wine and dine him at the finest restaurants, and sustain his political ambitions.

In turn, Boehner is their boy. One member of Suntan Johnnie's corrupt club candidly told The New York Times that he regularly gets Boehner's help for his clients ranging from fighting limits on debit card fees to protecting tax breaks for hedge fund operators.

They want Boehner to become speaker for one reason: He's fluent in corporate-speak.

California's Budding Union Movement

In California, a surprising new union movement is growing like a weed, having taken root in a burgeoning economic sector that has enormous potential: marijuana.

The Golden State was one of the first to legalize the use of medical marijuana, and a network of licensed growers, dispensaries, and other related businesses has since flourished. It turns out that pot is a labor-intensive product, and the producers, distributors, and retailers of weed have become something of a hotbed for local job growth. These workers, as in any other industry, need a unified voice to achieve a living wage, decent benefits, training, job security, upward mobility, and other elements of a shared prosperity that create a middle class. In a word? Unions.

In Oakland, the first step toward a unionized work force for medical marijuana businesses was taken this May when about a hundred retail employees voted to join Local 5 of the United Food and Commercial Workers. Given the depressingly high unemployment rate, Oakland officials cheered this introduction of good paychecks, which will allow families to spread their increased incomes through the local economy.

Then, in September, Local 70 of the Teamsters Union added to Oakland's marijuana momentum by signing up about 40 gardeners, trimmers, and other skilled workers employed by a local business that contracts to grow pot for medical marijuana patients in the area. The Teamsters negotiated a two-year contract that provides a $7 pay hike, health coverage, paid vacation, and pension – the kind of jobs that can sustain a community.

Ironically, federal law still outlaws marijuana, but commonsense state and local laws are showing that, by literally going to pot, such legalized grassroots enterprises can give people and communities a new high.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit www.jimhightower.com. You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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