Novey

By Jon Ortiz
jortiz@sacbee.com
Published: Monday, Nov. 29, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Monday, Nov. 29, 2010 – 6:23 am

Don Novey placed a multimillion-dollar bet on Meg Whitman to become California’s next governor and lost. Problem was, he played the game with other people’s money. A lot of it.

Now one of the state employee unions that the labor legend advised to oppose Gov.-elect Jerry Brown must negotiate a new contract with the incoming administration.

And the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the union Novey is credited with building into a political powerhouse before he retired eight years ago, is going after its former leader over a contract dispute.

The 63-year-old former Army intelligence officer and amateur boxer dismisses any notion that he’s suffered a mortal political wound. His bank account backs him up.

Law enforcement groups paid him at least $560,000 in fees in the past two years to dispense political advice, state records show. None has dumped him, Novey says.

Still, Whitman’s loss dealt more than a glancing blow, Novey recently admitted.

“I’m like ‘Casey at the Bat,’ ” he said, referencing the Ernest Thayer baseball poem. “I struck out.”

Union makes big gamble

Perhaps no union was more affected by Novey’s whiff at the plate than the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, which spent $1.6 million on independent ads supporting Whitman and opposing Brown in the final weeks of the race.

By then, polls showed Brown pulling away despite $144 million that the former eBay chief would eventually spend on her own campaign.

It was a huge gamble for the CSLEA, since its 7,400 members – a broad swath of state public safety employees, ranging from game wardens to cheese inspectors – haven’t had a contract since July 2008.

Even worse, the union was at the center of the now- legendary “whore” faux pas by a Brown campaign adviser in September. The woman captured on a telephone voice mail used the term referring to Meg Whitman’s deal-making with CSLEA and other law enforcement unions.

“Obviously, when you’re a union in this situation it’s better to have been a supporter of the incoming administration than to have been an opponent,” said Daniel Mitchell, professor emeritus at UCLA’s Anderson Graduate School of Management.

State records show that the CSLEA has paid Novey $198,000 since January 2009. It didn’t respond to requests for comment from The Bee.

Nor did the Los Angeles Police Protection League, which has paid Novey $245,850 in consulting fees during the same period.

The league spent $400,000 on pro-Whitman cable TV and radio commercials in mid-October. It paid an additional $100,000 for ads supporting the GOP’s Steve Cooley for California attorney general.

Cooley, considered the choice of most police unions, conceded to Democrat Kamala Harris last week, losing the election by less than one percentage point.

Another law enforcement union, the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, has spent $59,000 for Novey’s consulting services since January 2009. It also shelled out $1.1 million on unspecified independent political efforts, roughly half of it for TV and radio spots.

The association didn’t return a call for comment.

Novey said that although he provided consulting and research for the unions, the groups made their own decisions after interviews with candidates.

“I might work the process, but I don’t determine the outcome,” Novey said.

Then the news broke that Whitman had fired her housekeeper, an illegal immigrant. It sent the former eBay CEO’s campaign into an irreversible slide, Novey said, “but it’s not the first time I’ve been on the losing side.”

Novey legend in decline

As the CCPOA’s president in 1982, he supported Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, a Democrat, for governor. Republican George Deukmejian won by about 100,000 of the 7.5 million votes cast, sending Novey “immediately into the doghouse.”

Over the next 20 years, however, the CCPOA used millions in dues from members to sponsor tough-on-crime measures, provide money for crime-victims groups and elect union-friendly lawmakers.

“Novey was early in recognizing the potential of crime fear as a new anchor of politics,” said UC Berkeley law professor Jonathan Simon.

Complications from diabetes – now under control, Novey says – prompted his retirement in 2002. The correctional officers’ union kept him on as a $150,000-a-year consultant.

That ended abruptly last December when the union said it discovered Novey had taken on surreptitious side consulting jobs, violating the contract, CCPOA says. It has taken its former president to arbitration to get back some of its money.

Union leaders won’t talk about the contract conflict, but it’s clear that the Novey legend has worn thin with them.

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