JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – “Republicans don’t like us to vote, because when we vote, they lose,” Bunny Baker, secretary-treasurer of the North Florida Central Labor Council (NFCLC), told the World. With just days left until Nov. 5, a big voter turnout will make or break the chances of defeating Gov. Jeb Bush. It is also crucial to blocking a rightwing majority takeover of all three branches of the federal government.

“Can’t you see how my eyes are half-closed?” joked Baker, her office practically a depot of get-out-the-vote (GOTV) materials. “Our IAM members are leafleting, phone banking, rallying, putting up signs, feeding troops, because folks like Bush are bad for workers.”

“Bring yourself, your family and neighbors to the polls,” said Doug Williams, political coordinator for Local 177 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). “If we don’t beat Jeb, collective bargaining here in Florida will just be another word. And if Jeb gets back in, it’ll help his brother get four more years of anti-union Presidency.”

Conversely, a defeat for Jeb Bush would energize the effort to defeat his unelected elder brother in 2004. Without question, this is the most closely watched gubernatorial race in this year’s election.

Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) sent an e-mail reply to the World in which she stated, “We can beat Jeb Bush and send a message to his brother that the American people don’t support his Robin Hood (in reverse) policies of stealing from the poor to give tax breaks to the rich.” As if training for a Bush-style presidency, Jeb has turned the $3 billion surplus he inherited from the previous administration into a deficit up to $4 billion. Barbara H. Walch, legislative chair of Jacksonville Area National Organization for Women, told the World, “Jeb cut corporate and rich folks’ taxes and covered this with cuts from education and social services.”

“If folks are wondering ‘should I bother to vote?’” she said, “tell them yes because so much is on the line Nov. 5. Republicans show little concern for women’s rights, civil rights, union rights, the environment and the poor. We believe McBride would do much more to meet people’s needs.”

Jeb’s Democratic challenger, Bill McBride, has nearly closed the gap in the polls with a two-part strategy pushing big GOTV and a focus on Florida’s neglected public schools. “Labor believes in public education and the Republicans want to take it away from us to make it more of a two-class society,” said Baker, seated next to her poster “Kids don’t count with Jeb.”

McBride’s promise of $1 billion in new education spending in the first year will get out many Jeb-weary voters. Pre-Jeb, Florida was 29th nationally in per-pupil spending; in 2001 it fell to 44th. In the same period, class size dropped from 42nd to 44th and teacher salaries slipped from 28th to 31st.

Jacksonville also has other hometown reasons to vote: the environment and local politics. Russell Pelle is running for Soil and Water Conservation Board (District 1) with the help of labor, elected officials, including Corrine Brown, and readers of the World. Walch said that Jacksonville NOW endorsed Pelle because “we felt he would be good on ecology and he’s the kind of person who cares about people’s issues.”

“Losing my job made me think about running for office,” Pelle told the World. “Then, at Central Labor Council meetings, our legislative director appealed for someone to run for this local office, saying it’s a good place to start.”

Pelle campaigns against incinerator ash – which plagues the African-American community here – and he campaigns against Jeb. “This is kind of a ‘beginners’ campaign, but being a candidate lets you urge more people to defeat the ultra-right. More unionists and social justice activists should run for winnable local offices.”

The author can be reached at noelnoel@igc.org