AFL-CIO to target 200 races

CHICAGO (PAI) — The AFL-CIO is putting money and, more importantly, people into 200 political races this fall, including “every statewide U.S. Senate and governor’s race,” federation Political Director Karen Ackerman says.

In an Aug. 8 interview with reporters covering the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting here, Ackerman said labor’s involvement will stretch all the way down to the state legislative level, plus at least six referendums and “more than 50 U.S. House races.”

The concentration on the governors is a change from past years. It’s occurring because of the inaction or negative action that workers and their allies face in the GOP-controlled government in Washington, Ackerman said.

As a result, “a lot of the federal issues,” such as the minimum wage, “have moved onto the state level” and action in state capitols is increasingly important to workers. In some cases, it’s on the ballot, including six state minimum wage referendums. The federation will be involved in those campaigns, too.

In one example, she noted that “Colorado has become very important to us because of the state Legislature and because it’s a potential right-to-work state.” In 2004, massive union efforts there won a pro-labor Democratic majority in the Legislature for the first time in 40 years — and blunted the right-to-work push of retiring GOP Gov. Bill Owens. Labor backs the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

The most-contested gubernatorial races Ackerman identified included Ohio (GOP open seat), Minnesota (GOP-held), Michigan and Wisconsin (both Democratic). Illinois, Pennsylvania and Oregon (all Democratic) and California (GOP) are also contested.

She called Ohio “the top priority.” It has a Senate race — pro-labor Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) versus Sen. Mike DeWine (R), three vulnerable House GOPers and two open seats.

Nationwide, the federation will emphasize repeated member contacts and education, aiming to maximize turnout of unionists, their allies and their families. Including the federation itself, family members and its community affiliates, that totals 12.4 million registered voters, Ackerman said.

That number does not count the Change to Win federation’s seven unions or the independent, 2.8-million-member National Education Association. NEA, the nation’s largest union, signed a pact with the AFL-CIO in February to encourage greater political coordination between the two.

CTW’s unions, with some exceptions, are working politically with AFL-CIO local and state bodies. AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, who co-chairs a joint political strategy committee with CTW Secretary-Treasurer Edgar Romney, said that the CTW unions agreed with all the targeted races.

Ackerman said general public dissatisfaction and the war in Iraq could have a big impact. The two are tied together, she added.

“Union members feel ‘enough is enough,’ and that policies of this administration are not working for them,” she said. “This is a moment unlike any we’ve seen in a long, long time.”